How to Stay Sane This Valentine’s Day

A Harvard doctor on how to survive a day of love—and loneliness.

Valentine's Day

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National Singles Awareness Day—or Valentine’s Day, as it’s more commonly known—is just around the corner. While the happily coupled look forward to boxes of chocolate and dinner reservations, the hearts and flowers can bring dread for those without a Valentine. Even those celebrating with a significant other may not fall in love with the over-hyped holiday.

Sound familiar? Jacqueline Olds, a part-time associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, offers some advice for staying sane this V-Day.

1. Go out.

Olds says many singles stay home and eat junk food on Valentine’s Day, then fall into a funk because it feels like everyone else is out having fun. Instead of wallowing in your loneliness, she suggests embracing Valentine’s Day and going out, even if it’s with friends.

“If you see all the people who are not necessarily [out] with their beloved, that they’re just there with friends, all of a sudden you start to feel part of things, and you realize that Valentine’s Day can be about connections, not necessarily about your one true love,” Olds says.

2. Don’t over-inflate your loneliness.

Many people feel a little harmless self-pity on Valentine’s Day, but make sure you don’t stay in a self-denigrating cycle. No spiraling allowed.

“See this as an errant Valentine’s Day rather than your fate. You shouldn’t over-extrapolate, [thinking,] ‘This is the way it’s always going to be, I’m always going to be alone,'” Olds says. “You should throw those kind of generalizations out and say, ‘Look, everybody is alone once in a while on Valentine’s Day, and here’s how I’m going to take good care of myself.”

3. Reach out to loved ones.

Whether it be your friends, family, or dog, Olds says to remind yourself that people (or pups) love you.

“Most people have a go-to place where they can remember that they are loved,” Olds says, adding that connecting with people who are special to you can make Valentine’s Day feel more manageable.

4. Take care of your body.

Getting at least seven hours of sleep every night, eating three good meals a day, and getting bright light in the morning are essential to your overall well-being, Olds says.

“All those little pieces are sort of healthy habits which make good mental health much easier,” Olds says. Take this advice 365 days a year, not just on Valentine’s Day.

5. If you’re in a couple, keep your expectations reasonable.

Paired-off folks have problems on Valentine’s Day, too. Sky-high expectations and undue pressure can turn an enjoyable holiday sour.

“Each person needs to talk about what their ideal would be, and then you can take those elements and find a compromise that does a little for both,” Olds says. “But very often men and women are kind of behind the eight ball with this Valentine’s Day business, because they have no idea what the other person really wants.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that your expectations may be too high, she says.

“When you spell out what you want, you have to understand that you might not get it because the other person has something different that they want,” Olds explains. “The trick is to find some clever compromise that speaks to both of your ideals.”