Living overseas? Last survivor of your family? Or simply don’t want to celebrate this year?
Even if spending Christmas alone is something we chose for ourselves, the reality of it does present challenges.
How to cope when faced with Christmas alone
1. Do this personal inventory immediately.
The best thing to do – and as soon as you can – is to take a moment to get very honest with yourself about what you really feel about Christmas alone. Not what you are telling yourself, not what you want to feel to look ‘strong’. What you truly, deep down, feel about the matter.
If you don’t want to be alone but are pretending it’s fine, this only works in so far as any defence mechanism can. It can protect our pride and make us feel temporarily different and special. But when your real feelings of sadness, rejection, and anger rise, it can result in things like blaming others or pushing them away, sabotaging connection with the very people you want to be close to, or falling into deep depression.
If by taking a personal inventory now you discover you really do revel at the day ahead of sitting in bed eating chocolates you got at last minute markdown, great. Then give yourself permission to stop feeling guilty for saying no to spending Christmas with your friend’s family when it always leaves you depressed after.
Try some mindfulness (use our free guide to mindfulness). Take a quiet moment to yourself, breathe deeply, get present. Then ask yourself, how do I feel about being alone at Christmas? Sit with the question and notice the changes in your body – is there tension in your stomach, do you feel you can’t breathe? Do you feel angry, or sad? Let whatever feelings come just come, without judging or analysing them, but simply noticing them and breathing through them.
Afterwards, take time to write in a journal about what you experienced. Were your emotions surprising? What new things did you learn here? How can you work through these feelings? Do you need to re-think Christmas alone?
2. Think environmentally.
Gestalt therapy is a school of thought that believes we are not separate from the environments we are in, but that they influence us.
It’s an interesting thing to keep in mind if faced with a Christmas alone, especially if you recently experienced a divorce or bereavement, or an empty nest with children off spending the holidays with new partners.
If you always had Christmas with others you loved in the house you are now in, is this really the right environment to now be alone in?
What would be an ideal environment for you to be in instead? Nature? Parks are open on Christmas day. A crowded place? Think restaurants, churches. A beach? If you have the budget, what is really stopping you from time away in a hot country where perhaps Christmas isn’t even celebrated at all? Interesting questions to ask (all leading to step 3 below).
Try visualisation, a technique used by some integrative therapists. Close your eyes, relax, and breathe deeply. Concentrate on the idea, ‘happy place’. What images arise? Is it a field of flowers? A beach? A beautiful art gallery? Now form your ‘ideal Christmas day’ in the visualisation, starting from wherever that happy place is, and not worrying about being realistic. Afterwards, journal about what you’ve now learned about yourself and environments. How can this feed into your plans for Christmas day?
3. Commit to one new thing.
If you discover you don’t really want to be alone at Christmas, it’s time to give yourself a little push outside your comfort zone and try something new.
Scary? Yes. But so are the weeks of depression that can follow a Christmas spent alone when you really don’t want to be.
Excuses will arrive by the dozen. No, I’ll just stay alone at home that’s what I deserve, the weather will be too bad, how would I find transport to go anywhere, it sounds boring anyway, anything I find will be full of odd loners I don’t want to know…
These are merely assumptions. The truth is that if you have never tried volunteering on Christmas day, attending that potluck a colleague throws for Christmas orphans, or having that meal in China town with your Jewish friends, you simply do not know what it will be like. While it might indeed be horrible, there is equally every chance it might be wonderful.
Sure you want to stay home? Then create one new ritual. What one thing could you do you’ve never done on Christmas day before?
Borrow a page from CBT therapy and make a thought chart. In one column, put your worst beliefs about trying something new, such as ‘spending Christmas at a potluck’ (they will all be crazy and weird, I will miss my family more). In a second column write the exact opposite of these negative thoughts (they will be the coolest people I’ve ever met, they might make my family look boring). Now in a third column find a ‘shade of grey’ thought halfway between the two (there will probably be at least one or two nice people I have things in common with, and I can call my family from there if I miss them).
4. Create a reward system.
Loneliness can trigger repressed emotions, often around abandonment and neglect in childhood. That time you were five and your father didn’t show up to get you, or the time you were sixteen and your mother decided you were too old for presents.
Counter this by making your inner child happy. Children love feeling rewarded. So how can you reward yourself for bravely getting through Christmas without the usual family and friends?
Write down five things that feel like rewards to you. What makes you personally feel most appreciated? A spa day at home with some expensive bath salts? Your favourite foods? A chat with an old friend? Hours spent watching old films? Which of these rewards are feasible for Christmas? Can you order or arrange for one of these right now?
5. Get your support system sorted.
This is not just about choosing who you will reach out to over the holidays, but getting very clear on who you will avoid. Spending Christmas alone leaves many of us in an emotionally vulnerable place and we must prioritise our own wellbeing.
A ‘support buddy’ is a wonderful option. Is there someone else you know who might also need emotional support over the holidays? Could you form an agreement now that respects both of your boundaries? Rules can include deciding on the number of calls, emails, and texts that are allowable, the times of day you are happy to be contacted, and tools to include such as using a timer where you are each allowed 5 minutes to rant uninterrupted on your one daily call.
If you don’t have a support buddy, do consider professional support. A few sessions with a counsellor can mean a real difference to the way you see in the New Year, and with the convenience now offered by telephone or Skype counselling, there really is no reason not to.
Make your naughty and nice list – people you know leave you upset , and people you like support from. Create an email now for those you don’t want to hear from, perhaps an electronic Christmas card stating you won’t be available during certain dates but wish them well and will see them in the New Year. Then consider calling someone from your nice list and arranging a check in time on Christmas day.
Desperate for someone to talk to? The Good Samaritans operates a hotline 24-7 here in the UK, even on Christmas Day. You can call them for free at 116 123 (the number will not appear on your phone bill).
Harley Therapy connects you with professional and registered therapists across the UK who can help you with any issue you might be facing, including life changes and loneliness.
Have a question about spending Christmas alone? Want to share a tip with other readers? Use the public comment box below.