Healthy Mind

‘I’m a Clinical Psychologist, and This Is How To Cope With Spending the Holidays Alone’

Kells McPhillips

Photo: Getty Images/Anastasiia Krivenok
Perry Como first declared “there’s no place like home for the holidays” in 1959. Every year, the millions of people who travel to see their loved ones prove as much. This year, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has delivered a decidedly different message: For the health and safety of the nation, pleased don’t go home for the holidays. Yet for many folks, the full emotional weight of spending the holidays alone is heavy.

Clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, says that it’s not only valid but normal to feel upset if you’re spending the 2020 holidays all by yourself. “Being alone for the holidays can feel like a rejection even when it isn’t the case. You can choose not to get together with family because of the pandemic, but still feel lonely if family is usually a part of your holiday,” says Dr. Daramus. Meanwhile, those who are not on good terms with their family may feel a lack of warmth and compassion that’s usually inextricable from the holiday—and that doesn’t feel great either.  “Because of political and pandemic conflicts, some people are experiencing that for the first time this year, too,” adds Dr. Daramus.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to safely deliver holiday spirit and family to your door in the middle of a pandemic. But Dr. Daramus does have a few therapist-backed tips up her sleeves to make sure you show up for yourself this season. This year, you are your home.

Tips fo spending the holidays alone, according to a clinical psychologist

1. Funnel your emotions into creativity

Sometimes, our feelings can become a burden because we have no idea how to carry them. Dr. Daramus recommends transforming them into a creative pursuit. “Allow yourself to have your emotions without judging yourself. Express them through journaling, art, talking to people, making playlists of songs that express how you feel, or world-building through video games,” says Dr. Daramus. A little therapeutic cooking or gardening could also do the trick.

2. Spend face-to-face time online

“Find supportive people to spend some time with. Look for others who might be alone this year, too. Maybe get into an online community around a favorite form of art or a fandom,” says Dr. Daramus. This can also take the form of a giant family game of charades via Zoom or a virtual card game.

3. Look forward to the good parts of spending the holidays alone

As frustrating as it is to hear, there are silver linings to a holiday spent on your own. You can decorate the tree to your liking, watch only the festive movies that you like, and bake with only your dietary preferences in mind. “At the same time you let yourself feel your sadness and loss, find something to look forward to. This year, you’re free to do the holidays your way,” says Dr. Daramus.

4. Set boundaries with your toxic family members

Quarantine or not, the holidays can make you feel like you need to engage with family members who, shall we say, frustrate you. Dr. Daramus recommends setting clear boundaries for yourself so that you don’t wind up spending two hours face-timing with someone you can’t stand at a time of year that should be joyful.

5. Schedule your therapy appointment for around the holidays

“If your moods or emotions are beyond what you can handle yourself, explore workbooks, online support groups, mental health apps, and hashtags for depression and anxiety. Most therapists are booked right now, so have some of these other options as backups,” says Dr. Daramus. If you have a therapist already, make sure you have your appointment booked. And if you don’t, here’s how to get started with virtual therapy.

Need someone to just listen? You can contact the SAMHSA National Hotline at 1-800-662-4357 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

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