How To Cope With Loneliness During The Holidays, According To Experts

While the holiday season is often thought of a happy, festive time, not everyone feels a sense of joy, togetherness, and warmth in December. For some, the holidays can be lonely. Whether it's because of a toxic family, bad memories, heartbreak, or the loss of a loved one, the reality is that the holidays aren't the most wonderful time of year for everyone.

According to a 2016 survey by the American Osteopathic Association, 72 percent of people say they've experienced a sense of loneliness at some point in their lives. Nearly a third even say it happens at least once a week. If not dealt with properly, studies have even found that loneliness can make you physically sick. "Loneliness can change the way that we evaluate ourselves as a social being," Kinsey McManus, Client Services Director at the National Alliance of Mental Illness in NYC Metro tells Bustle. "It can lead to doubt about our ability to successfully navigate and enjoy social situations. This doubt in turn can create a downward spiral of loneliness."

So, what's the best way to cope with loneliness or feeling emotionally isolated over the holidays? Here are some things you can do to fight it, from taking a warm bath to limiting social media use.

1Don't Physically Isolate Yourself

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"Feeling lonely over the holidays is actually quite common," McManus says. "Many people feel overwhelmed by the immense pressure of social gatherings and expectations. Remember that you are not alone."

One of the best ways to combat loneliness during this time of the year is to get yourself out there. "Fight the desire to isolate, but be selective about your social commitments," she says. It’s important to participate in some way, but it’s also important to know that's totally OK to turn down some offers. Pick gatherings that make you feel comfortable and connected. It's all about quality over quantity.

2Don't Take Everything You See On Social Media As Reality

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Many of us know from personal experience that no good can come out of scrolling through everyone else's social media pages and comparing our lives to theirs. If seeing everyone super happy during this time of the year makes you feel like your life is lacking in any way, stay off social media altogether.

"Limit social media if you find it difficult to see others sharing their holiday experiences," McManus says. "People only post their best experiences; it is a carefully curated image."

3Take A Warm Bath

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Feeling disconnected from others can make your world feel kind of dark and cold. But a 2011 study published in the journal Emotion found that taking a warm bath or shower can help decrease any feelings of loneliness. Researchers conducted a series of studies to find any links between physical temperature and feelings of loneliness. In one study, people who took longer, hot showers were found to have higher levels of loneliness. Loneliness is typically associated with coldness, so researchers concluded that lonelier people took longer showers to compensate for any warmth they were missing in their lives.

Not a fan of long showers or baths? Drinking something warm can even provide the same effect.

4Reframe Your Thinking

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"If you find yourself alone, depressed, or stressed out during this time of the year, the first thing you can do is reframe your thinking," Dr. Alok Trivedi, psychological performance coach and founder of The Aligned Performance Institute tells Bustle. "If you know you're going to be alone during the holidays, see it as a time for solitude, rest and relaxation, and just a break from everything and everyone." In short, change your perspective and take the glass half-full approach.

5Volunteer Your Time To Others

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Volunteering your time to others is one of the best ways to battle lonely feelings over the holidays. As psychotherapist, Kristina Zufall, M.Ed. tells Bustle, "Altriusm, which has been researched by positive psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, is a powerful anti-depressant."

In case you need any ideas, you can try collecting and donating items for homeless shelters, serving meals at a soup kitchen, volunteer at the food bank on delivery or distibution days, or make a card for people who are in nursing homes or hospitals over the holidays.

"Those who exhibit selflessness are less likely to be depressed," Zufall says. "Many people also find purpose and direction in their lives where they otherwise have none when they give back to others."

6Find Reasons To Laugh

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"Laughter boosts positive chemicals in your body," Susan Golicic, PhD, Certified Relationship Coach and Co-founder of Uninhibited Wellness tells Bustle. Go see a funny movie or catch a comedy show. You can even try to make plans with a hillarious friend that you know you'll have a good time with. "When you laugh, especially around other people, it can be infectious," Golicic says. "Your whole body feels good again and will block negative emotions."

7Communicate Your Feelings And Ask For Support

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It's not easy to express the fact that you're lonely. It's tough to be vulnerable about something so personal. But keeping it in tends to work against, rather than for you.

"Sometimes, we expect our loved ones and close friends to read our nonverbal clues as to what's going on with us," Life Coach, Klay S. Williams tells Bustle. "I once had a close friend who spent the holidays by herself. When our friend circle asked her, 'Why didn't you tell us that you were going to be alone?' She responded with, 'Well, I kind of figured that you all would just know.' It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to share personal emotions, especially when we are the party in need."

Plus, you never know, people around you could be going through something similar. "Chances are, there are others in the same boat who might also need a boost of courage to be open," Williams says.

Coping with loneliness during any time of the year can be tough and trying to cope during the holidays can make it a lot more difficult. Sometimes even surrounding yourself with a bunch of people who seem to being enjoying themselves can make your loneliness feel worse.

So the biggest thing to remember is to focus on you. What needs to be done in order to make you feel more connected? Do you need to stay off social media? Do you need to call up a friend? Or do you just need to keep busy? Coping with loneliness is different for everyone, but there are solutions. It's totally OK to not love the holiday season, but it's still important to be kind to yourself during this time.