Coping with loneliness during the festive period

Whether you’re on your own or surrounded by loved ones, feeling lonely during the festive period is more common than you might think. High expectation coupled with feeling like everyone else is having a great time can amplify feelings of loneliness and isolation. Mental Health Prevention Lead Lisa Gunn explores coping strategies to help you feel less lonely at this time of year.

Top tips for living with loneliness during the festive period

Arrange phone calls with loved ones

Connecting with loved ones (despite being physically apart) at this time of year can be a great thing to do to ease feelings of loneliness.

If you can’t be there in person, arranging time for video and phone calls with loved ones can help us feel less alone. Knowing you’re going to see or hear from loved ones can help break the day up and give you something to look forward to if you’re on your own.

If you’re not able to be there in person, arrange to get involved with board games, quizzes, and other festive activities over video call.

Don’t compare with others

Comparing means we judge our own experience against someone else’s, instead of in isolation.

This can amplify loneliness and cause us to feel like we’re missing out, not “doing the festive period properly”, or having less fun than someone else.

If you’re feeling lonely over the festive period, try to judge your situation without comparing it against the experience of others. If you find it makes things worse, try avoiding social media for a while. 

Embrace the great outdoors

Parks and outdoor spaces are usually quieter over the festive period. If you’re stuck indoors on your own, use this time to enjoy the great outdoors. 

Many people cite being outdoors as helping lessen feelings of loneliness. This is because being out in nature offers us time for self-reflection, getting a clearer perspective on things, and connecting with the natural world.

The opposite is true of overcrowded areas, like cities. Not only do people in cities tend to feel more lonely than those who live in the countryside, but research indicates that feelings of overcrowding can increase loneliness by up to 39%

Engage with the things you love

Most people have some time off work or time where the services they access aren’t available over the festive period.

If you’re spending it alone, use this time to engage with hobbies, or to learn something new. Treat yourself and buy something that’s just for you to enjoy.

Dedicating time to something you love doing is a great way to put a positive spin on the festive period. Try saying “I have a lot more free time to enjoy the things I love” instead of “I’m on my own this time of year”.

Seek out new connections

The internet has made connecting with others easier than ever.

Online forums, message boards, self-help groups, and other online communities offer a wealth of connection and support for those on their own.

Online communities exist for almost everything, including board games, films, quizzes, instructional guides, teaching and learning courses, discussion, video games and read-a-longs.

If you’re on your own, write a list of the things you love to do and explore the online content created by people who share your passion. Even just watching someone talk about something you’re interested in can help you feel enthused, engaged and less alone.

Don’t ignore your feelings

While coping strategies are great, it’s important you don’t ignore your feelings.

This can lead to short-term solutions that ignore the need to address a long-term problem. Talking to others about your feelings is a great way to understand your emotions. Vocalising what you’re going through can help give a new perspective on things and highlight coping strategies you hadn’t considered.

If you think talking to a professional might help you, click here to find out more about therapy.


While not possible for everyone, travelling at  this time of year is a popular option for people spending the festive season alone.

Flights are expensive, but seeing another city during winter and exploring the world during the festive season is a unique experience that not many people get to do.

Practice self-care

Research shows that when we’re feeling low, our self-care practices drop off and we stop taking care of ourselves as we should. Make sure you’re practicing self-care, whether you’re on your own or not. 

Self-care includes physical and mental practices that make you feel good. Whether the focus is recharging mentally, getting some well-deserved rest and relaxation, or catching up on sleep, spending the festive season alone can be a great time to do it.

Get lost in film or books

“You’re never alone with a good book” is a clichéd, but true sentiment.

If you can’t be with loved ones at this time of year, escaping into another world by reading a good book or watching one of your favourite films can be a great way to keep busy.

The beauty of the internet is that we can easily avoid festive-themed media and treat this time of year like any other day if we want to.

Television guides are still available in shops if you’re keen on structuring your day around your favourite reruns.

Remember that this time of year isn’t forever

Whether you love it or hate it, the festive season doesn’t last forever.

If you’re part of the 17% of people whose mental health worsens at this time of year, take comfort in the fact that when January rolls around, the extra aggravation and stress of the festive season will disappear.

Volunteer with a good cause

Volunteering gives you the opportunity to help others, while spending the festive period in the company of others.

If you’re able, giving your time to a cause that needs you gives you a sense of fulfilment that not much else can. It’s also a unique way to spend the festive season and puts you in touch with people you’d otherwise never have met.

Is it normal to feel lonely at this time of year?

When it comes to the festive season, there is no normal. 

We compare ourselves to what others are doing because popular culture, films, television and media sell us an “ideal” that doesn’t really exist.

Be kind to yourself and practise self-care and compassion, no matter what your circumstances are. Feeling lonely is a valid emotion that you shouldn’t feel shame or surprise at feeling. 

See below for some common feelings around the festive season:

  • Being surrounded by friends and family and still feeling lonely
  • Wishing you were on your own
  • Enjoying the time of year but comparing your experience to other people’s
  • Comparing your experience with films and stories
  • Feeling lonely and left out
  • Wanting to spend the season with some people but not others
  • Feeling anger that you’re on your own while others spend time with family

Why do I feel lonelier at this time of year?

17% of us report feeling more lonely than usual during the festive season. 

This could be because it feels like everyone else is with family and you aren’t, or because the “ideal” festive period we see on television paints an image of collective enjoyment and happiness, and this is not our experience. 

For people who have lost a loved one at at this time of year, the festivities can trigger painful memories. Family rituals, decorations or events can all be poignant reminders of the person who is no longer present.

We may also feel lonelier than usual because services and community programmes that we rely on aren’t running. Many people also experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where certain symptoms of depression worsen during the winter.

Is it okay to want to spend it alone?

If you choose to spend the festive season alone despite having somewhere to go, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about your decision. Everybody has different feelings around this time of year, and we cannot expect everyone to enjoy the same things.

If you are spending time with family and are still feeling lonely, this may be a sign for you to look at why this is happening. For everything you need to know about loneliness, click here to read more.

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Last updated Friday 1 December 2023

First published on Wednesday 29 November 2023