Author: Claudia M. Elsig, MD
Does the thought of Valentine’s Day fill your heart with joy? Or is it a day you dread?
For happy couples, Valentine’s Day is an annual ritual in the calendar and an opportunity to appreciate and celebrate mutual love. However, not everyone is blissfully in love. For some, whether in a relationship or not, Valentine’s Day can trigger complicated feelings and reinforce a sense of isolation and loneliness.
A recent messy break-up or grieving a partner who has passed away can make Valentine’s Day especially hard. And, for those trapped in an unhealthy relationship, Valentine’s Day can feel like a curse, especially if your partner is a narcissist. On a day when we are supposed to celebrate love, being in an abusive relationship on Valentine’s Day can highlight a deep sense of loneliness.
Valentine’s Day can be harsh on mental health.
Why does Valentine’s Day exist? Where does it come from?
There are a few legends and theories about how Valentine’s Day originated.1 The earliest recognised connection is from ancient Rome. But there is likely a combination of factors that led to the celebration of Valentine’s Day as it is today.
In Roman times, the pagan festival of Lupercalia, a sexually charged celebration of fertility, occurred between the 13th and 15th of February. It involved the sacrificing of goats, the whipping of women with hides, and random coupling.2
The Roman Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd century A.D. executed two men named Valentine in different years, but both were on Feb 14th. One secretly officiated weddings for Roman soldiers, and the other wrote love letters to a young girl he tutored.1 Their martyrdom was honoured by the Catholic church.3
In the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day was romanticised by Chaucer and then in early modern times by Shakespeare.4 Chaucer claimed Valentine’s Day was the day birds coupled, while Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream was set in Ancient Greece with connections to Lupercal.4 During the 1700s, lovers gave each other handmade cards and love letters, and by the end of the 18th century, the first commercial Valentine’s cards were made in England.
Why do people in relationships feel lonely on Valentine’s Day?
The lyrics from Neil Diamond’s song, performed with Barbara Streisand, You don’t bring me flowers, tell the story of two lovers who have drifted apart yet still go through the motions of living a life together.
You don’t bring me flowers
You don’t sing me love songs
You hardly talk to me anymore
As the lyrics portray, feeling disconnected, isolated and sad can happen even when you are in a relationship.
Trust issues, attachment problems, abuse, or a communication breakdown can make a person feel lonely. If one partner is negative, controlling, or too needy, it can exacerbate those feelings.
What are the signs of loneliness?
Loneliness isn’t always obvious. Signs of loneliness could include:
- No close or best friends, and wish you had more friends
- Feeling alone, even in company and busy places
- Less interested in socialising
- An inability to connect with others – interactions feel surface-level
- Feeling down – negative feelings of self-doubt and low self-worth
- Feeling as though no one understands you
- Feeling physically sluggish
- Gaining weight and less interested in healthy eating
- Spending too much time on social media
Feelings of loneliness and mental health
Feeling lonely isn’t a mental health problem per se, but it does need attention. A prolonged sense of isolation can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Loneliness also has repercussions on physical health.
Valentine’s Day can be a painful reminder that you don’t have someone special to share your life with. The fear of being alone forever can be incredibly haunting. Even in a relationship, Valentine’s Day can be a trigger for loneliness if the relationship is crumbling, it’s abusive, or if your loved one is constantly working away.
In addition, if self-esteem is low, seeing many picture-perfect relationships on Valentine’s Day can make a person feel worthless, that no one likes them, or that their relationships aren’t good enough.
Human beings are a social species, so even those of us who are pretty happy doing things alone (not the same as loneliness) still need satisfying social relationships. You can be in a relationship and feel lonely. You can be in a crowd of people and feel lonely.
