Despite the aisles and aisles of stuffed animals and cards filled with love-professing prose at your local supermarket, Valentine's Day isn't always warm and fuzzy. For some — and for many different reasons — the holiday can evoke feelings of loneliness or emotional stress.
As Feb. 14 approaches, we reached out to experts for helpful 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. Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Northwestern University and a licensed clinical psychologist, explained 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," she said. "I have more to 'bring to the table' in my relationship if I've been daydreaming, pondering, reading, exploring."
However, she defines loneliness as an unmet need. "Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to feeling isolated," Dr. Solomon explained.
"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 our car's dashboard," Dr. Solomon said. "It is an internal cue beckoning our attention."
What it's saying? Connect.
The marketing of Valentine's Day usually refers to a romantic connection, but Dr. Solomon said that it can also be viewed as a day to celebrate the "power of relationships of all kinds."
So single or in a relationship, use Valentine's Day as an opportunity to connect.
When you are feeling lonely, Dr. Solomon suggested asking yourself a simple question: who 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," Dr. Solomon said.
"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."
If you are single and Valentine's Day is reminding you of your wish for a romantic partner, Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, suggested being active about connecting with someone who is also looking for the same things.
"Many places sponsor speed dating on the holiday, or app specials, and other people looking are probably feeling the exact same way you are, which makes a match more likely," she added.
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," Dr. Solomon said.
She uses "I am lonely because I am unlovable" as an example.
It's simply not the case, so try to leave your loneliness unattached from any narratives you're working up in your mind.
And yes, there are many, many different forms of self-care, mostly because it's such a unique activity.
However, Dr. Solomon said 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 super mean and hurtful to your BFF, so why say it to yourself?
Dr. Saltz suggested being kind to yourself in a way that feels comforting.
She recommended making plans with a friend or a family member, or treating yourself with a warm-scented bath, an uplifting movie, a special treat to eat, or a snuggly blanket.
If your self-care time is mainly flying solo, Dr. Solomon suggested 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," she said. "That togetherness can help you tap into the joy of being alive, single or not!"