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Monday, October 27, 2008

How Not To Spend The Holidays Alone

A number of readers answered one of my polls to say they might not be able to afford to go home for the holidays and were unsure about what to do instead. Add to this an ever growing number of people feeling disconnected and alone and you have a recipe for stress morphing into hopelessness and despair. The holidays become a time to simply try and muddle through or, for some, a time to surrender and abandon all together.

The good news is this most certainly does not have to be the case! Recession or no recession. The key, most experts say, is knowing you always have options and you have the power to change the situation.

The feeling that you're looking for something meaningful this holiday season, a genuine desire to be in the company of others and the gumption to break the cycle are going to take you half way there. The other half will involve your need to start planning and taking steps toward your goals. In addition to that, you want to make sure the decisions you're making right now are ones that will be helping, not hindering, your personal cause.

"You can't predict the future because it's all about how you react to it." -Soros George


10 Things You Should Be Doing Right Now
Here is a list of ten things gleaned from many, many sources, including numerous conversations with experts to people who solved this themselves and those in their 70's, 80's and beyond, and Shasta Nelson's great resource above to help find some connection during the holidays:

1) Find A Group, Make Time & Join It ASAP

"Joining and participating in one group cuts in half your odds of dying next year. -Robert D. Putnam of Harvard and author of Bowling Alone

Robert D. Putnam gives the very eyebrow raising finding that joining and working with others in a group can cut your odds of dying next year in half! Along with that incredible benefit, joining groups that you physically have to go to, are one of the main and major ways of connecting with others. It helps form bonds that can lead to lasting connections.

There are a few caveats. The main one being that it will take time. In one of the best articles I've ever read on loneliness, One Is The Loneliest Number (O Magazine, June 2006), Jacqueline Olds, MD points out, "People often expect a connection to be made quicker than it can be." and that you have to give your consistent participatory efforts a minimum of 6 months before you start to see results. That's right 6 months. Of course with the holidays only a few months away joining groups is going to be one part of your plan. Still, experts pointed out, this is an important step and one that should be started ASAP due to lasting benefits.

The other thing to consider is how important it is to pick a group or club that truly caters to your interests. This way you'll be more likely to stick with going and find connections with people who share your passions. Not sure where to start? First write down all of your passions, interests and hobbies. Then seek out programs at your local community college, your park system, outdoor sports clubs, meetup.com, nonprofit groups or search for club listings online. The main thing is your group has to encourage you to participate with the other participants in person. Spectator based programs usually do not allow for much interpersonal interaction. For instance if you love to sing start going to local karaoke events instead of signing up for a lecture on Opera. Take group ice skating lessons instead of private ones and so on.

Also keep in mind that you'll need to step back and reevaluate the groups progress and climate. If you find yourself agitated, embroiled in arguments or drained from an enveloping cloud of negativity, it's probably best to seek out other groups &/or people. For more on this read, Detoxifying Toxic Friendships over at Divine Caroline. Be fluid and my favorite, improv. Keep trying and the meaningful connections and invitations will come.

* Not only this but many organizations, groups and clubs will have little events around the holidays which you can join up with or you can create your own event and give invitations to the other group members. It's very likely there are others who also find themselves alone on the holidays and would enjoy spending it with you.


2) Take Steps To Improve Your Social IQ

Social IQ is garnering a lot of buzz nowadays and with good reason. Everyone is born with a varying amount to start out but just with any other form of growth and maturity it requires refresher courses, studying and tweaks every now and then. Especially if you've found yourself isolated for some time, feeling disconnected from others in general or disappointed with the way you're treated or excepted by society.

In most cases Social IQ leans heavily on what the old society mavens considered etiquette and good manners. Two things that are still incredibly important. Knowing you're well versed in how to handle various social situations usually leads to more self confidence and less fear about making unpleasant gaffs. It's about encountering people and having them instantly feel you're giving them respect and kindness through your actions. You can significantly up your Social IQ just by making sure you're acting in an empathetic way towards people. For more on this read one of my favorite articles, A Little Empathy, Please by Amanda Robb over at O Magazine.


An Exercise:
When having conversations be conscious about how much you talk about yourself. Do you keep bringing the conversation back to you &/or subjects you want to talk about?

Making others the focal point of conversations is a key area of social IQ that you'll want to master. Practice with people you already know or in the mirror. Do what ever it takes to grasp the art of good conversation.


Next you'll want to either buy or borrow from the library as many books on good manners as you can. Some of my personal favorites include;

-(for women) "Better Than Beauty: A Guide to Charm" by Helen Valentine, Alice Thompson. It's almost incomprehensible that this book is from the 30's because the tone and advice is so modern... some of the best books I've found have been from the 30's so do not let this put you off.