There are consequences. Research shows that loneliness can lead to various psychiatric disorders like depression, alcohol abuse, child abuse, sleep problems, personality disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.5 Loneliness has also been associated with impaired cellular immunity.5
Long-term feelings of loneliness can also affect cognitive skills, making it more difficult to concentrate, make decisions, and problem-solve. Conversely, feeling listened to and supported has a protective brain health effect.6
Loneliness and isolation often go together. Dr Joel Salinas, a behavioural neurologist and faculty member of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, says isolation is also associated with elevated risks for heart attack, stroke, chronic inflammation, depression, anxiety, perceived stress, and loneliness.
Some people are more vulnerable to loneliness than others. For example, if you are estranged from your family, belong to a minority group, already suffer from a mental health problem, like depression, or a disorder like autism, or have experienced sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
Other risk factors include being widowed, being single, living alone, or being a carer. Social anxiety disorder can also prevent individuals from pursuing a loving relationship.
The stigma of loneliness makes it hard to talk about.
“Loneliness is like being on a desert island. You feel there’s only you.” – Mental Health Foundation UK Report, All the Lonely People.
Ways to combat loneliness on Valentine’s Day and Beyond
There are things you can do to address loneliness and take care of yourself. With a bit of self-love, you can enjoy yourself on Valentine’s Day, solo or with other single friends. Whatever the reason behind your loneliness, you can shift your focus and spend some time with yourself.
- Ignore the Valentine’s celebrations altogether – don’t let social media or shop displays of gifts and cards get you down.
- Practise self-care – taking good care of yourself can help you to feel more grounded. Make time for simple things you enjoy, like taking a relaxing bath, reading a book, or walking in the countryside or at the beach. You could try journaling. Writing a gratitude journal can help to put things into perspective.
- Make it a day to treat yourself – buy yourself some flowers, eat your favourite food, take a day off work, or do something fun, like going to a museum or art gallery. Make concrete plans to take your mind off the fact that you are single or in a less-than-ideal relationship.
- Avoid triggers – don’t watch your favourite romantic films, listen to love songs, or go to places you used to go when you were in a romantic liaison.
- Plan a date with your single friends – being with people in the same situation could help ease loneliness.
- Reach out to family – if you need someone to talk to or some company, contact a trusted family member.
- Try something new, like a cooking class, yoga, or volunteering. It’s a great way to distract yourself and you’ll get the chance to meet new people.
- Seek professional help – if you are struggling to get out of a loneliness rut, it’s essential to seek help from a therapist or counsellor, who will help you work through your feelings and offer guidance on coping strategies.
Restore mental well-being at CALDA
Prolonged loneliness can lead to affective disorders like anxiety and depression. At CALDA, we understand that anyone can reach a point where they face challenges in life which they can’t resolve alone. The breakdown of a relationship, especially for HNWIs, can be incredibly traumatic and complex. Valentine’s Day can trigger anger, shame, guilt, and helplessness.
At CALDA, we offer a personalised treatment plan with intensive psychotherapy and personalised lifestyle coaching to help you regain balance and meaning in your life. During your stay with us, our team of specialists and therapists support you to feel good about yourself and teach coping strategies to combat loneliness.
We treat one client at a time and offer the utmost discretion and privacy. Please get in touch with us if you would like to know more about our programs. Our Medical Director, Dr Claudia M Elsig, will happily discuss the unique CALDA Concept.
- Seipel, A. 14 Feb 2022 (Updated). The dark origins of Valentine’s Day. NPR [Accessed 05 Feb 2024].
- History.com editors. 30 Jan 2024 (Updated). Lupercalia. History.com [Accessed 05 Feb 2024].
- Murtaugh, T & Robertson, T. 03 Jan 2022 (updated). The True History of Valentine’s Day Might Surprise You—Here’s What to Know. Country Living [Accessed 05 Feb 2024].
- Hricik, P. 08 Feb 2022. Did Shakespeare celebrate Valentine’s? shakespeareanstudent.com [Accessed 05 Feb 2024].
- Mushtaq R, et al. Sep 2014. Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014 Sep;8(9):WE01-4.
- Harvard Health Publishing. 01 May 2021. How isolation affects memory and thinking skills. Health.harvard.edu [Accessed 05 Feb 2024].