When we feel a painful emotion, our first instinct is to pull away. To numb the pain. To hide from the intensity.
This was the case for Sarah and Jack, two unique individuals with vastly different circumstances. But they each experienced the same emotion: loneliness. An emotion that is heightened during the holidays.
Sarah was a 42-year-old recently divorced woman who was about to face her first holiday season alone. Living in a new town, miles away from friends and family, she was waiting to begin a new job in January. Hours felt like days.
Days felt like months. Sarah had tried everything to fill the void inside. The mistake she made was running away from the one thing that would help get her to the other side: loneliness itself.
Knowledge is power
1. Understand the emotion
We need to first understand an emotion before we jump to the conclusion that it’s either good or bad, because in reality, emotions are almost entirely physiological in nature.
There’s not a negative or positive to them. It’s in our mind that we make it one or the other. This concept is supported by Schachter-Singer’s theory of emotion:
This theory of emotion explains why two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different emotional reactions to it.
What matters most is the person’s interpretation of an event, not the event itself. After all, as they say, one person’s glass-half-full is another one’s glass-half-empty.
In Sarah’s situation, she interpreted her physiological response to idle time as loneliness, while another person might label it as much-needed relaxation. Ultimately, Sarah has a choice. One interpretation debilitates; the other empowers.
2. Witness the emotion
Now that Sarah understands the interpretative power she holds over her environmental triggers, the next step is to witness loneliness in a neutral, curious state rather than fighting it at every turn.
In doing so, Sarah neutralizes the intensity of her emotions, allowing them to flow through her, rather than getting stuck in a repetitive loop of pain.
Here are four simple ways to create space between triggers and responses:
- Count to 10
- Take a long deep breath
- Make three wishes
- Look up at the sky
Taken one step further, each time that Sarah experiences a challenging emotion during the holidays, rather than running from it she needs to lean in and ask that emotion, “What are you trying to teach me?”
3. Reframe the emotion
The final step for Sarah is to learn how to reframe the situations that trigger her loneliness, and understand why sometimes she overreacts, while other times she lets go without a second thought.
Solitude is perceived as isolation by one person and freedom by another.
- Identify a situation that triggers loneliness.
- Imagine the best-case scenario: “This situation is temporary.”
- Look for evidence of the best-case scenario: “The longest I’ve been single is two years.”
- Describe the worst-case scenario: “I will be alone forever.”
- Name the benefits of the worst-case scenario: “I am free to do what I want.”
- Finally, ask for help in reframing triggers, especially when feeling overwhelmed.
Once Sarah learns how to change the story “behind” the story, her instinctive loneliness lessens. And her ability to choose a higher thought improves.
At 55 years of age, Jack was also feeling the pangs of loneliness. His wife of 25 years died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago.
Unexpected was an understatement. They had run in three marathons together and had spent their weekends sampling new vegan restaurants in their local community. Ever since his wife had died, Jack struggled to face the holidays alone.
Jack’s story is as much about him as it is about the family around him. His family and friends’ automatic response was to feel sorry for him, a response that compounded his feelings of disconnectedness and misunderstanding.
Jack did not want people to feel sorry for him. He was a proud man who was ready to move on.
Get out of your own head
1. Meet with “experienced” widowers
As much as Jack missed his wife, he also missed his ability to connect authentically with friends and family. Having been treated with kid gloves since his wife died, Jack longed to be seen as a victor rather than a victim.
As such, I encourage Jack to connect with like-minded individuals who had been through a similar situation: widows and widowers. Specifically, ones who had been on their own for several years.
The benefits are twofold. One, Jack would learn new ways of relating to friends and family. And two, he’d be given the green light to grow and acclimate to his new circumstances.
2. Connect with others in unexpected, low-pressure ways
The other component missing in Jack’s life was fun. Simple, cheerful, good-time fun. Everything had become so serious since his wife died, with almost every conversation beginning or ending with his wife’s death.
