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How to Deal With Loneliness During Winter Break

Returning home from college for winter break conjures memories of hot cocoa by the fireplace, frosty photoshoots outdoors with hometown BFFs, and massive meals shared with loved ones. But this year, winter break looks slightly different and, perhaps a little less gleeful, for all of us.

If you've fallen victim to the winter break blues, you’re not alone. As the weather gets colder and the pandemic rages on, entering into a seasonal slump is perfectly understandable. Whether you’re home from college for the holidays, or you opted to brave out the next few months on campus, these times are challenging and can be accompanied by sensations of loneliness. The stresses of 2020 have presented a new host of obstacles that put an undeniable strain on the typical merry-and-bright vibe of winter break. For many, this year has been one of physical and emotional isolation, brought on by a disconnect from family and friends, the loss of loved ones, or merely the pressures to adjust to new academic and social environments.  

If you find yourself feeling a bit more isolated or dejected than usual, we hope these tips for defying loneliness will help lift your spirits. 

Related: What to Do if You’re Feeling Lonely in College
Find an escape

If you’re feeling a little distanced from your winter break traditions this year, an old reliable, albeit temporary, fix can be indulging in your favorite movies and books. Captivating reads and memorable films are like comfort food — excellent for the soul. Whether it’s re-watching or re-reading your favorite classics or finding a new gem, if you’re in need of a little comfort and a brief break from reality, you may just find it between the pages of a novel or through your TV screen.

If you're craving more social interaction, consider organizing a watch party or a virtual book club to keep in touch with family and friends even when you're physically apart. Maybe you and your grandparents always watch Elf when you finish your winter finals, or buckling down for a Harry Potter marathon with your sisters is an annual tradition. The pandemic may be keeping you in different states, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep your traditions alive through a movie night over Zoom! Same goes for a book club. At the start of the month, get a group of friends together to reread a childhood favorite or try out a new bestseller. Have a virtual meet-up at the end of the month and share your reactions.

For a more introvert-friendly option, snuggle up to reread your favorite comfort series. As far as movies go, sometimes you just need a cheesy, rom-com to conjure up a laugh and brighten your day. Consider tuning in to something lighthearted like The Family Stone or Let it Snow. If a seasonal flick isn’t what you’re looking for, browse for something more tasteful with this list of the best movies for when you’re in your lonely feels. 

Do some reflecting 

When you're feeling down, sometimes the hardest thing to do is put pen to paper. That said, it can be one of the most effective ways to work through your emotions. If journaling isn’t really your thing, try starting with a stream of consciousness and just spill out whatever comes to mind onto the page. This can be a great exercise for releasing built-up tension and unpacking the reasons behind your loneliness. 

Another solid tactic is to follow some writing prompts to get your mental juices flowing. Try responding to these questions: Why are you feeling lonely? When did your feelings shift? What is something you could do in less than five minutes to make yourself feel better? Try not to overthink and just jot down responses. You may be surprised to find what pours out of you.

If you find yourself in a worse mental space after journaling, try to put a positive spin on the negative emotions you're grappling with. One way to do this is reflecting on what you’re grateful for. Your answers don't have to be paragraphs long; in fact, there might be only one or two things that you can think of right off the bat. Gratitude can come in small forms: being grateful for a healthy body and a sound mind, for your loved ones, and the food you have to eat. Chances are, the more you reflect on this question, the more you’ll find you have to say. Now, it’s not to say that having a lot to be grateful for in any way invalidates the stressful or lonely emotions you may be juggling. However, gratitude can help put things into perspective and, hopefully, make you feel a bit more at ease. 

Screentime break

Social media and loneliness don’t often mix well. Frequenting platforms like Snapchat and Instagram can project the upsetting illusion that everyone is having a better time than you are during the break. We’ve all fallen victim to the Instagram trap before — feeling frustrated by photos of people, friends and unknowns alike, having the times of their lives, while we are sitting in our rooms feeling ashamed and alone. It can be a crippling feeling, which is why it’s vital to keep in mind that social media is not real life. 

If you find yourself clinging to your phone, caught in a vicious cycle of envy, it may be time for a break. As humans, we all struggle with willpower, so if you’re going to take a screen break or limit your screen time, give yourself as little power as possible to backtrack on your decision. Consider imposing app time limits on your Snapchat and Instagram. Or, for a more extreme (and arguably more effective) recess, temporarily disable your Instagram account, which can only be done from a computer. First, determine how long you want your break to be. If this is your first time taking a social media break, shoot for a week or two. If and when you choose to reactivate your account, you’ll be able to log back in from the same computer that you disabled it on. Who knows, by the end of your social-media-free period you may opt to stay off for good! 

Get active!

A tried and true method for improving your mood? Exercise. Getting your body moving is one of the best ways to work through emotional distress. When you work out, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that literally make you feel better inside. Keep in mind that “work out” doesn’t have to mean running five miles or lifting weights for an hour at the gym. It can be as simple as going for a walk around the block and taking your dog outside to play. 

Obviously, the cold weather can present some obstacles to getting out and getting active, but, if there’s one thing that this year has gifted us, it’s access galore to online, at-home workouts. Try out a 20-minute yoga session or a quick pilates class. Even just treating your body to a nice morning stretch can enhance your mentality for the rest of the day.

Know your resources 

Intensified loneliness may be a temporary bout of seasonal melancholy. However, it could also point to something more serious, like anxiety or depression, which can’t merely be cured by a feel-good film or a social media hiatus. If you find your mood turning gradually darker, start to lose motivation, or have feelings of hopelessness, it may be time to talk to a professional. 

Anxiety and depression can be all-consuming conditions that are highly personal and difficult to discuss. If you’re comfortable, confide in a trusted family member or friend to help you find the tools you need to recover.  Another good starting point is the health services center within your university. Most colleges offer mental health counseling free of cost, so consider reaching out to a counselor to schedule a time to meet, whether online or in person. 

If you're worried that your loneliness is an indicator of anxiety and depression, the first step to healing is telling someone. Never forget that you are valuable and worthy of help and, though you may feel lonely now, you are never truly alone.

As we venture deeper into the winter months, try to keep the hope alive. These troubling times have tested us all in ways we never anticipated, but with a new year around the corner, there’s the promise of new beginnings. Enjoy your breaks– wherever you may be spending them. Cherish the people who bring you peace and joy, and if you’re feeling lost or a little lonely, just remember that we’ll all get through this turbulent year together.

A Minnesota native, Samantha is a feature writer for Her Campus and a senior at the University of Michigan, where she majors in international studies and minors in business. Apart from her time spent writing, Samantha can be found indulging in any and all desserts, enjoying a rare sunny day in the Ann Arbor winter, or rewatching her favorite films. You can follow Samantha on Instagram @sammienel
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