During a hustling and bustling festive period, I can’t be the only one who is perpetually exhausted from all the socializing. I love my friends and family, I do! But for some reason as soon as December 1st rolls over the calendar it’s practically a crime for me to be alone. It’s important to specify, this article is about the process of choosing to be alone – choosing to not be around people, maybe not going out or skipping that party/meal. This is entirely different to being or feeling lonely, which – contrary to popular belief – can occur regardless of whether you are alone or in a crowded room.
I first spent a Christmas alone in 2020 while COVID-19 restrictions were in place and my family were separated and unable to get together. Much to my surprise, it was arguably the most enjoyable Christmas I’ve had in my adult life. This is because I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t enjoy. Maybe it’s because being alone was new or because I didn’t feel compelled or coerced into doing the things I disliked, but it was amazing!
Why is there a stigma to being alone?
It’s odd that displaying opposition to literally anything festive can brand you a Scrooge or a Grinch (see another article in our Holiday Health Series). There seems to be a strange stigma towards wanting to be alone, and typically as noted at the start of this article people assume alone equals lonely. It doesn’t.
Back in 2014, the idea of spending Christmas Alone [in the UK] literally made the news and featured different people perceived as acting outside the norm by opting to spend the holidays alone. What’s interesting is that a negative view of being alone persists, even if it’s someone’s preference. A 2022 YouGov survey suggests that 72% of Britons think spending time with friends and family to be the most important part of the festive season. Interestingly though, there seems to be a growing trend of people celebrating spending Christmas alone . There are even articles that provide tips and advice for taking the step to enjoy the holidays alone.
Despite the apparent stigma of choosing to spend time alone, it turns out there are some documented benefits to either spending time alone or at least taking breaks from social gatherings. A recent (2023) study conducted at the University of Redding looked at adults from the UK and US to consider the impact of solitude on wellbeing. The study found that when people chose to be alone, they exhibited less stress and felt more satisfaction in their autonomy. It also acknowledged that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to this, but wanting time alone is at least scientifically justifiable!
Ways to explain our needs to others:
We all exist somewhere on the continuum of introversion and extroversion. Some of us feel energized by crowds and social engagement, and some of us are not. However, no matter who you are, we all have limits to how much social energy we have. There are a few practical steps people can take to help them maximize their social batteries, get enough time to be alone and recharge, and communicate this clearly with others. Here are some ways to do this:
Give yourself space and grace: This is something you can control on both a small and large scale. Firstly, make sure you give yourself enough time between the things you have to do, and the things you’d potentially like to do. There are some obligations that sadly, cannot be gotten out of even if you know these are likely to drain your social battery. Ensuring uncommitted time between events (sometimes known as “white space” on one’s calendar) can help keep people recharged. This sort of white space can be used for things like going for a walk, a nap, or staging a fictional call on with a friend – you both start a call on mute and can pretend to be actively listening to the other should someone interrupt your alone time. It’s a kind of cooperative alone time.
Understand your needs: I’d be optimistic if I said I always knew what I needed – everyone’s needs change depending on multiple elements including social battery. Check out Take This’ holiday article on needs and boundaries. One way of approaching this is to reflect on how you feel in a given situation and consider what you need next. This pairs itself well with the previous point, as having a bit of time and space can give you the ability to understand your needs. Once you have a better idea of what exactly you need you can enact steps to do it.
Communication: While ideally working in conjunction with the two previous points, effective communication of one’s needs is vital. When speaking with others, especially our loved ones, there can be a certain sensitivity to being told something negative. Reinforcing one’s need for space is not a reflection of anyone else. One strategy is to state that by taking some time you’ll be in a better position to socialize later. Take This’ Holiday Health Series also has an article on assertive vs. aggressive communication.
There is no right, or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Regardless of whether you want to spend the entire time alone, a few specific days, or even a few hours at a time – that’s okay! Ultimately, you are the only one responsible for you and communicating your needs. I hope you have a wonderful festive season, and enjoy all the time alone you desire.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we at Take This want to provide you with resources, we do not recommend or endorse any particular site, treatment, therapy, or resource. We provide these links at our sole discretion but have not necessarily vetted or reviewed any particular resource. We assume no liability for the use of the information or resources on these sites and encourage you to use your own best judgment when reviewing these resources.
If you live in the US and you’re having suicidal thoughts, reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or call/text 988. If you’re outside the US, you can find local crisis lines at Suicide.org. If you’re even debating whether you should call them, you should call them. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline handles all psychological crises, not just suicide.