10 ways to help ease loneliness over the holidays
For many people the festive season is the loneliest time of the year, but it doesn’t need to be. Here are an expert’s tips for staying connected these holidays.
Even before a global pandemic made social isolation part of our everyday lives, one in four Australians reported feeling lonely. But as social distancing, self-isolation and remote working and learning became part of daily life, that figure doubled to one in two.
Psychologist Dr Michelle Lim describes loneliness as “a critical issue of our time”, one that has detrimental effects on wellbeing, health, productivity and how we function in our day-to-day lives.
Now, as the festive season approaches, experts anticipate an increase in loneliness as people feel the pressure to be with family and friends, and the stigma that surrounds being alone at this time of year.
“Christmas can be super-stressful for people generally but there’s also the expectation that we have to see people we don’t want to see, or we have to not be alone,” says Michelle, who is scientific chair of Ending Loneliness Together, a national network of organisations working to address the issue in Australia,
As those seasonal pressures mount, Lifeline expects to receive thousands of calls from people needing support on Christmas Day, and many more in the days following.
The good news is that we can do something about loneliness this festive season – to help both ourselves and people we know.
“It’s really important for us to reach into our network and those who are more vulnerable in the community, and check on what people are doing and how they’re going,” says Michelle Lim.
She says one silver lining of the pandemic is that while previously almost 50 per cent of Australians said they didn’t feel they could call on neighbours for help, many more of us now feel more connected to people in the community.
“I think the pandemic has forced us to think more compassionately about looking after neighbours and making sure they’re socially connected,” says Michelle. “Those things should stay beyond the crisis.”
She says it is also important to reset how we think about loneliness. “Nobody wants to be lonely. Nobody wants to say I need someone, because they somehow think it reflects badly on them or that they are a burden. We need to correct the way we think about loneliness so it’s not a shameful thing to feel – but just part of the normal human experience. Being able to accept that is a really empowering thing to do.”