We hear about Christmas as being a happy time with presents, food and family. But what if you are feeling isolated at Christmas? Isolation can contribute to people feeling sad, disappointed, irritable, lonely, stressed, anxious or angry at Christmas. It can be a ‘triggering’ time for many, for example:
• If the person has no family, they are reminded of this when they see families together around them or in the media, and they can experience grief.
• If there has been conflict in the family in the past (at Christmas or any other time) resulting in estrangement, a range of memories and feelings can be triggered.
• If the person is divorced, Christmas can be a reminder of events around the divorce and the resulting losses.
• If the person is estranged from their family because they experienced abuse in their family in the past, again, memories and emotions can be triggered.
• If there have been other traumas around Christmas in the past (for example, having a motor vehicle accident), emotions can also be triggered.
Loss and grief can be a major issue at Christmas, especially when a person has lost a loved one around this time, or loss and grief related to not having a loving family around. We are social beings, and we need to have interactions with other people. Being with others can reduce the feelings of stress and loneliness, through more positive experiences and distractions. It can bring humour and happiness to that person. Connection with others can also bring meaning. Hence seeing friends or neighbours, or people at the local Church or charity can be very helpful.
If you are aware of someone who might be lonely, you can help in different ways, including;
• having a chat with them and acknowledging their feelings and that Christmas is not always a happy time
• popping in for a visit, even if just for a few minutes
• sending them a card or call them
• dropping in some food or a gift
• inviting them in for a cup of tea, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea or dinner
• letting them know about local events – is there a local pageant or carols in the park
Here are 10 tips to help relieve loneliness at Christmas:
1. Don’t compare yourself to others on the day as everyone’s situation is different.
2. Be kind to yourself e.g. sleep in, have a special breakfast, listen to your favourite music…
3. Remember that you deserve some gifts too! Give yourself some gifts on the day, no matter how small.
4. Go out and have some contact with people e.g. Church or charity lunches, visit the local shops or park.
5. Spoil your pets too on the day and enjoy their company.
6. Set yourself a task for the day e.g. do a craft activity, clean out a cupboard, go for a walk on the beach or at a national park.
7. Be kind to others e.g. volunteer at a local charity e.g. serving Christmas lunch to homeless people.
8. Listen to the radio or watch television; there are often special shows on the day, and talk back radio is good company – perhaps call in for the first time!
9. Watch a funny movie and have a laugh, or surf the internet.
10. Ring a friend or relative (or skype) and have a chat, or call a radio station or the Beyondblue support service 1300224643 or Lifeline 131114.
Note: Dr Cate Howell can be heard talking about Christmas on her regular ‘Health Hour’ Fiveaa on 22nd December, 2013.