3 Cures for Holiday Loneliness
The holidays are a time when we’re supposed to feel the joy of and wonder of the season, the magic of coming together, and the gift of family and loved ones. But often it becomes a time in which we’re reminded of loved ones gone, the fact that we’re still or recently single, or loneliness in a significant relationship. How is it possible that in such a time of connection, we can feel so… alone?
Maybe you have a lot of people around you, but you feel like they don’t really know you. Maybe you’re trying to find “the one” as a cure for this day-in and day-out loneliness, hoping you’ll finally feel complete. Or maybe you’re new to a city (living in Nashville, TN, you’ll know both the huge growth rate and the transient nature of the Music City), and you’re just trying to meet someone - anyone - you can connect with. Attempting to fix the loneliness can be exhausting and honestly, it just leaves us feeling even worse. Loneliness is an epidemic.
Loneliness is defined as an intense feeling of disconnection or rejection. I don’t have to tell you that though we’re living in the most “connected” time of our life, loneliness is not fixed by social media, going to meet-ups, getting a cat (although I’m not gonna lie, it can help), or changing things about yourself so people will like you.
“Loneliness is an epidemic… an intense feeling of disconnection or rejection.”
The cure for loneliness is about cultivating connection and intimacy with meaningful relationships, and that takes courage, compassion, and a little dose of vulnerability. If this holiday season has you feeling extremely lonely, I have good news for you. There is an actual gift to feeling lonely. I want to help you see this as an opportunity. I want to give you permission to stare Lonely in the face and say, “Ok. I know why you’re here. Now move. You’re not helping me.” If loneliness is too loud and coming up too often in your life, you have the choice to not drown in those deep waters of isolation and rejection. Here are 3 proven ways to move out of loneliness & into connection this holiday season:
Step 1: Recognize when it’s happening
This seems all too obvious, but it’s harder than you think to notice loneliness & not sink. Loneliness is the voice that, when used correctly, acts like physical pain. When you put your hand on a hot stove, your neural synapses scream, “you better get moving, NOW.” In fact, studies have shown that social rejection & loneliness actually lights up the brain in the same regions of the brain corresponding to physical pain. Much like the pain reaction, loneliness signals the brain, “it’s time to get moving! Go reach out! You need people!” So, instead of getting sucked into the loneliness vortex that spirals into a dark pit, use loneliness as an opportunity to say “it’s time I do something helpful about this loneliness.”
I’ve tried to coach people how to get past loneliness a variety of ways. And you know what? Teaching social skills to be less awkward, increasing the number of people in your network, and telling people to “just get out there” doesn’t work. Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson found the same thing & writes about it in her article, “The Cure for Loneliness”. She says that you can teach anyone the art of social conversation, and while it may help you meet more people, become more likable or popular, and get involved in the community, these social skills don’t help cure loneliness.
Step 2: Challenge the Negative Talk
So, what does help cure loneliness? Answer: Connection and intimacy. What’s the number one factor that thwarts connection and intimacy with people? Answer: OURSELVES! We need to learn how to get out of our own way. Our brains are wired to protect us. So, we naturally pick up negative cues in the environment and fixate on those. Have you ever thought to yourself:
“Oh my gosh, why did I say that, I look so stupid.”
“They probably don’t want to talk to me, so I’ll just wait and see if they reach out first.”
“No one invites me to anything anymore.”
“Maybe something’s wrong with me.”
“If they knew the real me, the wouldn’t like what they see.”
It’s time to challenge the stories we’re telling ourselves, because they are costing us too much. We can’t read people’s minds, and they can’t read ours. We’ve got to stop assuming the worst and making up stories that pit others against us. The best way to challenge these thoughts is to repeat step 1. Recognize that negative self talk when it’s here. Then, get moving. Challenge those thoughts & beliefs that get in your own way.
Try these challenges, and create your own:
“I’m not alone, I just feel lonely right now.”
“They probably won’t remember what I said, and if they do, it’s not the end of the world. I can just try again.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me, everyone messes up sometimes.”
“I have unique things to offer in a relationship.”
“I’m a good friend, and it’s up to me to create the chance to be one.”
Step 3: Reach Out in Courage to Safe People
In order to act with courage and reach out for connection, you also have to know who to reach out to. Brené Brown says that the most compassionate people are actually the ones who have the best boundaries. They know who to share their story to, because the people in their lives have earned the right to listen. Reaching out to others when you’re lonely doesn’t mean you word vomit all your problems on people you’ve just met, or throw out an invitation at will to anyone who will listen in hopes someone will rescue you from your loneliness (which, I’ve done, and trust me... it doesn’t work, and often leads to what I call a “vulnerability hangover”).
Ask yourself these three things:
Who in my current friend group knows a little of my story and doesn’t judge me?
When I “test the waters” and throw out a small, vulnerable piece of information in my life, who picks it up with empathy and compassion?
Has someone else recently trusted me with a piece of their life, and if so, how did I respond? How did their sharing make me feel?
Here’s what this practically looks like. When you say “today was a tough day at work” or “man, I’ve felt really lonely being new to the city”... the people you know you can trust say, “oh, wanna talk about it?” Safe people listen to you, don’t try to tell you where you’re wrong, & don’t try to “fix” you. Instead, they try to connect, by responding with empathy “you know, being new myself, I’ve felt kind of lonely too.” They respond with compassion.
“It’s time to challenge the stories we’re telling ourselves, because they are costing us too much. We can’t read people’s minds, and they can’t read ours.”
In the next week, notice when loneliness shows up for you. Identify and challenge that negative self-talk, the “stories we tell ourselves” about our loneliness. Look at that loneliness as an opportunity to move with courage and reach out to safe people.
It takes intention and time to begin cultivating intimate relationships and friendships, and to be truly known. Ask yourself, “Would I be willing to show up this holiday season?” Then give yourself permission to try reaching out in these new ways.
Carly Samudre has a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from James Madison University. She is a member of the Tennessee Licensed Professional Counseling Association and Nashville Area Association of Christian Counselors. If you wish to learn how to really implement these 3 cures to loneliness but don’t know where to start, consider signing up for her new Women’s Group for Confidence & Connection, where you will learn how to identify the stories getting in the way of your confidence, and start moving in connection with those closest to you. Contact Carly here to get started.