The Truth About Loneliness During the Holidays and 5 Tips For Coping
Feeling lonely is a common part of the entrepreneur and human experience, but that doesn't make loneliness easier to handle.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
For people worldwide, the holidays are a time for friends, family and celebration. From office parties and family dinners to new year's events, they are often greeted with full social calendars and warm hearts. Unfortunately, this is only the case for some. Millions of people, including many entrepreneurs, often suffer from intense loneliness during the holiday season.
Loneliness is not a particularly well-understood emotion. Sources like Psychology Today are clear that humans have an innate need to connect. However, studies still tend to see feeling lonely as more of a symptom than an actual condition. What's more, we can all suffer from loneliness from time to time, regardless of our profession, family situation or relationship status. These facts make it very difficult to establish the problem and how to solve it.
Of course, the primary cause of holiday loneliness is being alone. The condition is often ascribed to the elderly, single or those estranged from their families. It's also why it's common among entrepreneurs. These folks usually get used to trading social interaction for work all year, only to have it come back to bite them when they're left out of holiday plans.
Related: 3 Reasons Worker Loneliness Is Growing, and the Role Leaders Must Play
Another potential cause is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. This is a type of depression that tends to strike during seasonal changes but is particularly potent during fall and winter. Studies indicate that around 5% of people in the U.S. suffer from this condition, though many feel the global totals are higher.
There are other suggestions for these feelings as well. One is the unrealistic expectations we tend to attach to the holidays, many of which are reinforced by social media posts of others seemingly having endless fun. This can leave people feeling left out or insecure about their situation or status. Ultimately, these are more "factors" than "causes."
The truth about the holiday loneliness epidemic
Some experts suggest that holiday loneliness is not its own problem but simply an exacerbation of a persistent condition. Indeed, many people who feel lonely all year long develop robust coping mechanisms for dealing with those feelings. However, those coping mechanisms can't keep up when confronted with a cultural shift that prioritizes family, togetherness and socialization.
One thing we know for sure is that loneliness — holiday or otherwise — is increasing, especially among the younger population. One recent study found that roughly 36% of respondents reported feeling lonely nearly all the time. However, a surprising 61% of these were aged 18-25.
Loneliness is experienced across the board, impacting people of all backgrounds regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or nationality. According to a recent survey, 55% of Americans are experiencing holiday blues, with Gen Z (75%) and single adults (65%) feeling lonelier than others in the research group.
Some top reasons people feel lonely are not being around loved ones, seasonal depression and grief. However, over 25% of Gen Z individuals report that their loneliness is due to social media. Additionally, members of the LGBTQIA+ community face some of the highest loneliness rates, as 76% of individuals reported feeling down around the holidays due to poor familial relations.
Many individuals take social media breaks and therapy to seek relief during this time of year. On the other hand, many people fall into unhealthy coping mechanisms with substance abuse around the holidays. Since so many Americans have issues finding and affording therapy, it can be especially difficult for people to find healthy coping outlets. Telehealth or teletherapy is one solution many are finding convenient during the holidays.
All these statistics highlight that more people struggle with seasonal loneliness than you think. Whether you struggle or know someone that does, there are things you can do to help this season feel a little brighter for everyone.
Related: 5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health
Tips for coping with loneliness this holiday season
The fact that holiday loneliness has so many potential factors is good news, as it means there are a variety of solutions for those of us struggling. If you're such a person, just reading this article counts as an acknowledgment of your situation. Now, you'll only need to do what's necessary to change it. By embracing the following strategies, you can take control of your emotions during the holidays and beyond.
1. Manage expectations
Social media is on the hook for many social problems ranging from eating disorders to depression. It simply creates unrealistic expectations of what our lives could or should be. However, this is the case for millions of people. Shift your focus to what you have in your life and evaluate what will make you happy during the holiday season. Be okay with the fact that this won't measure up to what you see online, and consider taking time away from social media if this is a delicate area for you.
Related: 3 Ways to Align Expectations Within Your Team
2. Give back to others
If you need to fill your holidays with cheer, consider volunteering your time to give back to those less fortunate than you. This can be an incredibly humbling experience that makes you feel a part of a community while allowing you to reflect on everything you're grateful for yourself.
3. Practice self-care
Instead of having high expectations, lean into what makes you feel good. You can read a book, watch your favorite movie, or cook a meal you enjoy. Remember that it's okay if you don't love the holidays or feel happiest this time of year. Allow yourself to show up exactly as you are and do small things that make you feel appreciative of the life you do have.
4. Remember that you are not alone
Many people will refrain from complaining about loneliness because they don't want to be judged, shamed, or ridiculed. The truth is that so many people are experiencing similar things, which is why it's time to normalize these feelings with the hope that people can come together. Don't be afraid to talk to others who may share your feelings, whether in person or online. Starting conversations about loneliness during the holidays may help someone else realize they aren't alone either.
Related: You're Not Alone: Entrepreneurs Need To Talk About Their Mental Health Battles
5. Be gracious
Gratitude is one of the most important psychological tools in existence. We all have things we're grateful for, but we often forget about them when confronted with negative feelings. The cure is to focus on things and people you love, things you've accomplished, and all the best parts of your life.
Holiday loneliness can be overcome
The holidays represent a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For those who —for whatever reason — aren't feeling fulfilled, they can mean months of depression and withdrawal. Fortunately, there are proactive ways to approach this problem. Perhaps the most important one to remember is that you are never alone regarding loneliness.
If you know someone who doesn't have family or friends, consider inviting them to your holiday party or festivities. For anyone in the position to give and spread their blessings, this time of year is a fantastic opportunity to reach out to others and pay it forward. You never know what is going on in someone else's life, which is why a simple conversation or a kind gesture could change the trajectory of their day.