Listen: Katrina Roe chats with Clare Bruce
For singles or those with a tough home life, holidays can be a very lonely time.
The routine and social contact of work has ceased, sport and community groups have taken a break, best friends are away at the beach—and even your favourite TV shows have evaporated.
If you relate to this scenario, here are some ideas for taking the edge off your loneliness. You may surprise yourself with how quickly the holiday season can change for the better, with a few simple, proactive steps.
1 – Plan Ahead
Loneliness can set in when we find ourselves facing the start of a quiet day or weekend, with nothing planned.
Get out your calendar, look ahead to when you know things will be particularly quiet, and plan an outing. Make plans concrete by booking seats at a restaurant or cinema. Invite friends out ahead of time, so there’s more chance their schedule will be free.
Your efforts to plan ahead will be rewarded later when you’re out having fun and making memories – instead of sitting at home alone.
- Singles, Feed Your Love Language
- Singled Out: How to Flourish in Every Season of Life, Including Singleness
2 – Set Simple Expectations
Expecting your holidays to be spectacular and to fill your cup to overflowing, can lead to disappointment.
Mental health educator David Farmer at Explore God suggests that we should “identify our ‘musts’ for the holidays and replace them with more realistic expectations”.
This doesn’t mean being defeatist – it’s about not putting too much pressure on yourself. For example, if you invite friends and family around, don’t try to cook a five-star meal or expect life-changing conversations that take your relationships five levels deeper. If you’re travelling, let go of the need to have mountain-top experiences that go viral on Instagram.
There’s nothing wrong with a holiday of quiet home activities, and a few simple get-togethers with friends. These moments hold just as much value as a fabulous party or a glamorous trip away.
3 – Take Steps to Meet New People
In our teens and young adulthood, it’s not hard to meet new people – school, uni, sport and youth groups take care of that. But in adulthood, when life becomes more routine, it gets harder.
You may need to push through some social anxiety, but new friends can be found by:
- joining a gym and taking a class
- signing up for a course at your local community college
- taking your pooch (if you have one) for a walk at the local park
- adopting a new favourite sport or hobby
- joining a church or community group
- chatting to those neighbours you’ve been meaning to meet
- volunteering for a local charity
Be a little brave, and you will be rewarded with new, refreshing experiences – and friendships with people who enjoy the same things as you.
4 – Spend Time Doing Things You Can Only Do Alone
When we’re neck-deep in work, we often long for holidays and look forward to quiet moments to ourselves. Now that your longed-for quiet time has come, recall those things you always wished you had time for – things you can only achieve on your own. These might include:
- completing an art or craft project
- learning a musical instrument
- getting that overgrown garden tidied
- clearing out a cluttered cupboard
- trying out a new recipe you can use next time friends visit
- phoning or writing to old friends you need to reconnect with
- sitting down with a book you’ve been waiting to read
- writing in a journal
- buying and listening to new music
If it feels too lonely at home, pack your book or laptop in a bag, and head to a café to do some of these things.
5 – Reach Out to Others
Often in lonely times we find ourselves wishing someone would call, visit, ask us “RUOK?”, and show us that they care. But it’s good to remember that those very same people may be feeling the same way too.
Why not be the one to reach out and build connection and friendship?
In her book A Christmas Longing, famed Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada puts it this way: “You be the one who calls. You be that someone to reach out to another. You welcome someone in and invite him or her to share the season with you. This is what Jesus would do and this is what He wants for each one of us… The Lord Jesus wants you to invite another in. That’s the best way to beat the loneliness. It’s the best way to come in out of the cold.”
6 – Create a Surrogate Family
Holiday traditions often revolve around family, especially at times like Christmas, Easter and New Year. If you find yourself alone at these times of year, don’t stay lonely while all the families have fun.
Think about who else in your circle of friends is lonely or single, and create a ‘surrogate family’ instead. Gather them together for a Christmas dinner, a New Year’s barbecue, an Easter camping weekend. Plan ahead so you don’t find yourself lonely at these times of year.
