6 Ways I’m Navigating Holiday Loneliness This Year

I love the holiday season. I love decorating the Christmas tree, baking Christmas cookies with my mom, exchanging Secret Santa gifts with my coworkers, driving through a Christmas lights display with my grandmother with hot cocoa in hand, and breaking bread with my family every Christmas. For the past four years, my mom and I even had a mini tradition of taking the train up to New York City to catch a Broadway play, see the Rockefeller Christmas tree lit up in all its glory, and shop at the Macy’s flagship on 34th Street. But we mainly went to spend time together, just us two. The word perfection doesn’t seem to capture these trips and the warm fuzzy feelings that partaking in Christmas activities brings to me.

But of course, this year is going to be vastly different than any other Christmas I’ve ever had. I am a pretty strict COVID-19 safety precaution follower, so I won’t be traveling to see my parents. I won’t be having hot chocolate with my grandmother. I definitely won’t be traveling to New York City. What I will be doing this year is spending a quiet Christmas at my house with my husband and our pup, trying to navigate holiday loneliness.

Luckily I’m an introvert and I crave alone time to recharge. In that way, quarantining for most of 2020 has been a gift. Still, the holiday season has brought up some major FOMO for me, while in normal times, I am the queen of holiday JOMO. I love to skip a holiday happy hour after work to take a nap, or to stay in on a Saturday night to make dinner with my partner and cuddle with our dog on the couch while Netflix plays a holiday movie. These activities still bring me joy, but during this particular holiday season, the FOMO is hitting me hard as I see so many other people gathering with their loved ones. But then I quickly remind myself of three important things: The loneliness of FOMO is fleeting, a lot of the activities I see and hear about others partaking in are in complete opposition to public health, and I’m quarantining now so that one day when we have a widespread vaccine and a national plan to tackle this virus, I too will be able to see my parents safely.

Even with all of these complicated feelings, here are six ways I’m actively working to find joy and beat my holiday loneliness.

1. I’m going all out with decking the halls.

I love a festive holiday decoration, but I usually skimp on my own decorations. Typically, I only put up a 1 ft. tree that my mom bought me to cheer me up the first holiday season that I spent studying for law school. But this year, since I’m spending so much time in my living room, I decided to deck my halls for the first time. During a particularly great Target sale, I stocked up on a pre-lit artificial tree, a box of ornaments, and—wait for it—even a tree skirt! My husband remarked that my tree looked like it should be in a department store, which I find to be high praise. I honestly did not expect this one festive decoration to completely lift my holiday spirits, but lift them it did.

2. I’m starting a Black holiday movie club with my mom.

My mother and I both love a good Christmas movie, especially one that stars Black actors. Since I won’t be spending physical quality time with my mother this year, we decided to do some virtual bonding together by way of starting a mother-daughter Black holiday movie club together. So far our picks include Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding, Let’s Meet Again on Christmas Eve, and The Christmas Edition. I even bought an online subscription to the Lifetime Movie Club so we can watch the same movies that star Black actors, then chat about how the storyline was exactly the same as the others, but the clothes and the decorations were great. Even though we are apart this season, watching the same movies is our new way of spending some quality holiday time together. It makes us both feel less alone.

3. I’m making family recipes.

Cooking is a big part of my family’s holiday traditions. My mom makes a recipe that we call Sweet Potatoes Fluff, filled with mashed sweet potatoes and pineapples, and topped with a glorious mound of baked marshmallows. I had never made it myself, but this year I womaned up and made the recipe for the first time. And wow, it was good. This season I also plan to make my mom’s chocolate cake and maybe even my dad’s famous banana pudding. Making these recipes has made this season feel more normal, as if my family and I are cooking together in their kitchen—especially if I FaceTime with them while I cook.

4. I’m having a virtual holiday brunch with my best friends.

One of my friends suggested that we get together for a virtual holiday brunch. This kind of apart-togetherness with my friends, many of whom I haven’t seen since 2019, is exactly what the doctor ordered to make me feel less lonely this season. Every year I go to what seems like 20 holiday parties thrown by family, friends, and coworkers. This brunch will be literally the only holiday party I’m attending this year, so it feels extra special for me. Plus, getting together and chatting over my favorite mealtime is an extra bonus!

5. I’m definitely prioritizing therapy.

This season, instead of denying my feelings of loneliness, I’ve been working weekly with my therapist to tackle my feelings head-on. It helps me remind myself of all of the work I’ve done in the past few years to combat feelings of FOMO, comparing myself with others, and mental fatigue. I cannot stress enough that having a professional therapist to talk to and work things out with instead of a friend or family member is beyond necessary for me. It shows me that I have someone in my corner, keeps me accountable and on track, and helps me feel not so isolated and alone. If you are financially able (therapy can be pricey!), I highly recommend finding a therapist who works well with you. No one should have to navigate mental health alone. And if therapy isn’t in the cards, there are still other ways to receive support, from mental health resources specifically for Black people to virtual support groups.

6. I’m doing my best to change my perspective on loneliness itself.

Even with virtual activities to look forward to with loved ones and an amazing therapist to talk to, I still have my moments of finding the holidays to be pretty lonely simply because I am unable to physically connect with my loved ones.

However, whenever I take the time to actively change my perspective, I quickly realize that I am lonely because I am missing certain people and activities that bring me joy. So my loneliness—in a roundabout way—actually points to how lucky I am because I have such special people and traditions in my life. It’s really easy to forget—especially this year, but even in non-COVID times—that not everyone is fortunate enough to say the same.

I’ve found that the practice of changing my perspective is actually the most important way that I am navigating loneliness this holiday season. Instead of feeling FOMO and blue when I’m lonely, if I can quickly remind myself that there is actually happiness, hope, and love behind my feelings of loneliness, I can start to feel the happy holiday spirit once again.

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