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Dealing with loneliness at Christmas

This page created 29 November 2010

By Clare – ACAP Placement Student – November 2010

Although a joyful time for many, Christmas can add to life’s pressures. These might be added financial worries or perhaps it is the first Christmas since a significant event such as a death or a divorce.  Over the Christmas period Lifeline sees an increase in calls from people experiencing family problems and loneliness. Call numbers on Christmas Day are particularly high in the afternoon and throughout the night, reflecting strained family celebrations and increased alcohol usage. These calls are generally related to family or relationship issues and from people who are feeling lonely.

Many find themselves alone at Christmas time. The reasons can include relocation to a city far from relatives, a marital break-up, or family estrangement. The emphasis on family, friends and shared good times during the 'festive season' can make these people feel depressed and unloved.  It can be hard not to feel lonely.

For those who have lost a loved one, through death, relationship failure, or relocation, holidays can be especially difficult as they can reawaken the grieving process. It could be an anniversary of a loss, or even the first Christmas without that particular person. There isn’t any gauge or measure of how long you will feel pain after a loss. It is important to take time to grieve the loss because it is not healthy for you to ignore these feelings and it will probably prolong the pain. One tip that may help is to dedicate an activity or moment during the holiday season to reflect on the time spent with that person.

Betterhealth.vic.gov recommends the following suggestions to ease isolation over the festive period:
  • If separated by distance, keep in constant contact by phone, mail and email.
  • Christmas shopping for loved ones can help you feel connected, even though you may be half a world away. Make sure you post your gifts in early December to avoid the Christmas mail rush.
  • Make plans for Christmas Day. If you have no one to share the day with, consider volunteering for charity work. For example, you could help organisations such as ‘The Salvation Army’ and give Christmas lunch to people in need.
  • Attend community celebrations such as Carols by Candlelight and neighbourhood picnics.
  • Use the strength of your feelings to change your situation. If you are estranged from loved ones perhaps you could attempt to reconcile with relatives and old friends (if possible) otherwise take steps to widen your social network.

Mental health organisation ‘Mind’ emphasise the importance of not neglecting your mental and physical health over the holidays. Getting some exercise and being outdoors can act as a great pick-me-up. Small changes such as these can be a big step towards lifting your mood. With the following tips from ‘Mind’ and a bit of planning, a solo Christmas can be a holiday to enjoy rather than endure:

Keep busy
The Christmas season seems to begin earlier every year, but it doesn't have to take over every aspect of your life. Think about what you most enjoy doing, whether it's reading, country walks, going to the cinema or playing the piano, and make time to do it. You could also try out new activities that you’ve always wanted to have a go at.

Be a volunteer
Many charities and organisations could do with help at Christmas. If you have spare time, you could spend a few hours working as a volunteer. Search online (try www.govolunteer.com.au), ask at your local library, or look for adverts in the local paper.

Get your heart pumping
Physical exercise has been proven to reduce stress and enhance your mood. Find something that works for you, whether it’s going to the gym, swimming or getting outside for some fresh air. Just getting off the sofa and outside should make you feel better. The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.au) holds winter-themed activities.

Eat and drink well
Traditional Christmas food and drink can often be excessive and make you feel       lethargic. It has been proven that healthy eating with plenty of fruit and vegetables can lift your mood significantly.

Find a listening ear
Christmas is a good time to be sociable, but if you're feeling lonely, and your friends are occupied with their families, it can be helpful to speak to someone completely removed from your situation. Some organisations such as the ones listed below offer confidential support over the phone. An alternative is to contact a local counsellor or psychologist.

Useful numbers

Lifeline    13 11 14    (24/7)
Suicide Helpline  1300 651 251
Mental Health Advice Line1300 280 737
Grief Line 
9596 7799
Mensline 1300 789 978
Beyondblue1300 224 636 
Mind    9455 7900
 

References

http://www.lifeline.org.au/learn_more/publications/newsletters/e-newsletter_december_2005
http://www.lifeline.org.au/learn_more/publications/articles/staying_balanced_over_the_christmas_period
http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Christmas_can_be_stressful
http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Healthychristmas/Pages/Beatingloneliness.aspx


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