There was no doubt that he missed her with all his heart. But equally, he longed for moments where he could be free of the loneliness and pain.
I recommend that Jack reintroduce sports into his life. Something non-competitive that would get him out of the house on a Wednesday night. Better yet, if it involved people that he had never met, it would allow him to continue his journey of reinvention and rediscovery.
Equally therapeutic for Jack would be joining a cinema group or regular euchre meetup—both would offer him a chance to be in the moment and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
3. Honour the old, create the new
Finally, I advise Jack to examine the memories and traditions that he wanted to keep alive during the holidays—and, equally, the ones of which he was ready to let go.
Jack took the practice one step further. Declaring December a month of renewal and reinvention, he revived a strength and peace inside that radiated out to his entire family.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Jack and Sarah have a lot to teach us about loneliness and how important it is to honour the unique ways in which we process adversity.
One size does not fit all. Fellowship and fun were vital for Jack’s growth and recovery, while Sarah needed a more analytical approach to processing difficulty.
- Lean into loneliness
- Approach it with openness and curiosity
- Make space for the lessons beneath the suffering
Coping with loneliness during the holidays first appeared as Lean Into Loneliness in The Drive Magazine. ™️
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. To protect the privacy of individuals, names and identifying details have been changed.
Thank you for this. How did you know I needed it today. Been sitting here grappling with a ball of emotion and then I open your post and find just the right dose of common sense to ground myself anew. You are wonderful, dear Andrea!
You are so welcome!
We are kindred spirits after all. 🙏
Love knowing the post centered you.
Personally, I have VERY mixed emotions about the holidays. Having spent many years on my own in my late twenties, early thirties. And now witnessing the havoc it plays on tender hearted souls like you.
Let’s empower ourselves to JUST BE during the holidays this year. Knowing we are only a thought away from each other (down the 401..) and that it’s ok to not be ok. We are human after all. So beautifully human. Quirks. Dents. And all. 🎄❤️❤️
Thank you dear friend. Quirky, for sure, on this end, lol.
On this end too!! 💃💥 #kindredspirits
Good stuff, Andrea! ❤
Thanks Eliza! Wishing you warmth in your heart, all holiday season long. ❤️❤️
Thank you, same back at ya!
The holidays can be really tough for some. You really cannot run away from loneliness because it will follow you. I like the suggestions you are sharing here and I agree, we need to face it head on. Also, create a peaceful and joyous atmosphere for yourself. Have a wonderful day, Andrea 😊
Thank for sharing Syl!
I love your suggestion of creating your own peaceful and joyous atmosphere.
Make it your own. 🎄❤️
You’re welcome and thank you! You have a joyously overflowing holiday season. Make it your own, yes! 🎄❤️
Mindfully we build focus so we can sit in the middle
Of Our emotions
We observe the emotion fully then release it
Or denial makes it grow
Emotions can last as
Period of 3 seconds without attention
Buddhist do not have a word for emotion
Happiness is not an emotion more a
Way of being, living
Or joy is the
Emotion we think is happiness
Being present is far
More important than something that is ephemeral, transparent and fleeting as Matthew Ricard describes in his writing
“ Being present is far more important than something that is ephemeral, transparent and fleeting.”
Thank you for this ^ powerful reminder of what matters. Today and all days. Mindfulness heals. 🍃💚
As for the holidays
My family has disowned me when I asked for help from my fathers horrible abuse
We are told family is everything
How about those of us who family abused
If it’s everything we are nothing
Treat Christmas as your own special day, your own opportunity to recreate a holiday that brings you happiness and joy, on the inside. In the same way your beautiful writing and mindfulness workshops heals everyone around you. Reclaim it as your own. 🎄❤️
Mindfully we need very little after Maslow is satisfied
I adapted, now I live with my daughter and three grandkids
This is my family
I do not lack
How beautiful Marty. Your resilience truly inspires. Give those 3 grandkids a big holiday hug for me! 🤗🤗🤗
Zen Buddhism teaches us we are in this journey in harmony
Those with abundance helping those less fortunate
So many suffer way more than us
Never entertain feeling sorry for yourself
Count your gratitudes and smile
This is good. I struggle with this, not the loneliness part, but feeling feelings and not getting stuck in them. Thanks again for indirectly helping ❤
My favourite part of blogging is meeting incredible women like you Dr. G. ❤️❤️
I recall dire loneliness during a time that was filled with the gap between what I thought I wanted and the reality of what was. I hadn’t questioned these thoughts, because I was filled with unfulfilled “should be”.
