Being away from your family, friends, and favorite traditions can be incredibly difficult. Although feeling the sadness and disappointment related to being separated from family during the holiday season is expected, given your current circumstance, there are some strategies that you can utilize to cope more effectively with such feelings.


Reframing is a process of shifting your mindset to view and think about your situation from an alternative perspective. Put simply, the way we think influences how we feel, act, and communicate with others. The more negative those thoughts, the greater the adverse effect on our overall well-being. With this in mind, the process of acknowledging negative thoughts and actively working to shift or reframe them can positively impact your well-being during the holidays spent away from family.

First, truly take the time to recognize how you are feeling. Perhaps you are frustrated with your lack of ability to connect with family on the holiday, or you feel lonely being separated from your loved ones during this time. It is crucial to identify those feelings and know that it is normal to feel that way. But, while your feelings are valid, there are ways to focus on enhancing how you view your current situation.

Next, take time to assess your thoughts related to those feelings. Know that it is valid to feel them but aim to reframe or shift them to more positive ones. For example, “I am so frustrated and upset that I am stuck here and not enjoying time with my family.” Instead, shift your thinking to, “I am where I need to be right now to get to the point where I can rejoin my family for these events in the future and live a healthy life.” Or “Right now, I am learning how to remain in recovery so that when I am able to spend holidays with my family again, I can do so.”

Changing how you view your time away from your family for the holidays can help you remain positive and focused, avoiding fixating on the negative, which can negatively impact all of the progress you have made thus far.

Practice Gratitude

Research has demonstrated that practicing gratitude is positively related to feeling better physically about one’s life and situation overall, increasing personal goal attainment and energy. Gratitude can also lead to enhanced mood, improved self-awareness, stronger communication and interpersonal relationships, better sleep, and decreased symptoms of depression.

Right now, recognizing people, places, or things you are grateful for might seem incredibly difficult a task when you are feeling the heaviness of holidays away from your family. However, it is critical to note that cultivating a grateful mindset during an incredibly challenging time can help you build resiliency and an overall positive perspective, benefiting your overall physical and mental health. Start small and try to build from there. Try this…

Think of the people, opportunities, and moments you are grateful for this week. No matter how big or small. Use these questions to help guide that reflection:

  • Who has positively influenced your week in some way?
  • What opportunities have you been given recently? (e.g., finding pathways to recovery, connecting with others who have shared lived experience)
  • What is one moment in particular that you felt genuinely grateful this week?

Next, you can start to do this for the month and even the year. No matter where you start or how big or small the moments of gratitude might feel, challenge yourself to recognize them during this season. If possible, write down what you are grateful for or even a letter to someone you are grateful for. You do not need to send or share it, but just the process of putting pen to paper about these grateful moments can be therapeutic. Take the time to be grateful and proud of the progress you have made, no matter how small the win might be.

Spend Quality Time with Peers

Now is the perfect time to focus on building your relationships with peers. Feeling isolated can have a detrimental effect on your health and well-being. So, by spending time with peers and focusing on those relationships right in front of you, you can enhance your wellness and that of others. The people you are currently surrounded by can likely relate to how you are feeling at some capacity. So, find ways to spend more time together. Perhaps even share your traditions and what you are most looking forward to when you can be reunited with family at future holiday celebrations. If there is an option to watch a movie or play a board game, take the initiative – invite a peer or two to join. Despite feeling lonely right now, you have people around you who can relate to you and engage in mutual support with you.

Considering these healthy coping strategies and identifying what works best for you is important in managing holiday-related stress and emotions. Know that whatever you are feeling is valid, but that you are not alone, and there are tools you can use to build resilience during this difficult time. For more on stress management, please visit our Stress Management and Burnout resource page.