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.
Lifeline expects to receive thousands of calls from people needing support on Christmas Day, and many more in the days following.
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.”
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.
Volunteer to help pack hampers or wrap gifts before the big day.
“Yes it’s Christmas and yes it’s a time of celebration,” says Michelle, “but it’s actually okay to just be by yourself.” Embrace that spirit of indulgence by doing your favourite things, whether that’s a lie-in or a sunrise walk, eating the foods you normally reserve for treats, watching a guilty-pleasure TV series or film, or compiling a list for the Boxing Day sales.
Put your hand up
Doing something for others is a double-edged good that benefits both giver and receiver. You could volunteer to cook or serve at a community organisation Christmas lunch, or help pack hampers or wrap gifts before the big day.
Make the most of the Christmas shutdown
The pandemic filled our parks and bike paths, and the post-lockdown rush back to normal has seen our streets humming with activity, so Christmas Day at least should serve up a welcome lull. Take a ride on a favourite bike path, a dip at a quiet watering hole, or read peacefully under a tree. “Christmas could be a day of reflection or self-care,” says Michelle, “a day to spend time at the beach or in nature.”
If you know of others who are unencumbered by family events, you could invite them around for a pot-luck lunch or picnic in a local park. Sharing food means no one has the pressure of providing for all, and picnicking means you don’t have to tidy your house.
Reach out if you need to
If you feel the need to make contact – with family and acquaintances or with formal services like Lifeline – you should. “If you’re feeling a bit isolated it’s okay for you to say, ‘I need a chat’ or ‘it’d be nice just to touch base with you’,” says Michelle. “And if you are feeling very lonely it’s also okay to be a bit more open about it. There are very vulnerable groups out there and if they have the choice to reach out to services they should, and not feel like there’s anything wrong with that.”
Pull up a chair
Got room for a spare chair or two at your lunch table? In the true spirit of Christmas you could ask a mate or a neighbour to join your family meal – they might just raise the tone of the conversation and keep everyone on their best behaviour. Or a less-formal alternative is evening drinks to graze on the leftovers.
Do the drop-in
If the Christmas meal invitation seems too full on, take an afternoon walk and drop in on a neighbour or local friend. Bring some Christmas goodies, and text ahead to let them know you’ll drop by.
Text or call
If you’re out of town or tied up all day with Christmas meals and get-togethers, a text message or phone call can let someone know you’re thinking of them. “Why not give them a call and just ask about their day and have a chat,” says Michelle, “because even a small action like that might not cost you much but can mean an immense amount to someone else.”
Just a little something
You don’t need to know someone well, or even know their name, to connect and make a difference to their lives. Pop a card in their letterbox, or leave some hand-picked flowers or a home-made treat at their door.
Catch up on Boxing Day
Christmas Day can be frantic, so why not arrange to catch up with a friend who feels a little isolated on Boxing Day when it’s still Christmassy but everyone is more relaxed.
If you or someone you know needs support with mental health call Lifeline on 13 11 14.