Navigating Solo Holidays for Maximum Joy

Nov 24, 2020

Because of family traveling in from out of town and the fact that I am especially susceptible to this virus (immune compromised, immunosuppressed, and I have lung disease), I’m refraining from participating in the small gatherings that are happening.  Not only will I be alone on Thanksgiving, but then my wife and I will quarantine from me for the two weeks following.  I’ll be alone for 18 days in total.  That’s longer than any time I’ve been alone since getting sick.  In preparation I’ve planned for my mental and physical safety – including things like making additional appointments with my counselor (I’m prone to depression), planning how I’ll feed the dogs (bending over can cause me to black out), as well as safer ways to shower (and letting people know when I get in and out of the shower so they know I’ve successfully completed that task), etc. 

Today, however, I want to talk about how to maximize the joy of being alone during the holidays.  If you’re alone all the time, you surely have tips we all could benefit from.  I’m not typically alone in the house, so I had to think ahead about what was going to lead to my best outcomes.  Although I’m an extrovert by nature, I’m sure there will be a day or two when I’m feeling giddy about having the house to myself.  My wife’s business is closed due to COVID so we’ve hardly had a minute apart since March.  There will be something indulgent about alone time, for the first few days…  I also expect there will be a few despondent days.  Thanksgiving marks the anniversary of my mom’s death.  This year is two years.  That sore is real and tender.  I miss her so much.

The holidays are loaded for many of us.  They come with the memories of how we celebrated as kids (wonderful, terrible, or somewhere in between), they are heaped up with media-sized expectations of what they should be, they are a time that leave many of us feeling isolated, on the “outside” of other’s “happy holidays” look like, and missing the loved ones who have died or can’t be with us because of how this year has unfolded.  There are a lot of reasons (and many I didn’t list here) that our well being could be depleted as we head into this holiday season.  This is all the more reason we must be dedicated to our happiness and seek opportunities for satisfaction and joy.  Here are some ways I recommend.

  1. Keep your routines intact. From daily activities like meds, exercise, and sleep, to seasonal activities like sending cards and lighting the menorah, this is not the time to think, “oh, it’s just me” and skip it.  Get up at the time you ordinarily do, maintain much of the way you eat, sleep and are active.  Particularly for those of us with chronic pain and other disabling conditions, these are the cornerstone of making sure we’re functioning as well as we can.  From there, do the things you would this season (as you’re able).  If you always bake cookies and share them with the neighbors – do that!  If you write holiday cards, this is not the year to miss.  Tending to these traditions can ground me in a sense of normalcy and community that helps me remember I’m part of something bigger.  Plus, so many of the traditions this time of year are about dispelling the darkness, something those of us in the northern hemisphere can really use as the days grow shorter.
  2. Invest in creativity. Brene Brown says that “creativity is the opposite of depression.”  I could not agree more.  Whether it’s coloring books, cooking, fly-tying, or crocheting, the medium doesn’t matter – the outlet does.  We are creative beings by nature.  Is there a hobby you used to have that you’d like to pick back up?  Latch hook?  Watercolor?  Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but didn’t know when to try?  This is the perfect opportunity!  There is a tutorial for everything on YouTube – from Japanese brush calligraphy to Soul Collage, spend some time on creativity each day.  I’ve ordered a set of little gingerbread houses from Amazon that come with everything I need to decorate them over the course of several days.  Then I’ll have fun figuring out how to display them around the house (where the dogs can’t eat them) in little vignettes and maybe fairy lights.
  3. Make a list. When I am at my emotional worst, depleted and in pain, sad, lonely, or anxious, I am in no shape to pick an activity that will bring me joy.  I’m primed to grab a pint of ice cream, a spoon, and a new season of reality television and dig in.  Not that there’s anything wrong with this – however, when I’m doing it to numb out, by the end of my binge, I usually feel worse, not better.  With a bit of planning, I have options to do it differently.  I’m making a list of activities that can bring me comfort, engagement, or satisfaction: on it is a list of the shows that friends have recommended that are lighting them up (notice that wording, I’m not soliciting shows that are heavy, hard-hitting, or about difficult subjects right now), I’ve assembled an Allison Janney film festival, I can take a bath, write a letter, read from a selection of books and magazines I’ve assembled, work on a puzzle, listen to some of my favorite podcasts, work on my art.  On your list could be anything that sounds fun to you: setting up a domino topple-scape, going for a walk, teaching your dog new tricks, practicing a new language, perfecting a signature dish, whatever you find engaging or something you’ve always wanted to try – those should be on this list.  That way, when I’m at my lowest, I don’t have to try and think of a soul-filling activity.  I just have to turn to my list.
  4. Finally, and most importantly, reach out. We have friends and loved ones who are just that – our friends and loved ones.  They care about me, they care about my wellbeing.  My goal over the weeks I’m alone is to text at least three people per day and make at least one phone call.  It sounds like a lot to me but we are social creatures.  We need human contact to thrive.  There is something significant about having a voice to voice call with someone who cares about me.  Even if it’s brief.  While I might think of this as me needing a flotation device, sometimes, in reaching out, I might just be that flotation device for others.  I’m not the only one struggling around the holidays.  Connection matters.  While it isn’t always easy for me to chose to pick up the phone and hit the “call” button, I’m always glad when I did.  Prioritizing myself and my spiritual wellness enough to contact someone else, amplifies everything else on this list.

Holidays can be hard, holidays alone all the more so.  But there are ways to plan ahead and build a more successful, more joyful, solo holiday.  What about you?  Will you be alone for the holidays?  What will you be doing to keep your spirt aloft?

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