Are you single and dreading the holidays? You may feel alone, but you are not. Forty-five percent of the adult population (104 million people) is single. Twenty-seven percent of households are a person living alone.
Many people who are single treat their "condition" as if it's a disease, a defect and something to be ashamed of, thinking that this is a couple's world, even though almost half of adults are single. But if being single were a defect, then the following would make sense:
- Being single is a defect.
- All people who are now married were once single.
- Therefore, all married people married someone who was defective.
- In addition, both of my parents must have been defective -- until they got married.
Well, think about it. Does this make sense? Or, can being single be a choice -- often a good choice, a temporary experience, a situation with advantages and disadvantages, and something to accept -- and build on -- during the entire year?
How do you handle the holidays?
Let's look at the most problematic ways to cope during this "festive" season. Do you drink more, binge eat or get high on drugs? Do you isolate yourself, become more passive, lie on the couch and hope to feel better? Do you hope to "wait it out"-- to get past New Year's so you can "live again?" Do you lie around, alone, dwelling on your negative thoughts, ruminating about being alone, feeling down and asking, "Why Me?"
If you do, then it's likely you are either depressed or on the road to becoming depressed.
OK. Let's develop a plan -- and stick with it during the holiday season and throughout the next year.
- Commit to self-care.
- Take action.
- Connect with others.
- Help others.
- Set aside your repetitive thoughts.
The best gift to give yourself is to take care of yourself. Rather than over-indulge with drinking, drugs and binging, why not start your New Year's resolution today? Get a head-start. If you over-drink and overeat you are likely to feel worse. You might feel better for an hour, but you'll feel even worse the next day. Commit to self-care. Start your healthy eating now, cut back or eliminate drinking -- during the holidays -- and after. Go to the health club, start taking long walks, plan pleasure days just for you. Give yourself the gift of caring about yourself. After all, rather than rely on others, you are always there to take care of you.
Depression goes hand and hand with passivity. No one says, "It's been a great day; I stayed in bed all day". Get busy, make plans, carry them out. You might start by having an action plan for every day this week -- and some longer-term goals for the next month and next year. Pull yourself into the future, choose to do things -- even when you don't want to. If you live in a city, turn yourself into a tourist and make the city come alive. Get out of your passivity.
Just because you live alone doesn't mean you have to be alone. Make plans with friends and do things together. Join organizations where people have similar interests -- go onto MeetUp.com. If you are so inclined, get involved at your church, synagogue or mosque. Call people you have missed over the past year. Start being friendly with strangers. I met my wife on the subway 25 years ago. Who knows what can happen?
One way to feel better about yourself is to help someone who is worse off. Volunteer to help the homeless, dish out food at a soup kitchen, sign up to tutor a kid, see if you can visit people at the hospital or take food to the elderly who are housebound. Google "volunteers" in your area and find someone or some cause that needs you. You help yourself when you matter to someone else. One woman volunteered at an animal shelter and found this to be immensely rewarding. I think the pussycat was more powerful than the Prozac.
You may be lying around, dwelling on the negative: "Why am I alone?" or "This really is lousy." Set aside these ruminations and repetitious thoughts and do all the things that I suggested above. Your ruminations will not give you the answer. Escape from yourself and get out into the world. And then celebrate your personal liberation.
To learn more about how to handle feeling alone and down, see my new book, "Beat the Blues Before They Beat You."
Follow Robert Leahy, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AICTCognitive