How To Cope With Feelings Of Isolation During The Holidays, According To Mental Health Experts

Image by Ivan Gener / Stocksy

The pandemic not only made people conscious of their physical health, but it also severely impacted mental health. The feelings of isolation decreased productivity and increased suicidal thoughts and depression. On top of already existing feelings of isolation, many people are having to spend the holidays away from family and loved ones this year. 

Forgoing traditions and missing out on memories is difficult no matter the year, but after months of isolation, this year’s holiday season may hit even harder. 

“What we have to remember is that we can take charge of those feelings and make a plan to ensure that the holiday season is magical and merry in 2020 even if it may look a little different this year,” Carlin Barnes, M.D., and Marketa Wills, M.D., MBA, psychiatrists and co-authors of Understanding Mental Illness: A Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health Disorders For Family and Friends, tell mbg.  

Here are a few uplifting ways to cope with feelings of isolation this holiday season, from Barnes, Wills, and other mental health professionals.  

1. Plan ahead for the holiday.  

Even if you feel mentally prepared to spend this year’s festivities solo, when the holiday actually arrives, it may be more difficult than you imagined. 

Plan a schedule ahead of time so your day is filled with activities that bring you joy. That doesn’t mean you have to be constantly on the move. In fact, penciling in a bath, a holiday movie, and even a nap, are productive ways to practice self-care. Short on ideas? Here: five joyful ways to spend the holidays alone.

2.  Spend some time outdoors.  

When we’re feeling sad, it can be tempting to spend all day indoors, but staying active (even with minor meditative movements) and spending time in nature can work wonders for mental health. 

“While it’s harder to get outside in colder climates, a few minutes bundled up in natural light not only boosts your heart rate, it can also lift your mood and spirits,” psychiatrist P. Priyanka, M.D., writes for mbg.  

3. Prepare a special meal. 

Instead of ordering in or heating up leftovers, call Grandma, Dad, or whomever, for your family’s favorite holiday recipe. Then, make it for yourself. Try halving the recipe to make the serving size more approachable, or deliver extras to neighbors, friends, or anyone else who may be spending the holidays alone this year. 

Not only can cooking a special meal bring a sense of normalcy to your holiday, but the act of chopping and prepping may feel therapeutic

4. Schedule a time to talk to family or friends. 

Among other things, 2020 was the year of mastering video chat. Utilize those newfound skills and schedule a time to see your family face to face, even while you’re apart. Don’t just stick with immediate family either—Barnes and Wills recommend checking in on elderly loved ones, who may be feeling particularly isolated this year. 

5. Volunteer.  

The holidays are often considered a time of giving, but if you can’t give gifts to your family in person, consider volunteering this holiday season. Not only will you be helping others, but showing kindness can also benefit personal health

 “Doing good helps us feel good. Studies show that volunteers live longer,” psychiatrist Kelli Harding, M.D., MPH, once told mbg. “This may relate to evidence showing that cultivating meaning, feeling useful, and having a sense purpose boosts our physical and mental health, as well.”  

6. Create your own traditions. 

One of the reasons the holidays feel more isolating than any other day is because of tradition, says Achea Redd, mental health activist and author of Authentic You: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up Fearless and True. Building new traditions and becoming creative can help you not just get through, but maybe even enjoy, your holiday time alone. 

Use this as a time to learn to bake, watch or discover your favorite holiday TV show or movie, and decorate your home. If there is ever a time to go overboard on holiday decor it’s now, Redd says.  


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