Being alone in a new city during the holidays if you aren't able to make it home, can't afford to leave, or simply have nowhere in particular to go, can be extremely difficult. It can feel like you're lost in the holiday wilderness, and forsaken by the holiday gods. But you know what? That's OK.
Psychologist Dr. Snehal Kumar, PhD of Compassionate Change Psychological Consulting tells Bustle that since it can be hard to be alone during the holidays, you might find yourself pulled into anxious thoughts where you second-guess your decision, feel down and alone, or might feel like you don't have many choices or options. Totally normal. You might just want to prepare a little for the season or for the particular days in question.
"Be thoughtful about identifying choices you do have ahead of time," Kumar says. "Sometimes because we're afraid of the loneliness, we avoid thinking about the day until it shows up. This means we've not made any plans or asked for help from friends."
When you know you won't be able to make it to your normal festivities, start thinking about how you might want to spend your holidays when you're in a place that is new, Kumar says. Brainstorm ideas and look for opportunities for connection ahead of time if you can, like asking if you can schedule specials call with people, or open a gift or two at the same time as a beloved niece over Skype.
And listen, if you find yourself ruminating and overthinking the holiday situation, try to find activities that bring you into the moment, Kumar says. During the whole season, you can find activities or events that might be interesting to learn more about or even a place to meet new people, like a tree lighting ceremony, a holiday market, or a festive play.
On the day or days that you normally celebrate, some options could involve baking or cooking, setting up or decorating your new space, or simply taking a walk around to explore more of where you are, Kumar says. It might be watching TV with snacks, eating at a fancy restaurant, or FaceTiming with your mom. If you are religious, observe your traditions in a way that suits you and feels authentic.
Try to stop the critical or doubtful thoughts you might be having by trying to zoom out and consider the reasons you made your choice in the first place, Kumar says. Remind yourself transitions take time and your current loneliness is not a forever thing, and it does not need to represent how you might adjust here long-term.
"Offer yourself kind comfort, based on what you need rather than the million shoulds that can trap us all during the holiday seasons," Kumra says.
From a mental health perspective, being alone for the holidays can cause increased depression and anxiety in some, so that's another thing to keep in mind, Dr. Rebecca Cowan, of Anchor Counseling & Wellness, tells Bustle. In this case, if the transition or the season feels significantly overwhelming and depression or anxiety hit hard, it might be important to get connected with a therapist.
"Life transitions, whether positive or negative, often take some getting used to, and this takes time," Cowan says. So as much as you can, connecting with other people over the holiday season, even if they are strangers for now, can be a good thing. Think meet-ups, classes, or saying yes to those after work drinks. And don't worry, you can still retreat home to your blankets and streaming.
Cowan also says that there are usually many volunteer opportunities during the holiday season and this is another way to meet others and give back to the community, which research shows increases positive feelings.
Another good idea? Think ahead. Counselor David Bennett of Double Trust Dating tells Bustle to keep in mind that the holidays come and go, so he recommends planning events after the holidays that you can look forward to now.
"In fact I am planning a 'mid-winter' party for the middle of January, because that is a period when people often don't have much to do," Bennett says. "It also gives me something to look forward to during the colder, darker months."
If all else fails, you can just turn on a movie marathon that has zilch to do with the holidays, and forget a little bit about it until it's all over. You'll get through this, though, I promise.
Psychologist Dr; Snehal Kumar, PhD of Compassionate Change.
Dr. Rebecca Cowan, of Anchor Counseling & Wellness.
David Bennett of Double Trust Dating.