So your holiday plans fell through. Or you don't want to see anyone. Or, come to think of it, you don't really know anyone to spend the holidays with. Or, for some reason, you simply can't be with others this time. And now here you are – alone – during a season that sells cozy, fireside togetherness like it's somehow going out of style.
Believe it or not, that's fine. Your holiday can still be merry and bright if you're only hanging one stocking for Santa. Below, experts ranging from psychologists to social workers to best-selling authors share advice for enjoying the holidays on your own.
Find your people. If you're particularly bummed about spending the holidays solo, and you have the ability to fix the situation, do it, says Gretchen Rubin author of the best-seller "The Happiness Project." Yes, that might mean shelling out for a last-minute plane ticket or tagging along to your friend's Christmas dinner, but if those options are more appealing than being alone, then get moving.
Give your time. Volunteering is an activity that most of the experts suggested for people spending the holidays alone. Offering your time at a nursing home or homeless shelter, for example, not only helps others and perhaps eases their loneliness, but it also frees you from a cycle of self-gravitating thoughts. While, no, it's not bad to think about yourself and your feelings, and being alone would certainly prompt you to do so, helping others can give you a healthy and important break to consider the larger world around you.
Connect with strangers. Even if you're not serving soup, there are other, simpler connections to be made with strangers. A meaningful chat with a cashier, a good deed for another just for the heck of it – these connections can lift your spirits, especially if you're apart from friends and family. "The key is to look for opportunities to create these micro-moments of connection when you're out and about and to really savor them," says Barbara Fredrickson a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina and author of "Love 2.0." "You do yourself a disservice when you believe that love only unfolds between you and someone 'special' to you."
Treat yourself. Try to reframe this solo day as "a gift of time to yourself," says Beverly Flaxington, human behavior coach and adjunct professor of leadership and social responsibility at Suffolk University in Boston. "You can be your own best friend and good company." Indulge your guilty pleasures. Submit to a six hour "Game of Thrones" binge. Plan a solo vacation.
Acknowledge that you're unhappy, if you are. If you're more than comfortable with spending the holidays alone and are optimistic about it – excellent, merry Christmas, indeed! If not, give yourself permission to recognize your sadness, instead of pretending to be holly and jolly, says LeslieBeth Wish, a relationship expert for the National Association of Social Workers. Without noting the specific reasons for your blues, you're unlikely to find solutions, she says.
[Read: When the Holidays Make You Sad.]
But don't dwell on unhappy thoughts. The key here is mindfulness. If you find yourself caught in that cycle of emotionally charged, negative thoughts about loneliness – everyone has plans but me, I'm never invited to anything, no one really likes me – stop and acknowledge these feelings. Note the sensations in your body, which may feel like a heaviness or achiness, and consider your breathing. "If you remain present and mindful and begin to listen to your thoughts about being lonely, you might discover that the thoughts are telling a one-sided story, and one that might not totally be true," says Jeffrey Brantley, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C.
Victor Davich, author of "8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life," says to address negative, limiting emotions as "ephemeral, insubstantial and transient – like clouds rolling across the always clear and blue sky." And just how exactly do you do that? Try these meditation exercises Davich shares in this article about relieving travel stress.