COVID-19 has really turned our lives upside down this year and halted pretty much every plan most of us have had for rocking the start of a new decade. We are now in our 9th month of the pandemic, with the holidays just around the corner, and many of us are wondering: Will I have to spend the holidays alone?

Unfortunately, for many, that will be the safest option. Although some will choose to travel as safely as possible during the holidays, the truth is that for many holiday travel is just not safe this year. Anyone who usually plans to travel home to visit family (especially older relatives) should especially skip holiday travel. But that means something really sad for many of us: Spending the holidays alone. And for those of us who are sober, this can be an especially difficult proposition.

Although the CDC provides a guide to COVID-19 and holiday gatherings, the lowest risk is to have a small gathering with people who already live in your home. But if you already live alone, that may be a difficult reality to swallow. With so many things already different this year, I was definitely one of the people who hoped against hope that the holidays might be back to normal. But with cases rising again across the U.S., now is not the time to throw caution to the wind. Instead, read on for our guide on how to cope with spending the holidays solo — including some fun activities to try!

If You Can’t Visit Family This Year

Flying across the country — or even driving a few towns away — is just not possible for many. But if you love spending the holidays with your family, this may be really difficult. Instead, try to focus on the positives: For one, you don’t have to face your boozy uncle asking you (again!) why you can’t just have “one drink”. Plus, you can avoid all of those awkward questions about why you’re single… so that’s a bonus. Secondly, you’ll be saving money on travel, which you can use to splurge on yourself in the new year or treat your family to something special (a great book, perhaps?). 

Of course, it’s also going to make you sad. But there *are* a few things you can do with your family — virtually, of course — to recreate that holiday feeling. Here are some ideas: 

  • Cooking Lesson: Have a Zoom cooking lesson with grandma (or whoever) to make her most special holiday dish. That way, everyone in the family can learn it, too!
  • Family Potluck: Exchange family recipes to create a “potluck” at home. Basically, this way you can enjoy your aunt’s special mac and cheese and your cousin’s fabulous pie, too.
  • Presents ‘n PJs: Open presents virtually. Send everyone matching pajamas, have them get into them in the morning, and get everyone together on Zoom. Then, take turns opening presents.
  • Matching Table: A virtual dinner over Zoom or FaceTime is your best bet, so get into it. Not only can you do the “potluck” idea by recreating your family’s recipes, but you can also put someone in charge of decorating and have them send out matching paper plates, cups, napkins, and cutlery so that it feels as if you’re all gathered around the same table.
  • Dress Up: Don’t forget to dress the part! Just because you’re not together in person, doesn’t mean you’re not together in spirit. If your family has a tradition of dressing in ugly Christmas sweaters or your fanciest clothes, treat this holiday season the same.

If Seeing Friends Indoors Isn’t an Option

If you were lucky enough to live in a part of the country where the numbers started to go down over the summer, it’s possible that you felt safe enough to get together outside with friends while wearing masks. But as the months get colder, outside gatherings will become more difficult and the CDC is still pointing out that doing anything indoors carries a bigger risk.

So what are you to do during the long months when it’s chilly, you want to enjoy the holidays with friends, but indoor gatherings just aren’t safe? Here are some options:

  • Social Distanced Caroling: If you and your friends love to go caroling but you’re not sure you can do it this year, I say: Why not? Just make sure to practice correct social distancing by forming a really small group (2-4 people) and standing at least 6 feet away from each other.
  • Zoom Gingerbread House Contest: One of my fondest memories in my 20s was getting together every holiday season to do gingerbread houses with friends. Well, this year, buy some Halloween candy on discount ASAP, then plan for a Zoom friend date. Keep it simple by making gingerbread houses with Graham Crackers and making Royal Icing to help your house stand up.
  • Secret Santa: Instead of having a mountain of presents you have to send out, do a Secret Santa with your friends ad open gifts over Zoom. That way, you add to the fun by having each person guess who they got a gift from, and then delight in finding out!
  • Drive-By Lights: If you love seeing Christmas lights (whether or not you actually celebrate this particular holiday), you can do a socially distanced light-viewing date with friends. If you all have your own cars, pick a neighborhood that has the best lights and do a drive-by caravan date altogether.
  • Play Online Holiday Bingo: This one’s pretty simple! Get everyone to print a holiday bingo card, then get together online and play together. Done and done.