Cherish these times together as though they are your own family gatherings; reminisce about fun moments from the year gone by, take photos, and create memories. Friends can often be more faithful than your own family.
7 – Practise Self Care
Quiet times are a good chance to care for yourself in ways that fill your tank and restore your soul. Consider things like:
- a haircut and a makeover
- shopping to update your wardrobe
- a trip with mates to do your favourite outdoor activity
- a pamper treatment at the beautician
- a swim at the local pool followed by a coffee at a favourite café
- a bath with essential oils, candles and a good book
- taking a walk to a favourite spot to reflect and pray
Steps like this will improve your mental health, and put you in a better frame of mind for reaching out and building friendships. It’s a win-win strategy.
8 – Avoid Comparison
Often we sabotage our own happiness by comparing our lives to other peoples’. It’s easy to fall into this trap when we’re lonely, especially in an age when your friends’ highlights reels are right at your fingertips on social media.
“Rather than watching what others are doing, spend that time building your own life instead.”
If you find yourself comparing your life to others’, or feeling resentful and envious when others are celebrating their joy, it may be time to deactivate your social media accounts for a while.
Rather than watching what others are doing, spend that time building your own life instead. Phone someone for a real-time chat, bake some goodies to take to a neighbour, or plan your next outing with a friend.
Use healthy activities as circuit-breakers to stop the comparison game.
9 – Form a Habit of Gratitude
Gratitude isn’t just a buzz-word that looks great on canvasses hanging in hipster coffee shops. It’s a mindset that has been scientifically proven in pyschology to improve our wellbeing.
The practice of gratitude improves our self-esteem, empathy, resilience, sleep patterns, and physical health. In fact many psychologists set their clients thankfulness ‘homework’, such as writing down three positive things every day that they are grateful for.
Consider starting a gratitude journal, or a daily routine of talking to a friend about something you’re grateful for. By consciously choosing a thankful and grateful mindset even in lonely times, you will improve your outlook on life, and be more likely to take the positive steps needed to break your cycle of loneliness.
10 – Remember God’s Goodness
If you are a person of faith, you’ll no doubt have a history of times when God has shown you His love and kindness, and revealed just how close He is. Recall these times whenever you’re feeling lonely. If you’re a journaller, write them down.
Bringing God’s faithfulness to mind will help you to know that even when you’re alone, you in fact have Someone very near who will never leave you, and will provide all you need.
Shana Schutte from Focus on the Family reflects on this in writing about her own loneliness struggles:
“God, you have been so very good to me,” she writes. “How can I believe that I am ever alone? How I praise you… He has been the best friend who never leaves and He has walked with me every step of the way… You are the God who always stays.”
11 – Know That Lonely Times Will Pass
Remember the old familiar mantra, “This, too, shall pass”. Just like any difficult season in life, times of loneliness will come—but they will also leave.
In an article about loneliness, popular spiritual author and Christian psychotherapist Thomas Moore reminds us that dark times always come to an end.
“It’s only natural that light will arrive and the darkness fade away,” he writes. “Be natural, be organic with your emotion. Be with it, but not swamped by it. Take it as a hint that you need to be in the darkness for a while, knowing that light will return.”
As you take positive steps towards change, and as the seasons of life inevitably progress, you can trust that lonely times will not last forever.
12 –If You Need to, See A Counsellor
If your loneliness is beginning to cause persistent mental or emotional difficulties, there is no shame – and in fact a lot of wisdom – in seeking help from a psychologist or counsellor; preferably one who is sympathetic or aligned with your faith beliefs.
The best Christian psychologists and counsellors are simply doing the work of God – helping you to align your thoughts and beliefs with truths that heal.
By exploring what’s holding you back in life, and having your heart and soul ‘realigned’, you have every chance of becoming a more healthy, confident and whole person—one who is no longer lonely, but surrounded by the people you love in holidays to come.