Hadley intro: Consider 5 antidotes to holiday
loneliness in this guest post courtesy of Wall Street Journal
Written by Elizabeth Bernstein
There’s a Reason You Feel Lonely During the
Holidays (and You’re Not Alone)
It’s easy to feel as if everyone else is
surrounded by friends and family now. Here are
strategies to cope with loneliness.
Flo Schell looked forward to the holidays in years
past, putting up the Christmas tree and baking
cookies. This year is different.
Her husband has dementia, which makes it difficult
for her to gather with friends and family. He’s
often uncomfortable around other people, and she
doesn’t like going out by herself.
“I’ve never been so lonely in my life,” says
the 77-year-old artist, who lives in Brielle, N.J.
“And the holidays make it worse.”
Sometimes the jolliest time of year can be the
During the holiday season, it is easy to feel as
if everyone else is surrounded by loved ones,
laughing, toasting and all getting along. (Thank
you, Hallmark Channel.) If we are not—if we feel
isolated, disconnected or bereaved—our
loneliness can loom larger.
“If you don’t have those kinds of connections
or you feel they aren’t accessible to you, it
can make you feel worse about yourself, like
something is wrong with you,” says Jeremy Nobel,
a physician who teaches about loneliness and
public health at Harvard.
Many of us, no matter how long ago we dropped
pandemic precautions, have a loneliness hangover.
We are gathering again, but our social circles are
still in rebuilding mode. And when we do see
family and friends, we can be hit with something
we haven’t experienced in a while: Feeling alone
in a crowd.
Loneliness is that feeling of social isolation or
dissatisfaction with our level of connection, what
happens when there is a gap between what we want
and what we have in our relationships. Scientists
believe it is a biological drive, like hunger or
thirst, that exists to motivate us to seek
connection and fulfill our social needs. It
happens to almost all of us at some point.
There are different types. Interpersonal
loneliness is what happens when you don’t have
enough people in your life who you care about and
who you feel care about you.
Existential loneliness has nothing to do with how
many people you have in your life. It is that
alone-in-a-crowd feeling that no one understands
you or relates to your experience. It happens a
lot during poignant moments in people’s lives,
such as times of grief, says Elizabeth Pinel, a
professor in the psychological science department
at the University of Vermont, who studies the
The feeling is especially common around the
holidays. Ever been excited to go home and see
family, only to get there and think: “Who are
these people?” That is existential loneliness.
Here are some strategies for coping with
loneliness this season.
Determine which loneliness you are feeling
Do you need more people in your life? Do you wish
you felt more connected to others? Or do you need
time away from the people who make you feel
Being curious about your loneliness will allow you
to view it as a signal pointing you toward what
you need, says Dr. Nobel, who runs Project
UnLonely, a nonprofit initiative that works to
combat feelings of isolation.
Remind yourself that others are lonely, too
Realizing that others share your experience can
help you feel less alone. Look for books, songs
and movies that share stories of people coping
Get out of your head
When we are lonely, we tend to ruminate, telling
ourselves no one cares. This makes us pull away
from others even more. To break this cycle, Dr.
Pinel suggests doing something to stop
overthinking: Mindfulness meditation. A walk in
nature. Tug of war with your dog. Anything that
gives you that glorious feeling of “flow.”
Picture what you would like it to look and feel
like. Then practice a little art therapy. Write
about your ideal connection, or make a drawing.
(Not the creative type? That is OK. Try going
through pictures on your phone and making a photo
file that represents connection.)
Making art does three things to alleviate
loneliness, Dr. Nobel says: “It fully engages
your attention, inspires you and it gives you a
sense of empowerment and agency.”
Connect through activities
Research shows that sharing an experience, and
feeling we are having the same response to it,
helps us bond with others. So don’t just sit
around the holiday table making small talk (or
bickering). Play a board game. Bake cookies
together. Get outside and take a family walk.
Chances are you do have people in your life—you
just haven’t heard from them in a while. Instead
of waiting for others to call you, and telling
yourself no one cares, contact them. And try
sharing your feelings.
About a week ago, Ms. Schell sat down at her
computer, opened an email and started typing.
“Dear Family and Special Friends,” she
She wrote about what was going on in her
life—her husband’s illness and decline and how
the situation was taking a toll on her health.
“It’s a lonely and stressful time,” she
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What are your strategies for getting through times
of loneliness? Join the conversation below.
Then she asked for help, giving suggestions:
“Stop in for a short glass of Christmas cheer.
Drop a line. Make a quick call. Share a memory.
And anything else that will help us feel loved.”
Ms. Schell sent her email to about 45 people.
Almost immediately she started to hear back via
phone, text and FaceTime. Many told her they were
proud of her for reaching out. One neighbor
stopped by with sandwiches and wine. Another
invited Ms. Schell and her husband over on the
weekend to watch a ballgame. A friend drove four
hours from Maryland to visit.
“I was so convinced that no one cared, that no
one loved me,” Ms. Schell says. “My whole
being has changed in a week.”
Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at
Appeared in the December 14, 2022, print edition
as ‘How to Cope With Feeling Lonely at The
What steps will you take to feel connected today?