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How to Overcome Loneliness during the Holidays -- or Anytime

If Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of year, how come so many holiday songs are about loneliness? “Blue Christmas”, “Lonely This Christmas”, “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “If We Make It Through December” are just a few examples of popular songs about being alone, lonely, or facing tough circumstances during the holidays.

We've all spent the holidays – or at least a portion of them – alone at some point in our lives. It's not an unusual occurrence, and more people are experiencing it as familes and lifestyles change in the 21st century.

Why Do People End Up Alone during the Holidays?   

The holidays aren't all about parties and shopping; they're about family, friends and a sense of togetherness. Even if you work Christmas or New Year's Day, or have to spend all the holidays alone, without friends or family, you can still meet new people, be creative and get a lot done. It's all about being proactive and changing your attitude about your situation.

People who are alone or lonely during the holidays may be going through one of the following situations:

  • Working
  • Going through a divorce or relationship break-up
  • Broke or unemployed
  • A death or illness in the family, or having their own health problems
  • A move to a new city or neighborhood

Some people experience a lonely Christmas as part of long-term depression or anxiety. This is different from the circumstantial “Blue Christmas” many people encounter once (or twice) in a lifetime.  

Have an Online Christmas

Visit with people on online forums who are also spending the holidays alone. There are lots of online groups for people who are lonely. (Online forums give you a little more privacy than Facebook and other social media sites.)

These online groups may be for individuals experiencing temporary lull in their social life. Other forums are geared toward people who have trouble making or maintaining friendships, or for people with social anxiety, depression or other issues. You can express your feelings on these forums anonymously if you wish. You'll find that you're not the only person feeling lonely, and you'll be able to share experiences and tips for making your life better – or just getting through the holidays alone.

In England, the Guardian newspaper asks readers to share their experiences

As the population ages, there are more single, widowed, divorced and childless people, and this cause increased interest in dealing with loneliness during the holidays and throughout the year.

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Make the Most of Your Holiday “Home Alone” Time

Spending Christmas or New Year's alone doesn't have to be depressing. You can still enjoy many of the activities you did during happier holiday seasons. Simply find alternative people to share it with or enjoy it yourself. You don't have to avoid holiday or New Year's activities if you don't have a Significant Other.

  • Cook or bake. Bring some food to the neighbors, coworkers or a charity function.
  • Listen to Christmas music and sing along, watch holiday movies, or decorate the tree, even if the cat is your only companion.
  • If a holiday activity is too painful to for you to do alone, you can spend Christmas or New Year's working on a hobby you enjoy. Play guitar, paint, draw or knit. Or use the time to finish a work project or clean your apartment. You'll feel a sense of accomplishment, instead of thinking about all the “fun” you're not having.
  • Pamper yourself by taking a bubble bath, getting a massage or having a spa day.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or other charity. It's a great way to give back to society
  • Wrap presents for an organization or give toys to needy kids
  • Send cards or buy small gifts for friends or co-workers. Don't worry about whether you'll get something in return.
  • Go to a museum or have a latte at your favorite coffee shop. You might feel sad because other people are with family and you're not, but if you divide your outings into short blocks of time, it won't be as intimidating.
  • Join a singles club and attend holiday events with a group of  folks in a similar situation.
  • Even a few minutes chatting with the mailman or a neighbor will make you feel better and give you the enthusiasm to build up your social network.
  • If the holidays bring back memories of a friend or relative you lost, think of that person in a positive manner and celebrate them. Bake an apple pie from the recipe your Grandma gave you and continue the family tradition, or call a sibling to reminisce.
  • If you can afford to travel; travel on Christmas Day or New Year's Day (or low-travel weeks just after the holidays.) The airport will be almost empty, and you won't feel bad about standing in line with noisy families.

A 2006 survey showed one in four Americans feel lonely at Christmas the media focuses on happy families and couples, but there's a growing awareness of changing demographics and how that's affecting many people during the holidays.

Don't have any preconceived notions of how your holiday should be, or dwell on holidays past. Make your own unique version of Christmas and New Year, and end your year with an invigorated plan for next year.

Find Ways to Improve Your Social Life, Your Health and Your Mood in the New Year

Don't blame yourself for your loneliness, or think that you don't have people to spend the holidays with because you're unworthy, boring, ugly or stupid. Replace any critical thoughts about yourself with affirmations. “I'm an attractive, interesting person and I make friends easily,” or “I'm seeking out new and better experiences and am meeting new friends.”

Of course, toxic people can make you feel worse than being alone.  Limit your interactions with these people (or avoid them entirely).  If you don't seem to have many friends, or pleasant, like-minded friends who share your interests, do some soul-searching.

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The real causes of loneliness may usually be attributed to isolating daily routines, automatic habits or poor choices regarding companions.

