This may be the year of the solo Thanksgiving dinner. Plenty of people are pretty happy about not having to go home for the holidays. Even those who would rather avoid their families, though, might be feeling apprehensive about spending the actual holiday alone. All those warm-and-gushy movies on TV can make a turkey dinner for one seem kind of sad, after all, no matter how determined you are to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"Loneliness can be especially challenging during the holidays because they're times that we typically think about spending with other people," Nicole Beurkens, PhD, a clinical psychologist, explains to Refinery29.
Of course, it's totally possible to have the best Thanksgiving of your life, while also seeing literally no one (or maybe just a roommate or partner) — it just takes a little prep work, Dr. Beurkens says, and now is the time to start. Here, her best tips.
Use technology to your advantage
Remember last year, when we all resolved to be less tech-connected during 2020. Lol. Anyway, your phone is the best way to stay connected to the people who are meaningful to you this year, Dr. Beurkens says. Schedule a quick call or FaceTime with the people you love, so you can feel a little less lonely. Make sure to set it up ahead of time, so you can definitely connect.
Focus on practicing gratitude
I can't be the only one whose family goes around the dinner table saying what they're thankful for each Turkey Day. Do the same thing, but solo, Dr. Beurkens suggests. It will pay off: Participating in gratitude writing exercises as part of therapy has long-lasting positive impacts on your mental wellbeing, according to study out of Indiana University. In it, 293 people who were entering psychotherapy for depression and/or anxiety reported better mental health statuses for weeks after a gratitude writing practice.
The key: Don't try to conjure up random stuff you feel thankful for, and don't list things that you know you should be grateful for, if you don't truly feel connected to it. Instead, try to pay attention to the little moments or joys in your life that truly make you feel happy — the warm cup of tea you're drinking right now; the day off work; your favorite movie on TV; your group text and all your friends who have checked in. You can write down a list of what you're grateful for on a piece of paper, jot it down in the Notes app of your phone, or just spend some dedicated time meditating on your gratitude.
Do something for others
Volunteering will look different this year, due to the pandemic. So think outside the box: Send flowers to a senior center, write cards to people in need, purchase holiday gifts for needy families, donate cash. There's reason to get creative. Not only do these actions help others, they also help you have a more joyous solo holiday. "When we're feeling really alone we focus on our own stuff. That can feel overwhelming," Dr. Beurkens explains. "But when we reach out and focus on what we can do to have a positive impact on other people, that has a positive impact on us too."
Maybe stay off social media
Ultimately, this one is a personal choice. Be honest with yourself: Do you tend to experience severe FOMO? If so, spend a day off the 'gram. "It may be helpful for some people to avoid scrolling on social media if they're going to be confronted by lots of pictures of things they're missing out on or people celebrating in ways they wish they could be," Dr. Beurkens says. "That comparison could be the thief of our own joy in that moment."
Instead of mindlessly scrolling, focus on watching your favorite show, reading a new book, or even just taking a nap. The jury's out on TikTok though — a random tarot card pull may be just what you need.
Don't ignore your true feelings
Please, don't put any pressure on yourself to have the Best Thanksgiving Ever to mask feelings of sadness and loneliness. If there's just one good thing about spending the holidays alone, it's that we should be free of unrealistic expectations! "People should allow themselves a little bit of time to honor and acknowledge however they're feeling about [being alone]," Dr. Beurkens says. "If they're feeling sad about it or disappointed or frustrated with it, it's okay to let yourself acknowledge that."
The flip side of this is that wallowing in your feelings isn't helpful either, Dr. Beurkens points out. So here's the key: Acknowledge how you feel. Spend a few minutes sitting with those feelings. Then, ask yourself: 'How can I make the best of this?' or "How can I support myself?' Get into the solution, and find a positive distraction. My favorite is turning on Friends, a perfect mindless TV show. I'd recommend checking out our list of Thanksgiving episodes, ranked, to start your binge.
Do whatever you want to do
You know how sometimes you find yourself with a random free day? (This poem that I saw on the subway pre-COVID sums it up best.) A whole 24 hours, with no plans, nowhere to be, no one to see — bliss. Tap into that secretive joy on your solo Thanksgiving. "You don't have to compromise with other people about what you're going to do," Dr. Beurkens says. "You can truly make it a day filled with things that you enjoy and what bring you satisfaction and enjoyment."
If you want to spend the entire day in your pajamas, watching movies, and eating ice cream out of the carton, then do it! If you spend a few hours cooking the traditional Thanksgiving food you'd eat with your family, then have a Zoom dinner, you can do that too. There's no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays by yourself. It's all about what brings you joy that day — even if it means doing absolutely nothing.