- "Manners" by Kate Spade

- "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.

- (for women) "Swell - A Girls Guide To The Good Life" by Cynthia Rowley & Ilene Rosenzweig


Also read PARADE Magazine's, Can You Raise Your Social IQ? By Daniel Goleman which includes a quiz and sage insight and be sure to check out our own Social IQ section for articles and reviews.

Lastly try to master the art of good conversation anyway you can. In most cases this means a mixture of the above focusing on the other person and being well read. Read newspapers, watch the news or read the current events online. Read magazines and check out the latest books at the library even if you do not end up reading them. I've found many conversations among strangers dissolve into pop culture. Even if you're not a TV watcher or can care less about celebrities, flipping through TV Guide Magazine and STAR can quickly bring you up to date.


In some cases a person can find it too difficult or slow going to improve their Social IQ issues on their own. In cases like this it might be better to seek out personalized professional help from a psychologist, life coach or social tutor.

3) Shuffle Your Financial Priorities

In one of my VOGUE books it warns readers not to spend all of their money on clothes only to later turn down invitations due to lack of funds. "What good is having a huge wardrobe when you can't go out?," they ask. This has a way of summing up life in general. I like to ask myself... am I making financial choices that are really in my best interest? Are they balanced choices? Do they further my social isolation? Are you buying the latest video game or spending on Starbucks coffee everyday only to find yourself unable to get home for the holidays? If so now is the time to see if changes should be made. Changes that might be put towards that ticket, gifts or even a holiday vacation.

It seems like every business article on the web says the same thing, take a hard look at your finances and make sure they're heading in the direction you want to go. Sit down and make a list of the incidentals you spend on the most. Then really come to terms if these expenses take you further away or closer to your goals. If need be, take drastic action to cut certain things back or even out completely until after New Years. Sometimes seemingly unrelated sacrifices have to be made in order to achieve what we need or want.

It's also important to take the focus away from money. While it's often used as an excuse for not socializing during the holidays (or from what I've seen in general!) we all know that it actually plays a very small part (or should!). We also know about A Christmas Carol and Uncle Scrooge, a fine example of what money over relationships can do, but there was a study done with some pretty disturbing findings. In "Does money make you mean? by MSN's Bankrate.com, they report a preoccupation with money and finances caused "social cluelessness" and people to be "less helpful, less considerate". All pretty Scrooge like. Move away from this as fast as possible and your holiday season could be put in a much better light.

In most cases it all comes down to perceptions. Make sure yours are really in your best interest and if they're not, work as hard as possible to change them.

4) Create Balance

If you're finding yourself feeling isolated, disconnected or trapped in a never ending cycle it could signal something is out of whack. It's so easy for ones time to be consumed and overly swayed in the direction of certain pursuits. Pursuits that might be having a detrimental effect on your social life.

Take a hard look at how much time you're spending at work. This might not be a problem if you love your job, consider your workmates your very good friends and know you'll be having a blast at that company holiday party. If not you might need to scale back until your social needs are better met.

Take a hard look at how much time you spend alone on the computer, watching TV, reading &/or playing video games. Once again spending inordinate amounts of time on these things might not be a problem if you use the net in between meet ups, host DVD movie nights with others, are the leader of a book group or are a professional video game developer. If not, you may have to refocus your time away from doing these things and instead focus on getting out there and translating these 10 steps into practice.

We quite often get locked into unbalanced lifestyles because we've lost focus on what it is we really desire. It becomes the norm and feels comfortable. In order to break the cycle it might mean stepping outside of your comfort zone. To keep yourself on track, keep reminding yourself that the decisions and actions you're taking now might bring you closer to your goals. Creating a Wish Board (see #7) can also be a big help in keeping your goals in plain sight.


"Do one thing every day that scares you." -Eleanor Roosevelt

5) Become A More Positive Person

Much has already been written about the power of positive thinking and it's highly suggested that along with the books on etiquette, take a few out on positive thinking as well. As a quick hack here are 5 ways to become a more positive person:

- Practice gratitude everyday. Keep a journal or a pad of paper and jot down at the end of the day what you're thankful for.
- Always say you're a lucky or blessed person. Remove unlucky in regards to you completely out of your vocabulary.
- Try your very best to stop negative self talk. When you look in the mirror smile and wink. Stop from demoralizing yourself with "dumb" or "stupid".
- Leave bad news for people who can actually help you. Instead of telling everyone you know the same story, try to leave depressing news to those who can actually help you remedy the situation.
- Completely remove "I can't" from your mind. Especially if this is what you most often come back with when people give advice or encourage you to try something new: something that might be out of your comfort zone. Commit to keeping an open mind and say, "OK I'll try" or "I will" more often.

