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Alone for the Holidays?

November 09, 2000

Alone for the Holidays?



A solitary holiday doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself

By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer


The holiday season conjures images of packed buffet tables, home fires burning, family and friends gathering to share glad tidings and good cheer.

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It is the most wonderful time of the year, but for many the holidays will be spent alone, away from loved ones. But it doesn't have to be a sentence to rock away on the couch with a remote control and a frozen - turkey, of course - dinner.

"Thanksgiving is coming, and Christmas and New Year's, and whether we like it or not, it's going to happen," says Donna Stevenson Swope, a licensed clinical social worker with Brook Lane Health Services in Hagerstown. "Do not deny this reality. I think it's how we frame it. If we frame it in a negative view, like 'I'm so alone' or a panic, 'What am I going to do?' then that frame will lead to that outcome."

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Yes, it's hard to navigate a solitary holiday, but it's not impossible to enjoy yourself, according to Swope and other counselors.

Whether you are young and away from family during the holidays for the first time, you are divorced or you have lost a spouse, the key is to keep busy. Clinical social worker Marie Guedenet says socializing with others, even if it's just to go to a mall or performance, can impact demeanor. More importantly, it keeps people from huddling at home.

"If you're by yourself, go to somebody's house," suggests Sandra Crawford Miller, a therapist at Blue Ridge Counseling Services. She recommends staying overnight at somebody's house the night before so when you wake up, you're with someone.

Swope says younger people have a more difficult time than their older counterparts.

"When you've lost someone you've been with for a long time, you have a lot of people around to support you," she says. "When you're alone and single you just don't have that. Not in your immediate environment."

Nancy Barnett, a licensed clinical social worker, agrees with Swope but adds that the first time someone experiences a holiday alone is always the toughest.

"Those first holidays are going to feel very painful because there's so much unknown and disruption of customs you've had in the past," she says.

Miller begins working with her patients at the end of November to prepare for dealing with the holidays. She also suggests volunteering at a local rescue mission or shelter. Not only does it get people interacting with others, but helping others can elevate your mood.

"It gets you a moment away from the grief and just a moment or two of respite makes you feel wonderful," Miller says. "You'd be surprised how contagious people's enthusiasm is."

Ironically, television specials can glamorize the holidays, leading people who are alone to get down. Howard B. Smith, senior director for professional affairs at American Counseling Association, warns not to get caught up in the hype.

"What happens with a person that is alone is they're especially vulnerable to the idea of the perfect holiday, and the reality is far from that," Smith says. "What feeds into the loneliness is feeling we don't have any choices. The point is to turn that energy we're using to beat up ourselves into action. ... It's a mind game."

Counselors caution that it takes time to get used to the new holiday environment. With patience and planning, enjoying the holidays is possible.

"I don't know if you can avoid it entirely, but you can diminish the feelings of being alone," Smith says. "Lack of experience always exacerbates the problem, and it can be difficult. The key is to get into problem-solving instead of wallowing in the problem."

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