Are the holidays truly the most wonderful time of the year? As we age, Christmas can bring feelings of loneliness and isolation, amplifying the absence of a significant other or the loss of family and friends.
This year, the cost-of-living crisis will also inevitably make things tougher. Add in the long, dark nights and the indulgence in a festive diet of alcohol and sugar, combined with less sleep, it’s no wonder that Christmas can pose challenges for many individuals.
Sometimes the festive season, with its images and expectations of gift-giving, socialising and excess can also be a time when our own connections are put under the spotlight, leading to feelings of inadequacy (if the period doesn’t match up to those perceived ideas of what our lives should look like at Christmas) or simply to feelings of loneliness without being alone.
Why Do We Feel Lonely At Christmas?
If you’ve ever wondered why the holidays have this effect on you, don’t worry. Feeling a little lonely or flat from time to time during the Christmas season is very normal.
According to research carried out by mental health charity Mind, one-third of people are too embarrassed to admit they feel lonely at Christmas and one-quarter feel unable to ask for help when struggling emotionally during the festive period.
“Feeling lonely around the holidays can make us feel as if something is wrong with us. Everybody else seems to know how to be happy, how to be together, how to be festive, merry, and bright. But feeling lonely around the winter holidays is extremely common“, says psychotherapist, Esther Perel. “It can seem as if everyone else occupies their own winter wonderland with people they love, money to buy food and toys, and even time to volunteer. This wrapped-in-a-bow fantasy is rarely the reality for most people. More often than not, the holidays are a time of increased stress and loneliness—even for self-proclaimed holiday fanatics“, she explains.
5 Ways To Cope with Loneliness at Christmas
Fortunately, there are some strategies to cope with seasonal loneliness. From reaching out to support networks, engaging in acts of kindness, or exploring alternative ways to celebrate the season, we hope you’ll find new ways to turn feelings of isolation into moments in which you can create new memories and traditions that will fit with the woman you’ve become.
- Lower your expectations
A study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that people’s expectations from interpersonal relationships undergo considerable changes as they age — resulting in them often feeling lonelier as they grow older, even if they’re not alone. Many of us also struggle with the pressure of what to give, what to serve, and how to host well during Christmas. These expectations often seem unattainable, making the holiday season less enjoyable and more stressful.
However, if we lower our expectations, we can find joy in the simple things. When we set them too high, we become upset and ungrateful for anything that falls short. Remember, the true magic of Christmas lies in embracing reality and letting go of any unrealistic grand ideals.
- Reframe your thoughts
Try to reframe the concept of loneliness as neutral rather than negative. Often, the negative associations we attach to loneliness are what make it so painful. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of your life and feel grateful for the blessings you have. While a large family Christmas may have its advantages, it also involves negotiation and compromise. On the other hand, if you are spending the holiday alone, you have the freedom to do as you please – watch your favourite shows, eat your preferred meals, and engage in activities you enjoy. Taking time for yourself to recharge and indulge is not selfish; it is necessary.
As cognitive behavioural therapists often remark, we have more power over our thoughts and how they make us feel than we think. You can either choose to feel lonely because you’re alone. Or you can count your blessings and choose to feel grateful for the positive things in your life.
- Join in online
Comedian Sarah Millican has launched a wonderful initiative that aims to help those who are alone on Christmas Day. The concept is simple: if you don’t want to spend the day by yourself, you can join a community of people on Twitter, including Sarah, by using the hashtag #JoinIn. This is a fantastic way to combat loneliness during the festive season. Not only will you feel less isolated, but you’ll also have the chance to connect with some amazing individuals and even gain some new Twitter followers! There’s a good chance that there are others in the same situation as you, or perhaps even worse, so this could be an opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.
- Be active
Instead of worrying about your expectations for the holiday, why not make it a time to be productive? Take a leisurely stroll, focus on self-care exercises, provide a temporary home for a furry friend, begin an indoor garden, or lend a hand in your local community. By assisting those in need and connecting with others who have faced similar challenges, you may discover new ways to be kind to yourself and ultimately treat yourself with more compassion.
- Re-write your own rules
If you find yourself spending Christmas alone, it’s the perfect opportunity to set your own rules and redefine what Christmas means to you personally. Not a fan of the traditional turkey and Christmas pudding? Why not try making a delicious pizza from scratch, or indulge in a slow-cooked curry? You could even whip up some tasty snacks for an indoor picnic. Put on some cosy new PJs and have a binge-watching session. Alternatively, you could explore a new hobby, like painting, while listening to your favourite podcast. Enjoy this day for yourself and make it a memorable one.
It’s not unusual to feel lonely during the festive season, but if you’re feeling particularly down, don’t hesitate to seek help. Reach out to a friend, family member, or a helpline. Even if you’re in the middle of a crisis, remember that you should never feel alone or without support. Be kind to yourself.