For another angle on negative self talk read, Mind Your Language over at A Daring Adventure. When it comes down to it, positive (and happy in general) people are alluring. In Betsy Prioleau's book Swoon, she credits these seductive gents with possessing "supernormal... positive psychology" and a healthy dose of "ego strength, vitality, resilience, authenticity, creativity, autonomy, nonconformity, personal growth, and the capacity to love."

6) Make Plans Now

Even though the holidays are months away from now, now is the time to make those plans. Again zero in on what would make you most happy on the holidays and then try to set small steps so you can reach your goals. These goals are going to be very personal to you and your specific situation.

When the holidays are already on you and you're without plans you can find yourself being swept up by the notion to spend money you do not have or to give up and hide from the world. Take the time now to write down what would make you happy during this time of year. Question why you want things to be done in a certain way. Then look for ways to make sure you're not only enjoying the holidays but also using it to connect with others. This may be the only real time you all can do this.

For instance, if you're going to do that vacation you have always wanted to go on instead of visiting friends or going to parties, make plans so you can send postcards, holiday cards or possibly gifts from your destination.

7) Create A Wish Board
Creating a wish board is a great way of keeping your desires all in one place as a reminder of what it is you really want. Visual boards are commonly used by those in the arts and design specifically because so much data filters through our minds. It's incredibly easy to become sidetracked or lose focus.

Using pictures from a magazine or any source place them on a board. It's as simple as that. Then feel free to forget about them. You may be extremely surprised to see your wishes becoming reality one by one. For more on this read O Magazine's article, Create A Life Map.


8) Have A Backup Plan
Another source of frustration and grief is when our plans fail to materialize. A car can stop working, the party could be canned or people can switch plans and leave you fending for yourself. This is why one should always make a backup plan of action. Ask yourself a series of "what if" questions and answer them with alternatives that would be just as meaningful. It's also always a good idea to save a little budget so, if you're forced to, you can pay for entertainment.

9) Take The Lead
"...these findings suggest that it isn't what we get from relationships that makes contact with others so beneficial; it's what we give." -Stephanie Brown, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR)


Stephanie Brown makes an extremely valid point... there may be extreme benefit in taking the focal point away from what the holidays will bring you. Instead, consider turning the holidays into a quest to help others. This could take on numerous forms from signing up to help out in a food kitchen to dressing up and visiting children in the hospital. Ask at your job if they have an outreach program or any holiday charity balls you can volunteer your time. Banish all expectations, ask how you can help and revel in doing for others.

Another way is to stop waiting for someone else to take the reigns and invite you. Take the lead in your holiday festivities. If possible, hold your own party and invite friends and relatives. Do one better by making it a private charity dinner [here's how]. If you're place isn't big enough or you're afraid of disturbing neighbors consider asking a friend to hold it at their place, rent out a hall, a hotel suite, or hold a small gathering at your favorite restaurant. This will all require planning ahead of time and a budget to pay for peoples food and drinks. This is where step #3 of our list comes into play. Make decisions now that will help bring about your holiday plans and place the focus firmly on others.


10) Make A Point Of Saying Yes

Do you find yourself automatically saying "no" when people invite you to a social situation? If so try to change this habit ASAP. Start saying yes and going to anything possible. Sure it might be bad and if so, you can quickly leave but the point is to go and mingle. The more you do this the more you'll feel comfortable. People will start counting on you to show up and will be more apt to invite you to other functions. This can include holiday events. Keep an open mind and commit to being more socially active this year.
* Do you have insight into finding connection on the holidays? How about a personal story or additional tips? If so please leave it in the comments area and help other readers find there way to happiness.

Lastly is a change of perception in order?

According to the studies mentioned in O Magazine's article One Is The Loneliest Number many of the participants who felt lonely were actually surrounded by family and friends. Loneliness isn't necessarily one in the same as being alone. It can have more to do with a persons perceptions.

Best Friends or Bust?
While I'm not exactly certain why, in our present era, there seems to be extreme focus placed on best friends and how without this mythical being the holidays are just no good. Everyone in Hollywood is best friends with one another or as soon as people meet, they exclaim they're really close. Is this even possible? More so is this even necessary? For one thing, researchers say that the old adage of being able to count bosom buddies on one hand is not only highly true, it's also perfectly normal. Finding someone to trust with all of your deepest secrets and who you know will be there at your darkest (and brightest) hour takes time, loving focus, trial & error and some serious
serendipity. Jumping into things too fast can breed the dreaded "frienemy", countless let downs and disillusionment with humanity in general.

