How to handle Valentine’s Day loneliness, according to therapists
Love is in the air... or is it? Some days, being single might feel harder than others. If that's the case, here are some ways to feel less lonely on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is right around the corner — but enough of that already. For those currently happily in a relationship, there are a plethora of restaurant deals, heart-shaped items, chocolates, roses, and red-themed cards and gifts to go around. But, what about those of us, who're flying solo? For some — and for many different reasons — Valentine’s Day, the one holiday whose explicit purpose is to make us feel romantic and loved, tends to have the opposite effect. "Valentine’s Day can evoke feelings of loneliness or emotional stress for some people. Singles could feel left out, which may lead them to feel lonely. Many people assume their happiness is capped by their relationship status. It can happen to anyone," says Dr Shilpa Aggarwal, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist.
As February 14 approaches, we reached out to Dr Aggarwal and Dr Upasana Ghosh, a certified relationship expert from Kolkata, for advice on how to handle these emotions, if they come into play.
Understand that loneliness and being alone are not the same
There are differences between these two concepts that are important to note, and understanding them could help you better handle your emotions. Dr Ghosh explains that solitude is a space we can choose for ourselves, and it has the potential to actually improve mental health. "Deepened connection with oneself sets the stage for deepened connection with the people around us," says Dr Ghosh. "I have more to 'bring to the table' in my relationship if I've been pondering, reading, exploring."
However, Dr Ghosh defines loneliness as an unmet need. "Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to feeling isolated," she explains. "Loneliness is designed to motivate us to seek social connection."
Analyze the loneliness cue and connect
"I view loneliness like a blinking indicator light on a car's dashboard. It is an internal cue beckoning our attention. And what is it saying? Connect," Dr Ghosh explains. The marketing of Valentine's Day usually refers to a romantic connection, but she says that it can also be viewed as a day to celebrate the "power of relationships of all kinds." So single or in a relationship, you can use Valentine's Day as an opportunity to connect. When you are feeling lonely, Dr Ghosh suggests asking yourself a simple question: whom would I like to spend some time with today?
"Social connection calms our physiology, so when we feel lonely, we are walking around in fight or flight mode, which puts tremendous strain on our hearts and our immune systems," says Dr Ghosh. "When we are in connection with people who matter to us, our bodies settle down. Eye contact, hugs, and laughter are medicine, giving us a sense that we are seen, that we belong, and that we matter," she adds. If you are single and Valentine's Day is reminding you of your wish for a romantic partner, Dr Ghosh suggests being active about connecting with someone, who is also looking for the same things. "Many other people are probably feeling the exact same way you are, which makes a match more likely," she says.
Avoid attaching a story to your loneliness
"Loneliness is an emotion, but we need to be careful not to attach a story to that emotion," says Dr Aggarwal. She uses "I am lonely because I am unlovable" as an example. It's simply not the case, she says; so try to leave your loneliness unattached from any narratives you're working up in your mind.
Yes, there are many, many different forms of self-care, mostly because it's such a unique activity. However, Dr Aggarwal says the biggest form of self-care is talking to yourself the same way you'd talk to a close friend. You probably wouldn't say anything mean and hurtful to your friend, so why say it to yourself?
Dr Aggarwal suggests being kind to yourself in a way that feels comforting. She recommends "making plans with a friend or a family member, or treating yourself an uplifting movie, a special treat to eat, or anything else you'd fancy." If your self-care time is mainly flying solo, Dr Aggarwal suggests staying mindful of being reflective and being ruminative. "If you are noticing that you are swirling around the same set of self-defeating thoughts, it's time to reach out to a friend or a family member. That togetherness can help you tap into the joy of being alive, single or not," she says.