This past year has been challenging, and the upcoming holiday season is likely to be no different—especially when we’re feeling isolated. To stay out of the holiday blues or bipolar depression, I am approaching this season proactively, tackling loneliness directly and finding ways to be festive and joyful.
Feeling Lonely & Isolated During the Holidays
The holidays can often be the hardest time of the year for dealing with loneliness and the potential mood shift that can accompany it. With the world’s health crisis and necessary physical-distancing guidelines, it may be even more challenging this year. So, why not try something new? This year may be the perfect opportunity for a new personal project or tradition of sorts—and I’m not talking about a new hobby. I’m talking about learning to take a proactive approach to meet our own emotional needs and maintain our mental well-being and stability—especially when confronting new difficulties and emotionally trying times.
This is something I’ve been working on for a while now, and because the upcoming holidays are likely to be challenging in different ways, they can allow us to experience the hard feelings of loneliness and isolation and instead meet them head-on, with new coping tools, renewed dedication, and a proactive mindset.
Taking a Proactive Approach to Loneliness
To avoid the “holiday blues” and being sucked into any void that could lead to loneliness, unhappiness, or the darkness of bipolar depression during this holiday season, we will need some important skills. Doing this really means having self-awareness, making the effort, and setting yourself up for success by being strategic and proactive, that is, preparing yourself in advance, as much as is possible.
A proactive approach upfront can keep us out of the pitfalls and lows that we know we can run into around the end-of-year holidays. Even in this unprecedented upcoming season, where there will be fewer and far smaller social gatherings and more restrictions, we can still take a proactive approach to combat loneliness and maintain our mental well-being. This is a need we can be responsible for meeting.
Progress vs. Perfection with Personal Growth
I’ve found that it’s most helpful if we avoid perfectionism when starting this new “project.” In my experience, it takes time to learn to cope with loneliness and to meet our own emotional needs. It’s an ongoing process that will have successes and setbacks. The most important thing is simply to make progress. And we do that by aiming to do our best under the circumstances. Not by expecting to somehow “fix” the hard feelings or to stop from ever feel lonely or blue again. So, as we start out, remember to aim for doing your best and making progress.
Opportunities to Focus on and Prioritize Our Well-Being
Having the awareness that the holidays are coming up and the desire not to run into loneliness gives us the opportunity to be focused and proactive. It allows us to prioritize this important need for the holiday season.
What do you want for the holidays?
If you think about it, it’s probably not a physical gift or present.
If you’re like me, what you really want is to not feel lonely, down, or left out. You want to be festive, stay in good spirits, and enjoy the holidays.
With this goal in mind, we can set out to achieve it. And the skills we learn, I’ve found, can help us at other periods of time when we run into feeling lonely. Another goal or personal project for this holiday season, if you find yourself alone and down, is to try to keep yourself out of a downward spiral that leads to depression.
How I Avoid the Loneliness Trap
Like I said, this upcoming holiday season is an opportunity to meet this challenge of loneliness head-on. The best way to do that might be surprising—but it also just might be effective.
Throwing ourselves into the holiday spirit; finding gratitude, peace, and joy; being festive; and focusing on the good are all actions we can take and attitudes we can try to adopt. Even if it feels forced, uncomfortable, or inauthentic at first. Doing so is way more necessary than allowing ourselves to, by default, fall into loneliness and the “holiday blues.”
We cannot be happy at the same time as being lonely. We cannot entertain negative emotions while we are focused on the good, staying festive, or actively seeking out and finding gratitude, peace, and joy. If we can occupy ourselves in happiness, it literally keeps us out of the blues.
Bipolar Depression & Loneliness
Before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I know how hard it is to muster up the energy to try something new and challenging when feeling overwhelmed and/or in the depths of depression.
The good news is that working on our happiness—finding what makes us feel a small sense of joy or gratitude, and then gradually building it up, making progress—also helps us to overcome depression. The emotion of happiness literally creates feel-good chemicals in the mind, and that helps us during hard times and depressive episodes.
Also, once we find ways to keep out of the pitfalls, it helps us to learn some new coping tools and effective ways to stay in happiness. This is important because when living with depression, anxiety, and bipolar, it is too easy to stay in fear, stay in our thoughts, stay in our heads, and stay out of happiness. That keeps us stuck in a dangerous place.
For me, this was a big motivation, personally. As a means to combat the depression I found myself in, I wanted to grow, to tackle some of my thinking patterns, to address my ineffective ways of interacting with others and even myself, to learn to be present and seek to find happiness in my life. In time, this proactive approach helped me to start feeling good about myself and build my self-confidence.
When you think about the holidays and feel an impending sense of loneliness and dread, try to think of it this way: Coping with this year’s holidays could be the stepping-stones to long-term growth and happiness.
Being Alone vs. Feeling Lonely
One more thing about loneliness to consider during the holidays is that sometimes loneliness can be more about our own emotional needs not being met than actual loneliness. Maintaining our mental well-being is a need. Loneliness is a lack of a need being met and an indication we can address this need ourselves. Being alone does not automatically need to create feelings of loneliness.
It takes practice, but we have to start allowing thoughts that serve us to fill our minds—not thoughts that only make the loneliness worse. I do this by focusing on mindfulness and practicing meditation. It creates space between thoughts and emotions and allows some distance to decide whether thoughts are helpful or not, worth engaging in, or worth letting go. Then we can start to think productively. This means purposefully thinking thoughts that make you feel good—even when you’re by yourself.
In other words, it’s during the times we find ourselves alone that we need to discover how to be our own best friend. It’s true what they say: “if you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone.”
How Can We Be Our Own Best Friend?
For our mental well-being, this is very important. Taking a proactive approach to loneliness also means coming up with ways to occupy your mind and time when you find yourself alone. Transform the solitude into something productive and self-sustaining or personally fulfilling or engaging. This will, in my experience, take your mind off of being alone, so you don’t generate those strong feelings.
It’s also true that we can engage ourselves during times of actual loneliness. By interacting with ourselves—reading a book, learning something new, being creative, writing, exercising, and more—we can decrease the feelings of loneliness and isolation, even when we’re on our own.
This works because it’s taking our focus off of the loneliness. Loneliness is a common default emotional reaction and a negative pattern; breaking the default thinking and creating new, productive thinking or finding ways to occupy the mind helps tremendously when faced with these hard times.
For me, an easy go-to with my thoughts is always to purposefully focus on my dreams, goals, and vision. Thinking about how I can help myself or come up with solutions to any sort of problem. It’s all about finding what engages your mind, something you feel passionate about, or anything you can think about endlessly that keeps you engaged, content, and focused on the good.
The best way to not end up in loneliness is to keep our thoughts out of it. It’s about learning to master our minds (gradually, as an ongoing process that takes time and effort).
Though this holiday season may be more about physical distancing than holiday parties, with a proactive approach, we can all still make the best of it. It takes effort for growth and breaking problematic patterns. But it’s totally doable and well worth it. Stop the pattern of loneliness. For happiness and a safe and happy holiday!
Debbie Jacobs is an advocate, writer, and healing specialist living in Alexandria, Virginia. She lived most of her adult life with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and then was diagnosed with bipolar. She speaks out on how self-improvement is life improvement and believes we all can live happy lives by making positive changes to ourselves. Her influences are Louise Hay, Napoleon Hill, Les Brown, and Tony Robbins. She does positivity life coaching and is in the process of writing her first book on her healing process of accomplishing positive thinking, positive effective coping skills, and healthy self-esteem—what she calls “freedom and happiness.” She shares her work to motivate, inspire, and help others make positive changes to themselves for their freedom and happiness, too.
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