Researchers now note that making and having both acquaintances and casual buddies are extremely important. These are also the same people who will have more of a likelihood of becoming a true, closer friend over time, instead of chance encounters with total strangers so do not discount them. How are casual friends defined? They're the people you're most apt to meet by following the hints and tips in this article... they could be your coworker(s) or people you knit or jog with. In the olden days they were called fishing buddies, bridge friends and bowling chums. They're fun, respect you and enjoy your company while doing various activities (or parties!) but do not know every intimate detail of your day and/or life (save these for your true best friends, confidants or your trusty journal).

They probably started as an acquaintance that you chatted up and found, little by little, had something in common with. By having boundaries and excepting the various forms friendship, companionship and company come in, the less likely it will be that you find yourself alone during the holidays or beyond. Shasta Nelson in her book, friendships don't just happen, also points out:


"More recent research pushes it one step further and shows that we are now replacing half our friends every seven years. That statistic implores us to admit that we must keep welcoming new friends into our lives, and reminds us that we will be letting go of friendships as well.  No ones life is static... it's impossible for our friendships to be anything but dynamic. Even long term friendship has to find new ways of being." Get her thought provoking book here.

For more on this here is the superb article, Mastering the Art of Healthy Friendships
Here I'm compiling from the standpoint of actually being alone on the holidays and what you can do now to prevent this. Still, it can be highly beneficial to ask yourself what drives your perceptions about the holidays and if you would be happier changing them? Some specific questions to contemplate:

- Where do my holiday ideals come from?

- Do my ideals come from my own family traditions?

- If so, did those family traditions bring a warmth to my soul, happiness to my childhood or the urge to recapture those moments?


- Do my ideals come from commercial sources telling me this is how things should be done?

- Do my ideals come from other people telling me this is how things should be done?

- Who Do I Really Want To Spend The Holidays With?


- Have I gone to numerous holiday events but still feel down or alone? Do you really wish you were spending the holidays with a significant other/love?

- Are you spending the holidays with your BFF or your significant other but long to be surrounded by your big, loving family?

- Would I much rather use my holiday vacation time and gift budget to do that trip I've always longed to go on?

- Do I Feel The Holidays Are All About Shopping And Spending Lavishly?

- Is my self worth connected to how much I can spend or do spend on other people?

- If I fail to shower people with gifts am I afraid they'll leave me?

- Do I remain alone on the holidays because I rather not buy / give gifts?

- Do I Only Feel Validated When I Get X Amount Of Gifts or X Amount Of Greeting Cards?


- How Much Time Do I Set Aside To Reach Out To Others?
By re-calibrating your perceptions about the holidays you can either zero in on making the changes needed to bring a more meaningful season or you can open your horizons and free yourself to experience new things. Either way your holidays can be an incredible success and, while work is required, you can change its outcome and start a new tradition of connection, even if said connection is with yourself! Even better if you continue to follow these steps, experts say you're likely to feel more connected to your community and build a healthy safety net of caring people and relationships.

Hopefully something here will help... if you have any personal experiences, suggestions to help others or resources please leave them in the comments below. Wishing you all the best and an amazing holiday to come!

"Sometimes chosen family is better than the one you were assigned." - psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser

Quick Things To Do & Consider Around The Holidays:

Do you find yourself in the middle of the holiday season already? Here are some quick things to try.


  • - Are you single and living alone? During the holidays make it a point to get out and either mingle with others or seek out entertainment. Cannot stress this enough. Go see every holiday movie in the theaters that are open. Treat yourself to dinning out at your favorite restaurants or try new ones. Attend any parties or functions your religious institution is having. Look in the paper and find events thrown by your township. Volunteer or go into work. Do what ever it takes to to be around other people or engaged in a fun activity.

    - Watch this online video on how to Manage Your Holiday Expectations for really good, insightful tips by holistic Psychotherapist Victoria Lorient-Faibish.

    - Find parties and events on meetup.com.

    - Donate your time to be a Bartender, DJ or provide the music for a local party.

    - Treat yourself to a luxury hotel stay or vacation.

    - Sign up at facebook and add yourself to groups including those hosted by local event promoters. Invites will start to pour in. This seems to work better if you live in or close to a major city.
  • Also Read:
    - How To Be A Decent Party Guest & More.
    - 50 Simple Gifts To Give Yourself
    - Tips On Tossing Your Own Charity Dinner at Home

    - How To Be Social Without Going Broke
    - Tips For Surviving Wedding Gift Season
    - 20 Major Holiday Saving Tips
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