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Mental health at Christmas: Loneliness

Christmas is generally thought of as a time of good cheer that people look forward to all year. However, not everyone is always feeling this festive spirit. Feeling lonely at Christmas is a serious problem for lots of people across the UK.

Feeling lonely is not a mental health problem but the two can impact each other quite heavily. For example, having a mental health condition may limit your social interactions making you feel lonely. Equally, feeling lonely may take a toll on your mental wellbeing.

At a time when we are constantly reminded that we should be spending the day with loved ones, it can be very hard on those who feel alone.

A survey from Age UK found that almost a million people (982,200) aged over 60 felt lonelier at Christmas last year.

But this isn’t just affecting older generations despite what some of the information suggests. Younger people are increasingly feeling lonelier towards this time of year, making this a growing problem.

Things are not always what they seem

There can be a lot of pressure around Christmas to be in good spirit. However, if you’re not having the picture perfect day it can feel very lonesome. With the increasing use of social media, it is easy to think that you’re the only one feeling this way. It is important to remember that it’s just another day.

It’s very tempting to spend time looking on social media comparing yourself to your friends but this can be deceptive as people can choose exactly what they put online. If someone else is having a hard time they wouldn’t put that up for everyone to see which can make it seem like everyone else is having a jolly time.

Woman walking alone down a busy street

Sometimes it can help to think about the nature of what makes you feel lonely in order to come up with the best solution.

Do you feel lonely because you aren’t in contact with people or have few friends or family? Or do you feel lonely or isolated despite being around lots of people?

Once you recognise why you are feeling the way you are it’s much easier to take control of the situation. Be positive in your mindset.

Make a change

If you feel you’re lonely because you have few friends or family, try making new connections. Join clubs which are centred on your interests so you will easily have topics of conversation. Or, if you’d rather take it slow, choose classes which focus on the activity rather than communication.

A great way to meet people and make connections is through volunteering.

Volunteers are always needed around and even on Christmas Day so this could be a great way of getting out of the house and feeling productive.

You’ll be surrounded by people and doing a good deed will make you feel good about yourself. Also, seeing a range of people who are in hard situations can give a new perspective on things in your own life and help you focus on things that you’re grateful for.

Young woman on a busy street

If you’re around lots people but still feel lonely then try to open up about it. Feeling lonely can be very isolating, but being honest with those around you can be helpful. By letting people know how you’re they can offer advice or make plans with you so you feel more connected.

Getting a new perspective on your problems can help you see solutions you hadn’t thought of or give insight into what those around you think. Different people have different social requirements and understanding the requirements of your friends and even yourself can be a step in the right direction.

Man walks alone through wintery scene

Consider this

It’s important to keep up with routines over Christmas and to keep active. People easily become housebound in the winter months which can make loneliness worse. Try going out for walks to get some fresh air, maybe to a Christmas market or a local nature spot you may not have visited before.

Try to avoid unhealthy habits, like over-consumption of food and alcohol. They can become even more tempting at this time of year when there are lots of treats on offer. They can seem like they help but really they have the potential to create more problems.

Make sure you’re realistic in your arrangements. Overwhelming yourself with things to do can be counter-productive in the long run. Taking things slow and setting yourself smaller challenges or goals is a good way to build up confidence.

No matter how you’re spending Christmas this year we hope you take care of yourself. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re looking for support.


Lowri Davies

Lowri is studying psychology and is on a placement year with NCMH.

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National Centre for Mental Health, Cardiff University, Hadyn Ellis Building, Maindy Road, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ

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