Don't hold on to toxic friends or people who make you miserable just because you've known them for a long time. Perhaps you grew up and developed new interests and your friends didn't (or vice versa). Maybe you need to find acquaintances who share your current interests.

Do you attract the wrong people, lose friends or miss out on friendships? Think logically about the reasons for these problems, so you can correct them. What about your lifestyle or job? How does it affect your social life, mood and ability to meet like-minded people? If you like meeting new people, but work in a back office crunching numbers and then drive home, eat take-out food and watch TV all night, you're not going to meet potential friends. Vary your routine by joining a Meet-Up group or taking a class after work.

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If self-help and self-diagnosis doesn't work, your loneliness and depression may be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), clinical depression or clinical anxiety. Consider talking to a therapist to get to the roots of your loneliness.

Exercise and Eat Better to Overcome Loneliness

During the holidays and the New Year, vow to eat healthier foods and exercise more. You'll feel better and

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Exercise releases endorphins, chemicals in your body that reduce stress and trigger happy feelings. Studies have shown that exercise has positive effect on the body and mind, including reduced perception of pain, a happier mood and “exercise-induced euphoria”.  You'll also lose weight and look more attractive when you exercise regularly. Light exercise, like yoga, increases blood flow to the skin, revitalizing cells and improving your complexion.

What you eat can help or hurt your mood and mental function. Too much sugar, red meat and processed food makes you feel sluggish and may acerbate any health problems you have, like high blood pressure or diabetes. Research indicates your diet plays an important part in controlling your emotions. When you're upset you eat more of the food that's bad for you (candy, cake, salty snacks). This causes weight gain and other health problems, including depression and poor cognitive function.  

Occasionally revisiting comfort food from your childhood, like hot cocoa or chicken soup, will perk you up. And many comfort foods are good for your health, if you prepare them with fresh, wholesome ingredients.

Whether you share dinner with others or eat by yourself, enjoy tasty foods beneficial to your health by doing a little menu planning before going to the grocery store. Include these mood-elevating foods in your meals to improve your mood and increase overall well-being.

Fish

Salmon, trout, tuna, and other fish contain Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3's improve the function of serotonin in your brain to put you in a better mood and help you think clearly. The omega-3s in fish help release more dopamine into your system. Dopamine is the brain chemical related to pleasure, and it's also released after exercise, sex and (negatively) after addictive behaviors like gambling.

Dark chocolate

Candy and chocolate abound during the holidays, and there's good news if you have a sweet tooth. Dark chocolate – the fancy, unsweetened kind, is full of antioxidants and mood-boosting theobromine and phenylethyamine. Eating just one ounce of dark chocolate a day (the recommend amount for health) helps increase serotonin and endorphins in your brain to make you feel happier. Dark chocolate may lower blood pressure and protect against heart disease and cancer. To get the full nutritional impact of dark chocolate, avoid eating it with milk, which cancels out the effect of antioxidants.  

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables have nutrients to keep you physically healthy, and they offer vitamins necessary for a better mood. Vitamins B12, B6 and Folate (Vitamin B9) are linked to brain function and mood, so it's important to get these vitamins from your diet. Vitamin B12 is only available from fish, red meat, poultry and dairy products, but

fruits and vegetables with Vitamin B6 and/or folate include:

  • Mango
  • Dates
  • Grapes
  • Watermelon
  • Pineapple
  • Bok Choy
  • Pomegranate
  • Green Pepper
  • Kale
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach

Other mood-boosting nutrients in fruits and vegetables are calcium (collard greens, kale), magnesium (spinach), and zinc (green beans, Brussels sprouts).

Tea

Eliminate fatigue and a blasé mood by drinking green, oolong or black tea.  These teas contain the amino acid theanine, a natural stress reliever. A report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed theanine boosted the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain to relieve depression. A cup of black tea (with honey instead of sugar and no milk) will perk you up without the jittery effects of a caffeinated energy drink or cup of Starbucks coffee.

Green tea has other benefits. It contains catechins, flavonoids and Epigallocatechin Gallate, (EGCG), three powerful antioxidants which give green tea more disease-preventing properties than other teas. Green tea has caffeine to stimulate you, but much less than coffee or black tea. It also has L-theanine, which produces a relaxing feeling to curb anxiety.  The combination of caffeine and L-theanine may significantly improve cognitive function. 

Oolong tea is helpful for weight loss and heart health. It contains antioxidants called theaflavins, thearubigins and the EGCGs you'll find in green tea. Like green tea, it's been linked to improving brain function and reducing anxiety.

When you're alone during the holidays or find yourself in a less than ideal situation, realize you aren't really alone. Lots of other people, in all age groups, find themselves spending the year-end holidays alone for various reasons.  

Whether you're alone this Christmas or having a traditional celebration with the family,  vow to make next year one of the best of your life. Exercise, eat healthy, set daily and weekly goals and practice gratitude.

Here's to a happy and prosperous 2017!

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