I never had someone tell me how to question whether what I thought I wanted, was really what I needed. Nor did I have someone tell me how I could question why I didn’t love what was. The gap was huge and so painful and even though it never did get pulled together or filled, I stepped away from it and found looking into it wasn’t necessary. There’s so much other.
There’s so much here and now, all wrapped up in the meditation of each breath. I’m so thankful now the gap wasn’t pulled together, you wouldn’t believe how grateful. The saying “Dodged a bullet” comes to mind, for what I needed wasn’t what I wanted…
Blinkin’ Nora this is a long comment, sorry sausages, oops!
I love this so much! 💚🍃
This right here is the current mood. I’m currently sitting by myself in a basically empty building on a basically empty campus, and will be in this state for about a month.
Heaven in my Books
Enjoy your holidays! 🙏
Peace is a beautiful thing
Merry Christmas and holiday blessings Andrea.
Merry Christmas to you too Brad! May 2020 be filled with as much wonder and awe as your breathtaking blog. 🗓🎁❤️
What a sweet blessing. Thank you Andrea. 🎁❤
Awesome post! Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I love that question “What are you trying to teach me?” when looking at emotions.
Your feedback means so much! Wellness education is something we both share. Wishing you a year filled with meaningful lessons, unexpected joys, and prolific writing.
This is so relevant now during this holiday from normal life that so many of us are experiencing. I’m going to forward this on to my family members thar are struggling. Thank you
Bella, I so appreciate that you found this article. You are so right. It was written for during the holidays, but it is even more relevant now.
Thank you for sharing with your family members that are struggling. Please receive an extra dose of healing energy and support from me today!
Merry Christmas 🎄💖
Merry Christmas to you too Krish! Wishing you a holiday season full of comfort and joy. 🎄💖
Merry Christmas, Andrea! ❤
Merry Christmas to you to Paul! May your holidays be filled with love, and grace. 🎄💕
1. I take time out at work by popping to the loo for just a moment of privacy to gather myself together, wash my face and hands, then back on duty. 2. One strategy I use to keep the peace is place compassion to the top of my list, for others and myself. 3. We have beans on toast each 25th Dec “Beans on Toast Day”.
I love how down to earth your strategies are. Thank you for taking the time to answer the reflection questions at the end. You’re always giving me new ideas. Merry Christmas from Canada. Hope your beans on toast day was epic! 🎄💖
The fly on the walls I walked through, worked in, came home to have all enjoyed the spectacle. For it was eventful on and off.
Good morning Dr Andrea…
True, loneliness can be killing for some…but then being alone should not necessarily make one feel lonely…people cannot be replaced or substituted from life even long after they are gone from life but there are ways to move on..to live on..
Like you have said..it is all about changing the narrative..finding a new purpose..reliving and enjoying the memories…
Life is to be celebrated..the days/ occassions are just triggers/ reminders that every moment has to be lived and enjoyed…
I just love the insight you give into dealing with life problems..
Stay blessed 🙏😇
Thank you for taking the time to answer the reflection questions at the end of my loneliness article and watching the videos too. You’re always giving me new ideas.
Wishing you a wonderful start to 2021!
Dr. Andrea 🌎 📖💙
Thank you Dr Andrea..
Stay blessed, healthy and happy 🙏🌹🙏