If You Don’t Have (But Want) a Partner

Let’s admit it: Being single during the holidays can be downright depressing. Of course, not everyone feels that way and that’s great. But when I was single, I hated when the holidays came around. And with the pandemic, even if you wanted to date, that doesn’t look the same. Still, if you’re hoping to find a partner for forever or just for right now, there is one thing you can do: Online dating!

Online dating is probably the easiest right now, but how do you do a date? Here are some holiday-worthy suggestions:

  • Netflix Movie Date: Have you and your date both download the Netflix Party extension for Google Chrome, then find a cheesy holiday movie. Make sure you both agree on it or take turns picking a movie.
  • Have a Holiday Mocktail: Since drinking isn’t an option anyway, why not have a Zoom date with a holiday mocktail? Whether you’re making something for Hanukkah or Christmas, getting creative in this way should also help you strike up some conversation.
  • Share Your Music Favorites: Holiday music is my favorite and there’s nothing better than sharing your musical tastes with your partner. Sure, you may not agree (my husband and I never do!) but a fun date might be to get together over Zoom and take turns playing your favorite holiday tunes. You can even both trim the tree while playing this music…
  • Cozy Night In: This one’s simple: Have a cozy night in… in your own apartments. Here’s how to do it: Turn on a fireplace video on your TV, get on Zoom, make a cup of hot cocoa, and have a date while wearing your comfiest robe. Perfection.
  • Bake Some Holiday Cookies: Organize a Zoom cookie-decorating contest with your date. It can be as simple as finding a recipe online to bake together, or have each of you make your own favorite holiday cookie recipe, then send it to each other to enjoy on your next date.

If You Have Seasonal Depression

According to Psychology Today, an estimated 10 million Americans have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and another 10-20% may have a mild version of SAD. If this is you, or you’re just feeling depressed in general due to the pandemic, it’s important to do the best you can to get help.

Yes, talking with a therapist may be extremely helpful, but so is staying in touch with your loved ones as best you can. We offered tips on the latter above. But you can also do something specifically during the dark winter months that can help you feel less, well, SAD.

  • Spend Just 10 Minutes Outside: Even though it’s getting cold and dark these days, spending just 10 minutes outside (during the day!) can really help your seasonal affected disorder. So put on those boots and take a short walk around the block.
  • Try an Epsom Salt Bath: When you’re feeling SAD, it’s important to do what you can to help yourself relax. An Epsom salt bath will not only help relieve tense muscles but will also give you some much-needed self-care.
  • Become a Plant Parent: Even though you can’t get outside much and you don’t see greenery anyway, you can become a plant parent during the winter months. Personally, I have a black thumb… so I started with a simple Snake Plant and have kept it alive for almost two years!
  • Invest in a Light Therapy Box: If you been dealing with SAD for a while, you may already know about light therapy boxes. But if not, this may be the year to invest in one. Start with this helpful review of the best light therapy lamps.
  • Create a Cozy Corner: In order to make your home feel more at home and get a little less SAD about spending even more time here, create a cozy corner for yourself. This can include your light therapy lamp, a plush throw, a favorite pillow, and a little table with a stack of books.

If You’re Feeling Really Lonely

Loneliness was a serious issue in our society even before the pandemic, and it’s definitely gotten worse for many of us now. Loneliness can be an especially problematic issue when you’re in recovery, and combine that with the holidays? YIKES.

