The image of the idyllic family holiday gathering has been portrayed again and again in commercials, television specials, and movies for years. But these holiday scenarios are mostly a myth. What’s more, they are often the source of much unhappiness for those unable to have such an experience themselves.

Mental Health experts caution that the entire notion that there is something wrong with those people who don’t spend an idyllic holiday with their families is not only false but potentially quite harmful as well. The truth is that there are millions of people who spend the holidays alone, and they are just as healthy as everyone else.

All of the hype about this beautiful time of togetherness accentuates the feelings of being disconnected and alone for those lacking this experience. And empty nesters, people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to these painful feelings of loneliness.

What’s Normal

It’s perfectly normal for those who aren’t sharing the holidays with family to feel some degree of loneliness. There is undoubtedly nothing abnormal about suffering the “holiday blues.” But it is essential to understand that “holiday blues” are more akin to a mood than a condition that will last. Allow the feeling to grab you and then allow it to pass through you.

It is somewhat ironic that many people who don’t care about certain relationships throughout the year, all of a sudden feel a sense of loss when denied the opportunity to cultivate these relationships at holiday time. There is no such thing as “holiday magic” to cement shaky relationships or heal old wounds.

But when all is said and done, many will feel the deep pain of loneliness during the holidays. If you are among them, here are some suggestions that will help you to cope.

1. Have realistic expectations

The holidays are a time of tradition. Subconsciously, traditions can easily morph into expectations. For some, the root of their deep holiday loneliness is their unrealistic expectations.

Bury the Myth

The first and most dangerous expectation is that the holidays can only be enjoyed with family. In other words, without family, there will be no happiness. Should you desire to enjoy the holidays without family, you will need to acknowledge that such a myth is deeply buried in your psyche from childhood from where you will need to extricate it. You need not remain captive to that memory.

The Danger of Social Media

Among the other dangers of Social Media is one particularly reserved for the holidays. What generally shows up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are the externals of people’s lives. So when everyone else seems to be doing just fine, it only makes you feel worse. You’ll never know how many of these people are no less lonely than you. Best to stay off those platforms until the holidays have passed.

2. Reach Out

Family

Just because you can’t be with your family or other loved ones during the holidays doesn’t mean that you can’t connect with them via the myriad of communication modalities available. Call, text, email, whatever you prefer to connect. Not being in their physical presence doesn’t mean you can’t have contact with them.

Friends

Most people are conditioned to believe that, if it isn’t shared with family, it isn’t considered a holiday. But that’s not true. The holidays are an excellent opportunity to get together with friends. The optimal way to dissipate loneliness is to override the instinct to isolate.

Call a close friend and do something that you enjoy together. Becoming engaged in exciting and enjoyable activities diverts your focus from those negative thoughts, and assists you in escaping from the self-defeating loop that loneliness often causes. Don’t hesitate to create an “alternative family” from the people that you most enjoy.

3. Volunteer

Consider volunteering your time over the holiday. Volunteering to help those less fortunate than you will give you a healthy perspective and a feeling of connection. Volunteering holds the promise of two important rewards. First of all, you will be surrounded by people who share your desire to give. And second, giving will provide you with deep fulfillment.

4. Solitude

Keep in mind that loneliness and being alone are not synonymous. Being alone, which is solitude, can be a beautiful and uplifting experience. Solitude is the capacity to be with oneself, free of external influences and expectations. It is the opportunity to shut out the noise, and get to know and love ourselves on the deepest of levels.

In other words, being alone with yourself facilitates developing a relationship with yourself. And similar to any other relationship, your relationship with yourself requires time and nurturing.

Solitude is essential. Some have compared solitude to a good night’s sleep. Solitude can recharge your entire being, which will consequently make your time with other people more valuable. There is no need to be anything in particular, nor to express anything.

Another benefit of solitude is the opportunity for self-reflection. Most people can process what is going on in their lives more effectively when they have some time to mull things over in solitude. You need time to listen to those quiet little voices in your heart and allow them to guide you when you need to make those critical decisions.

3 Ideas for Enjoying Your Alone Time

Start small

Sometimes people “fail” at solitude by trying to bite off more than they can chew. If you are inexperienced at solitude, begin with baby steps. Give yourself some extra time for a cup of coffee and take a few minutes to read that book that you have been looking forward to reading. Let this grow in longer stretches of solitude, such as listening to music for a while or staying home by yourself one day.

Identify enjoyable activities

There is no right or wrong way to experience solitude. Do whatever you enjoy, and don’t forget to experiment with different things to determine your particular preferences.

Try guided meditation

Find a guided meditation program where you can experience in a non-threatening way the experience of sitting patiently and calmly with yourself. You will have no other expectations other than enjoying real peace of mind.