The holidays season is centered around loved ones, particularly family. With Thanksgiving now at a close and Christmas and Hanukkah right around the corner, those who are unable to spend time with their family due to death, estrangement, or physical distance might be feeling especially alienated and alone. And during the winter season in particular, many are susceptible to sadness and loneliness — as many as three million Americans are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder each year, so it’s important that those who can’t or won’t be surrounded by family members are knowledgeable about productive and effective ways to cope. We spoke with Sheri Heller, a licensed clinical social worker who works with people affected by addiction, childhood adversity, and PTSD, about ways to navigate the holiday season alone.

1. Volunteer. The holidays are as much a season for giving as they are a season for family. In giving back to the community, you’ll feel a sense of humanity and connectedness, according to Heller. “[Service] is a meaningful way to assuage feelings of alienation and aloneness during the holiday season,” she says.

2. Minimize the holidays. Shutting out the barrage of holiday-themed, well, everything can prove difficult, but at the end of the day, a holiday really is just like any other day. Treat it as you would a normal day off. Heller suggests relaxing activities such as going to the movies, exercising, or finishing up household tasks.

3. Vacation. Indulge the way so many others do during the holiday — take a vacation! “Taking oneself somewhere beautiful and exciting is a gift to the self and a tangible reminder of one’s value,” Heller comments. Removing yourself from your everyday surroundings will introduce you to new people and, depending on your destination, separate you from standard holiday festivities.

4. Engage your creativity or spirituality. Activities ranging from photography and painting to meditation and group prayer can be especially nourishing in the absence of familial bonds during the holidays. It’s important to “[maintain] a transpersonal perspective of one’s purpose and place in the world,” according to Heller, and art and spirituality are two ways to do this.

5. Celebrate with other loved ones. Don’t let the fact that you’re not with your family distract from the other loved ones in your life. Celebrate with friends whose families you feel comfortable with or who are in similar situations to you. According to Heller, “Feeling loved and cared for is the ultimate panacea.”

How have you handled being alone for the holidays? Tweet us @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)