It may seem difficult to do something about your loneliness. For instance, admitting that we feel lonely can often feel like we are admitting defeat. But it is important to do something about these feelings because loneliness and isolation can risk your sobriety. Instead, when you’re feeling lonely during this holiday season, try one of these things:

  • Volunteer Online with the UN: Yes, really! It’s as simple as signing up to volunteer with the United Nations. Studies have shown that volunteering makes you feel happy, and there’s no reason to not try it when you’ve got online options these days.
  • Send Postcards to Friends & Family: It’s a small gesture but buying a stack of postcards to send to your loved ones can mean a lot — both for you and for them. Writing sweet end-of-year messages will make you feel good, and receiving them will make your friends and family feel good, too.
  • Indulge in Some Self-Care: Although self-care isn’t the cure-all that some people would have you believe, indulging in some special self-care right now may be just the thing. Maybe it means buying a really fancy and expensive face cream. Maybe that means getting yourself a massage chair. Or maybe it just means going to bed early… Whatever works for you.
  • Reach Out with a Simple Text: Earlier this month, I went through my phone and realized I am rarely texting with some of my longtime friends. We’ve all just gotten busy or stressed, so I decided to reach out with a simple “Thinking of you.” I got great responses that sparked some meaningful conversations and made me feel great. Try it!
  • Fill Up Your Calendar: If you’re feeling lonely, a good way to solve that is by being busy. One thing you can do is to fill up your calendar with all kinds of activities, such as Zoom dates, friend hang-outs, outdoor activities, tackling a home project, and even taking some sort of online class (or five!). Anything to keep you busy.

If You’re Struggling to Stay Sober

Staying sober during the holidays can be a struggle. Although we won’t have all of the same temptations this year (thankfully), it’s still not easy to stay sober even during the best of circumstances much less when you are missing your friends and family during the holidays. And if it’s your first time facing the holidays sober? That can be even more of a hardship. It was for me, anyway.

But there is no reason to drink and you CAN do something about your struggles to stay sober. Other than connecting with your loved ones as best you can virtually (or socially distanced outside), here are some other suggestions:

  • Talk to Your Therapist: If you know that the holidays are usually a tricky time for you and your sobriety, get proactive this year and schedule a few extra therapy sessions. Or if you don’t have a therapist, then now is a good time to find one that specializes in recovery.
  • Attend Online Groups and Meetings: Whether you’re a mom or a Black woman or part of the LGBT community, there is a community out there for you. Many that used to have in-person have pivoted to online meetings, too, so be sure to check out your recovery support out here.
  • Read Recovery Memoirs or Listen to Podcasts: Whenever I am struggling in my recovery, I lean on the voices of others who have been brave enough to share their stories. It is always inspiring, so check out a recovery memoir or listen to a recovery podcast ASAP.
  • Focus on Healthy Routines: When you are struggling in recovery, it may be good to go back to the basics and focus on your healthy routine. Does that mean running in the morning? Talking to a particular sober friend every night? Making yourself a healthy dinner? Whatever worked for you when you first got sober, start repeating it now.
  • Don’t Forget the Gratitude List: Making a gratitude list has become a cliche these days but the thing is, it still works! I like to focus on making my negative thoughts into positive gratitudes. For instance, whenever I feel sad about spending so much time inside my own house, I work on feeling grateful for all that I have been able to accomplish indoors this year, like re-organizing my kitchen and cleaning out my closet.

It’s not easy to spend the holiday season alone, especially when you are sober and know that loneliness and isolation can endanger your recovery. Hopefully, this list gave you some ideas of how you can overcome all of the sadness of this pandemic holiday season. But I’d like to add one more thing that my therapist has told me over and over for the past few months: Give yourself grace and let yourself grieve.

It’s okay if you need to spend a day or two grieving the fact that this holiday season isn’t going to look the way you want. It’s okay to be sad about not seeing your family, even if you have a tricky relationship with them. It’s okay to miss your friends and feel desperate for a hug. This is really difficult. We’re social creatures and we’re not supposed to spend so much time alone. So give yourself the space to grieve all of that, but try not to wallow in it. Get proactive and start making holiday plans for a different kind of holiday in 2020. Although we may not remember this year fondly, at least we’ll remember it *without* a drink.