If you’re a member of the Church and you’re single, you know how hard the holiday season can be, especially if you’re spending any part of it alone. Because of the gospel’s emphasis on family, single Latter-day Saints may be particularly vulnerable to feelings of sadness or grief. As a therapist, it’s not unusual to have clients come into my office struggling with what’s supposed to be the happiest time of the year. While others are gathering in families and spreading good cheer, many people who are alone are just hoping to endure.
For those who are not married and live far from family, it can be a difficult time. It’s also hard for those who are divorced and sharing custody of their children. This can mean that the kids are away for at least one holiday during the season, leaving a parent alone and turning the holiday season from enjoyment to dread. But there are some ways to manage this kind of experience and maybe even find joy in spending a holiday alone.
The word holiday has its roots in two Old English words: holy and day. Here are a few ideas for turning the holiday season into holy days when you’re alone. Many of these suggestions will require some forethought and planning—and for those who are facing a holiday alone, planning ahead might be the last thing they want to do. But leaning into the discomfort of considering and preparing for what lies ahead can help us make thoughtful choices, allowing us to create comfort and peace and enabling our holidays to become holy days even when we’re far from loved ones.
1. Give Distressing Thoughts a Time Out
Being alone during the holidays can leave one vulnerable to intrusive negative thoughts, especially for people experiencing additional stressors. For those who have experienced a difficult custody battle or are in the throes of a contentious divorce, it’s important to give yourself some time away from those thoughts and concerns during the holidays. This can be hard, especially if your children will be visiting your ex-spouse, making it difficult to focus on anything else.
One way to corral intrusive thoughts and worries is to put a timer on them. Decide that you’re going to worry about your kids or feel bad about your ex-spouse for only a certain amount of time. Then set a timer. You can spend this time journaling about your concerns, if it’s helpful. When the buzzer goes off, put those thoughts away and focus on something else for the rest of the day. When these uneasy feelings intrude, tell yourself you’ll focus on those things during your next dedicated “worry time.”
2. Try Something New
If you’re alone, the holiday season might be the perfect time to try something new. This can take planning ahead, but it can also be spontaneous. Is there a park you’ve never been to but have always wanted to visit? Do you want to do a deep dive into the scriptures, genealogy, or talks from the last general conference? Is there a new food you’d like to try making? Maybe you can watch some YouTube videos and learn how best to use your phone’s camera. With how-to videos and the internet, it’s possible to try almost any new activity, and the scriptures are always available for new insights.
3. Find Ways to Serve
In 2011, President M. Russell Ballard stated, “The love the Savior described is an active love. It is not manifested through large and heroic deeds but rather through simple acts of kindness and service.”
During the holiday season, we often turn our thoughts to service, and when we’re alone our circumstances might allow more flexibility to act on the desire to serve others. Can you send Christmas cards to those you haven’t seen in a while or try to correspond with a friend who may need a listening ear? Is there a food bank or a homeless shelter that could use an extra pair of hands? Are you interested in concentrating your efforts on one particularly needy family? Maybe you can team up with another individual and pool your resources to help others.
Service can help us put off the “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) and pull ourselves out of our own difficulties. It can sometimes be the balm of Gilead we’re looking for as it has the power to draw us closer to Christ.
4. Allow Yourself to Be Sad
Sometimes we just need to give into the sadness of our situation. If you find yourself unexpectedly shedding tears or your heart suddenly feels full of anguish, let yourself feel those things. Too often we label our emotions as good or bad. We think “good” emotions are happiness, pleasure, joy, excitement, and satisfaction while “bad” emotions are sadness, tearfulness, disappointment, anger, or regret.
But Sister Reyna I. Aburto has said, “Like our Heavenly Parents and our Savior, we have a physical body and experience emotions. … It is normal to feel sad or worried once in a while.” For many, the holidays can be that time of feeling sadness or worry, and that’s OK. If you find yourself dealing with sadness or other emotions considered negative, allow yourself to feel them. Don’t try to avoid “bad” emotions; if we want to heal our sadness, we must feel it.
If your sadness feels as if it’s spiraling into depression or is accompanied by a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, brain fog, fatigue, or lethargy, please consider checking in with a mental health professional who can help you work through your feelings.
5. Do Something You Love That’s Hard to Do With Others
Do you enjoy blasting “oldies” music that your kids hate? Is bingeing Jane Austen movies your idea of a good time, but your kids roll their eyes? Do you enjoy holiday events that you can’t ever find time for when the kids are home? Do those things now. Find the things that you’ve said you’ll do one day, and do them today.
6. Write Letters to Your Kids
If you’re divorced and your children are spending time with their other parent, take the opportunity to write them an old-fashioned letter. You can leave it on their bed for when they return home. In this letter you can reaffirm your love for them, encourage them for the upcoming year, and, if appropriate, share your testimony of Christ. Write this letter without any expectations from them. Offer it simply as a gift of love.
7. Pamper Yourself
Many people, including parents, give too little thought to engaging in activities that are only about enjoying themselves. For some, pampering can mean lunch with a friend, ordering in a meal that you don’t have to cook, playing video games, or having a spa day. The pampering experience can be as unique as each individual. When we feel well cared for with a break from the grind of daily life, we can feel refreshed and better able to tackle the hard things that come our way.
Consider planning ahead for self-care time by adding these activities to your calendar. When we make an effort to plan, we’re more likely to follow through, and it can remind us that we have something to look forward to.
8. Do Something Difficult
When we think of self-care, we often think of pampering—and that certainly is a part of self-care. But so is tackling difficult tasks: accomplishing a hard job can help to boost our mood, morale, and confidence. So, finish that project. Jump on that job you’ve been dreading, and then give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished.
9. Make Time to Remember Jesus Christ
The Savior is the center of our holidays and our holy days. Strengthening our relationship with God and our Savior is the most important thing we can do to navigate any trying time, but especially a difficult holiday season spent alone. President James E. Faust stated, “Having such a relationship can unchain the divinity with us, and nothing can make a greater difference in our lives as we come to know and understand our divine relationship with God.”
Brainstorm or spend time journaling about ways you can foster, deepen, or renew your connection with the Lord. Reflect on your life and consider how much you’ve achieved and how much you’ve grown as you’ve spent time working on your relationship with Christ and creating greater closeness to the Lord. Journal about those things as well so they’re available to you during difficult times.
You Can Do More Than Just Endure the Holidays
Chances are, spending the holidays alone was not in anyone’s ideal master plan. But it doesn’t mean our holy days have to be something we simply endure. If we are willing to think ahead, lean into the difficulty, and consider a plan of action, we can create deeper connections with ourselves, others, and Jesus Christ through taking care of ourselves and serving others—helping us create holy days that include our Savior.