Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone!
Let’s face it: for many of us, the holidays are going to be a lot different than what we’re used to this year. While the holiday season is typically considered a merry and joyous time, the reality is this season and the winter months that follow can actually bring forth a host of negative emotions including stress, anxiety, depression, and most commonly: loneliness.
What many people don’t realize is that loneliness is not as serious as we may think. Sure, it can be tough to experience, but ultimately loneliness is not a state of being – it’s simply a feeling. And if you’ve been reading for some time now, then you likely already know that we have the power to change our feelings by changing our thoughts around those feelings. That’s why this week, I thought I’d share some actionable tips you can use over the holiday season and the following winter months to combat loneliness. Keep reading for your winter pandemic survival guide!
Set Yourself Up for Success
For starters, I recommend having a firm plan for success this winter. For me personally, this means I plan to feed my mind, body, and spirit well during these winter months. This includes engaging in daily mindfulness practices, as well as pre-planning workouts, meals, and even fun activities. Meditation is also very important to me, so I make sure I make time in my day for it.
When we plan, we are using our higher-level brain that has our best interests in mind and contributes to our wellness and growth. When we leave it up to chance, or how we are feeling in the moment, we often don’t do things that serve our highest good. As such, my best advice would be to plan self-care practices for each day. This doesn’t have to include meditation or mindfulness (although I highly recommend them!) but instead focus on activities that you know will fill your cup up. (Learn my tried and true method for planning for success here!)
This year, we have also learned how quickly things can change from week to week or even day to day. Don’t let that stand in your way of creating and sticking to a plan that will help you keep your vibes high this season. Instead, have a backup plan handy so you can pivot if necessary. For example, physically moving my body is important to me in my quest to feed my mind, body, and spirit well. This means working out every day and is something I will continue to make a priority even if the platform or situation in which I do them has to change. So if a second wave of lockdowns here in Cleveland means I’m unable to go to a gym or cycling studio that I love, then I get to find ways to complete those activities at home – even if that means following along to Youtube cardio workouts in my basement.
The commitment to your priorities should be so strong that even if the platforms have to change, the priorities themselves do not.
Learn to Love Your Own Company
How would your fears or apprehension around loneliness or winter quarantining change if you enjoyed your own company? This year has forced us all to slow down and be at home more, and while that can be frustrating, it’s also a precious opportunity to learn to connect with ourselves in a much deeper way (something I’m actually working on currently with several of my clients!). This can be especially critical for those who live alone. Oftentimes living alone comes with beliefs that the inability to physically be close to people can lead to loneliness, but what I want to offer is that loneliness is a feeling caused by specific thought patterns that don’t have to do with being physically close to someone.
You could be in a relationship, in a big city, or with a lot of people and still experience loneliness because it is the thought of “I am alone” that causes loneliness and not the proximity to other people. What I recommend is that we all use this time to learn to connect with ourselves and enjoy our own company. When you are able to enjoy your own company, not only do you experience less loneliness, plus when you are with other people, you are able to fully enjoy connecting with them out of a true desire, rather than out of the need of fear that you don’t want to be alone with yourself.
Learn to Differentiate Between Loneliness and Being Alone
Being alone is a neutral circumstance meaning it doesn’t cause us any feelings until we start having thoughts that create our feelings of loneliness. This is why you could be with someone and still feel alone. I suggest that we all do a little thought work around this and uncover what thoughts are creating our loneliness. In addition, focusing on enjoying the time we do spend with ourselves alone is key. It is so powerful to learn how to enjoy being with yourself, otherwise, we use being with others as a band-aid to avoid having to feel bad when we are alone with ourselves.
What I find is that people judge themselves for not being in a relationship, or living alone and feel somehow less worthy compared to someone who is in a relationship or lives with other people. Being alone is simply a fact a circumstance, it doesn’t mean anything until we have thoughts about it.
Alternatively, those of us who don’t live alone may also have concerns about the negative effects of being stuck indoors all winter. The good news is, there are some easy ways to alleviate this. For example, I am a big believer in taking Vitamin D during the winter months. It has really helped me have a brighter mood. Some of my clients have found benefits to having a happy lamp/light therapy. But ultimately I think it really comes down to shifting your mindset and asking yourself some powerful questions, like “How I can feel warm and cozy this winter?” This may prompt you to dig out a warm and cozy robe, sweater, or slippers. You may focus on making warmer foods, like soups and stews. Hot chocolate by the fireplace if you have one or having fun with some new herbal teas – whatever brings on feelings of warmth and coziness for you.
Last but not least, if you don’t live alone but want to carve out some alone time without hurting anyone’s feelings, remember communication surrounding your boundaries is key. I remind myself and my clients that we are not responsible for anyone’s feelings except our own. If we are in a relationship, it is helpful to explain to your loved one why having some alone time will help you and most likely the people around you. I am an introvert, so I have to communicate to my family that I need to be alone to re-charge. They now realize that when I am re-charged I am more apt to be in a brighter mood and re-connect with them in a more meaningful way.
I hope this is helpful for you over the coming months! There will be easy days and there will be not-so-easy days for all of us. I encourage you to try and remember that while you may not be surrounded by people physically, none of us are truly experiencing any of this alone. Lean on your loved ones for support and make space for them to lean on you as well. And if that’s not an option, know there is support out there for you if you need it. Reach out to schedule a connection call and if I can’t help you I will point you in the direction of someone who can.
Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving – whatever that looks like for you this year!
Mind Your Strength,
Melanie Shmois, MSSA, LISW-S, is a licensed social worker, holding a Master’s Degree (MSSA) from Case Western Reserve University and a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. After spending 2 decades helping others achieve their mental and personal goals, Melanie worked with Master Coach Instructor, Brooke Castillo, and became a certified Life and Weight Coach through the Life Coach School.