Valentine’s Day is a loaded holiday, especially for the non-partnered. February 14th falls in the middle of winter, when Seasonal Affective Disorder rates are at an all-time high. Imagery of hearts, couples, and cupids drill a message of loneliness home to those already feeling alone. On top of all that, in 2021—following a nearly ten-month-long pandemic lockdown that, for many, has meant long-term isolation— this year’s holiday in quarantine might ache a little extra. If you’re feeling vulnerable, it’ll be important to implement positivity strategies. What can we do to avoid angst —and even thrive–on such a triggering day?
Refer to the research.
One of my favorite psychological frameworks is called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which was initially developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan to address Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT’s four-pronged approach has intrigued the psych field so much that the modality has been thoroughly studied, ultimately uncovering its effectiveness for all kinds of concerns. DBT, which is scientifically-proven to be capable of addressing anxiety, depression, and relationship issues, contains: “Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance.”
“Emotion Regulation” in particular is relevant to the feelings of despair that might arise on a day like V-day; under the umbrella of “ER” are numerous acronym-based procedures that can stabilize moods. One of my favorites is PLEASE:
- PL: Treat physical illness. Take care of your body. Don’t neglect its needs.
- E: Eat healthy
- A: Avoid mood-altering drugs.
- S: Sleep well
- E: Exercise
As you can probably tell, this category of DBT emphasizes the importance of caring for the body. When we feel good physically, we give our inner worlds the best chance they have at peace. This means: getting rest the night before, steering clear of substances, nourishing your body with food that makes you feel good, and, most of all, being active.
Consider taking a walk—or, better yet, trying something new. There are wonderful and affirming creators on Instagram who teach physical activities in accessible ways. I’m a fan of The Paris James, Ginger Valentine Dance School, and Ebonny Fowler. I always ascribe extra points to any class that emphasizes the importance of building personal confidence in addition to basic physical strength, which all of these accounts do.
Another technique within the “Emotion Regulation” umbrella is called “Check the Facts,” which is a method of thinking through your situation and questioning different aspects of your own mindset. Some good questions:
- “What triggered my emotions?”
- “What interpretations or assumptions am I making about the event?”
- “Do my intense emotions match the facts of the situation?”
This line of reasoning might sound a bit obvious. It may also feel, at first, as though you are “talking” yourself “out of” your feelings. The actual purpose is to slow your thoughts down as you deconstruct the situation. Doing so enables you an opportunity to ground and self-soothe.
Remember your loved ones
As an offshoot of the aforementioned “Check the Facts” exercise, it can be helpful to reflect on those in your life who uplift you, even if you can’t be physically with them right now. Put on some comforting music and skim your own Instagram or phone photo albums; journal about positive past experiences; visualize what you’ll do with friends—or where you would like to go to make new friends -when it is possible to resume regular life. I’m partial to this classic quote from Sex and the City: “Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with."
Feeling down on friendships right now too? If you’re one of the many, many people who adopted a fur baby in the last year, celebrate the love you share with your little loved one. You won’t be alone. 27.6 million American households bought their pets a gift for the holiday in the last 12 months.
Text the friends you reminisced about earlier and try to set up a FaceTime. Alternatively, join a virtual support group. Each December I offer a “Holiday Lonely-hearts” support group; in 2022, I will do the same for Valentine’s Day. But I’m not the only one. Many therapists understand the challenge of loneliness during key holidays and consequently offer workshops and groups oriented around social connection and skills-building. You can also find a message board that feels positive for you— read or even share stories about relationship histories, feelings about the holiday, hopes for the future. The goal is to access communities wherein you feel less alone; thanks to a virtual landscape which has only broadened and strengthened due to the pandemic, there are now many options available online.
Know that time is transient
Valentine’s Day is only one day to get through. Take care of yourself through the 14th, and soon enough, the morning of the 15th will come. The same goes for the pandemic lockdown. The recent global debut of vaccines has provided a light at the end of the tunnel. None of these situations, nor their associated feelings of distress, are permanent.
Reclaim the day
Only if you want to. But I’m inclined to mention that Valentine’s Day has always been my favorite holiday— possibly the very most in the years that I was single. Understanding that the day had potential to feel like a void, I instead filled it up with over-the-top, on-theme celebration. I would pick up colorful snacks, decorate my place, invite close friends for overnights, and watch festive flicks like Marie Antoinette. It didn’t hurt, either, that I love sweets, sleepovers, and the overall aesthetics of Valentine’s Day. My determination to make the day my own party forced some fun into it. Even now, my memory of those whimsical, independent celebrations is more vivid and fond than of most of the basic dinner dates I’ve done for coupled V-days. Coming up with creative ways to personalize the day for you is an act of subversion— and radical self-love.