These days, it's hard enough to feel connected to your family and friends while in lockdown, let alone find a partner to celebrate with. So if you're struggling with
loneliness around Valentine's Day — and are being bombarded with pink heart-shaped candy sales and photos of couples kissing on your Instagram feed — don't be surprised if it seems like the entire world is joining together to drive home the fact you are, in fact, all by yourself.
"Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays where it often seems like everyone has a significant other and that they are all over-the-moon happy and in love,"
Heidi McBain, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. But it's important to gather some perspective, and resist the urge to compare where you are in life to where others seem to be — especially considering the quarantine's loneliness pandemic.
"We are always comparing ourselves in our society and this holiday puts relationships front and center," says
Sara Sedlik Haynes, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. "Comparing ourselves to others sets us up for distress." And that'll only make you feel worse. "When we put our self-esteem in the hands of what others see or think," she says, "we give our power over to external forces, leaving us feeling powerless, helpless, [and] alone."
But there are so many ways to get that power back and better manage
how you feel on Valentine's Day (and, let's be honest, every day of the pandemic), whether you're in a relationship or not. Read on below for a few tips from experts. 1 Allow Yourself To Feel Lonely
It may sound counterproductive, but one of the best
ways to combat loneliness is by taking the time to marinate in it for a while. "Try not to resist your loneliness but instead feel these hard feelings," McBain says. "Give yourself time and space to grieve the loss of the Valentine’s Day you had wanted and expected this year." Science even shows that leaning into your negative emotions can help you process and come out the other end feeling better.
If you recently went through a breakup, are
missing your ex, or just feel burnt out from a year of isolation, be honest with yourself about how it's impacting you, and then "take time to process this loss through journaling or talking with a friend or family member who understands what you’re going through," McBain says. You may find that once you process these feelings, it'll be easier to move on. 2 Schedule An Appointment With A Therapist
While it's possible to
struggle with loneliness at any time of year, the expectations surrounding Valentine's Day can make it all come to the surface. And that's why it's important to reach out for help before the holiday arrives, as well as on the day itself, should you need a little extra support.
"It always helps to talk to someone," Sedlik Haynes says. "If you do not already have a therapist or counselor-type person, there are many online services now that can hook you up rather quickly."
Online services, like Talk Space or
Hapi, allow you to chat with a therapist or a caring stranger right on your phone. These are great if you don't have the time or money for traditional therapy.
You can also ask friends where they go for therapy, or book a virtual appointment with your doctor to get their advice. Testing out several therapists on your own by
making teletherapy appointments and seeing if you like their vibe is another way to find the one that is right for you. 3 Stay Busy & Connected
Before Valentine's Day, make sure you're packing your schedule with pandemic-friendly social activities you're comfortable with, like walking in the park with friends or having that overdue Zoom date with your long-distance BFF.
After all, "the real opposite of loneliness is connection," says Sedlik Haynes. "Seek out friends, family, or anyone with whom you feel most comfortable." While it may not cure loneliness, getting out of the house or connecting with a loved one that you don't live with is a surefire way to feel less alone. And if you're craving new faces and activities, try a
virtual class, take a walk in that unfamiliar neighborhood you've always wanted to explore, or try your hand at a new hobby. 4 Focus On What You Have
While you may be tempted to spend Valentine's Day thinking about what you don't have — like a partner, a date to go on, etc. — it's important to shift those thoughts towards what you
do have. Because, according to experts, nothing helps prevent a spiral into negativity quite like gratitude.
"Spending time focusing on what is real, like your relationships with friends and family, pets, etc., can offer real-time sensations that are felt in the body and are pleasant," Selik Haynes says. "This shifts the nervous system out of a state of fear, sadness, and panic and back to the reality that
you are not alone." 5 Do Something You Enjoy
Another way to stave off feelings of loneliness is by making a point of doing things you enjoy. So if you're feeling a bit down on Valentine's Day, take advantage of the spare time by watching your favorite movie,
baking a fancy cake, or whatever else feels right.
"When we engage in activities that spark our interest, we feel better," Sedlik Haynes says. "In fact, our
dopamine (feel-good chemical) increases in our brain." By doing something you love, she says, you'll be filling that void of loneliness, because you won't be alone in that moment. Instead, you'll be with yourself creating a sense of contentment. 6 Know That Loneliness Is Fleeting
"Feelings of loneliness come and go, and are exacerbated by days like Valentine's Day,"
Emma Donovan, MA, LPC, a psychotherapist, tells Bustle. You might feel more lonely than usual when others are seemingly so together, like they might be on big holidays. And that's OK.
"If you recognize the feelings as impermanent, you will be
more likely to gain perspective and not get overwhelmed," Donavan says. But if it's tough to convince yourself otherwise, that's fine, too — after all, it's been a while since you've had regular social interactions, so be gentle with yourself.
"Loneliness won't go away if you try to deny or suppress it," Donavan says. "Instead, treat yourself the same way you would treat a close friend [...] who is feeling lonely. Comfort yourself by saying things like, 'It's OK to feel this way. I'm here with you.'"
7 Stay Off Social Media
Even if you aren't checking Instagram or Facebook with the goal of seeing what everyone else is up to on Valentine's Day, you will likely come across couple-y photos. And when you're feeling lonely, seeing them probably
won't feel too good.
"It’s no surprise that Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular days to post pictures and videos of [significant others]," says
Maria Sullivan, a relationship expert and vice president of Dating.com. "For this reason, it is best for [people] who are spending the holiday alone to find other ways to occupy their time, rather than scrolling through their feeds."
Save the catching up for after the holiday, when folks will go back to their regularly scheduled posting.
8 Let The Loneliness Guide You
While no one enjoys feeling lonely, it can be a helpful emotion to have. "Loneliness is an uncomfortable feeling, like thirst, that is meant to
remind us of the importance of our needs for connection," Donovan says. So the next time it crops up, look to where it might be pointing you.
Sometimes the remedy will be as simple as sending a text to a friend or snuggling with your pet as a way of reconnecting. This is something you can do any time of year, and it can make a big difference in how isolated you feel.
9 Treat It Like Any Other Day
If you're dreading Valentine's Day, you may want to treat it like any other day of the year (since it is) and sail on through without thinking too much about love, flowers, or chocolate. "Stick to your schedule and try to keep yourself busy," Sullivan says. "If you are doing what you usually do in a day, then there will be no reason for you to dwell on being alone."
You might not even need to plan a park date with friends or go out of your way treat yourself, especially if you think that would only serve to highlight your loneliness. It'll be up to you to figure out what feels best when it comes to
coping with Valentine's Day. But with all the options out there, you're bound to find something that takes the edge off — and possibly even allows you to enjoy the day. Experts: Heidi McBain, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist Sara Sedlik Haynes, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist Emma Donovan, MA, LPC, psychotherapist Maria Sullivan, relationship expert and vice president of Dating.com Studies referenced: (2020). COVID Impact Survey. NORC at the University of Chicago, https://www.norc.org/Research/Projects/Pages/covid-impact-survey.aspx Hershfield, H. (2013). When Feeling Bad Can Be Good: Mixed Emotions Benefit Physical Health Across Adulthood. Social Psychological and Personality Science, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768126/ Hwang, T. (2020). Loneliness and social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. International Psychogeriatrics, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7306546/ Palgi, Y. (2020). The loneliness pandemic: Loneliness and other concomitants of depression, anxiety and their comorbidity during the COVID-19 outbreak. Journal of Affective Disorders, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7330569/