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Coping with loneliness at Christmas

Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK
15 December 2021
Next review due December 2024

Many people spend Christmas alone. But as the pandemic continues, more people than usual may find themselves in this position.

Perhaps you don’t have family nearby, travel plans have been dashed or you’re having to isolate due to illness. Here, I share some ways to keep upbeat and busy if you’re alone at Christmas, and where you can go for support if you need it.

Keep busy to combat loneliness

Think about how you’d like to spend your time over Christmas so you can plan ahead. Think about all the things you enjoy doing – or never usually have time to do. There may be some Christmas specials on TV, or a film or boxset you’ve been meaning to watch. You could also:

  • start a new book, or why not write your own short story
  • do a jigsaw puzzle – challenge yourself and go for one with lots of pieces
  • learn a new craft skill, such as knitting or painting.
  • cook or bake – you could make jam or chutney, which will last for months ahead

A woman sat on a chair reading

Get outside

If you can, try to get outside – even if it’s just for a short walk. Getting outside for some light exercise can lift your mood, as well as keep you active. Head somewhere you can connect with nature if possible, whether it’s a woodland, park or pond. Takes in the sounds, smells and sights around you, and practise being present and grateful.

It might also be a chance to engage with others. Even a short chat with a neighbour can help you to feel connected and give you a much-needed boost.

Indulge yourself

Why not treat yourself to some of your favourite foods and drinks? Or splash out on an indulgent meal? You don’t need to please anyone else or follow tradition (unless that’s something you enjoy). Try not to overdo it though – drinking or eating to excess can make you feel worse.

Think of other ways to treat yourself too. Now’s the time to do as you please!

  • Take a long bath.
  • Paint your nails.
  • Wear your comfiest pyjamas.

A woman sat on her bed with her laptop

Use social media wisely

If you use social media, bear in mind that Christmas-related posts and photos from others may make you feel more isolated. If you do feel this way, consider a social media break over Christmas, especially when you’re alone.

On the other hand, social media can be a great way to connect with others. One example is the #JoinIn campaign, run by comedian, Sarah Millican. This is aimed at people on their own at Christmas who would like to connect with others.

With so many Internet-based groups and forums available, you’re bound to find something suitable online to connect with others with similar interests.

You’re not alone with loneliness

If you’re on your own, take heart in the knowledge that you’re not the only one. If you have loved ones you’d like to connect with over Christmas, make the effort to do so. It may well boost their spirits as well as yours. Whether it’s a video call, phone call, sending a Christmas card or a text message – there are plenty of ways to stay in touch.

Personal story: Fay

Fay spent last Christmas alone. Here, she shares how she coped and what she did to feel better.

“Last year, my partner’s shifts fell over the Christmas period, so he wasn’t around. Our area went into tier 4 lockdown, so I wasn’t able to travel to see my sister as I had planned. Christmas has been a difficult time for me since my mum died a couple of years ago. She absolutely loved Christmas, and made it really special, so I miss her even more at this time of year. I was really dreading Christmas on my own.

“Usually, I wouldn’t say anything to my friends, as I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to spend time with me. Most of them had family locally, so already had the maximum number of people in their homes anyway. But after chatting to one friend, I realised her plans had fallen through too, so we arranged to go for a dog walk together in the morning. So, it’s always worth being open with your friends and family, as you don’t know what they might be going through too.

“I also saved wrapping the presents I had for my partner and family until Christmas afternoon, and wrapped them while watching a Christmas film. It meant I had a task to keep busy with, it felt Christmassy, and I could focus on when I would see people to give them their gifts. I also bought food and drink that I really like and enjoyed it throughout the day – no pressure to make a huge Christmas dinner!

“With everyone seeming to be happy and having perfect days all over social media, Christmas can pile on the pressure and exacerbate feelings of loneliness. But it’s important to remember that it’s just another day, and you can make it your own.”

Where to turn for support and advice

If you’re feeling lonely or low over Christmas, there are support groups and charities you can contact.

The Silver Line

The Silver Line provides a helpline for older people, available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

  • Helpline: 0800 470 80 90

You may also like to sign up for regular telephone calls with a volunteer matched to you, through the Age UK & Silver Line telephone friendship service.

Mind

Mind is a mental health charity offering an information and signposting service via their Infoline. You can contact them from 9am to 6pm up until the 24 December. Helplines will be closed on 27 and 28 December and 3 January. A normal service will start again from 4 January 2022.

Mind also have lots of resources available on their website, including practical tools to help yourself in a crisis. Click the pink ‘Get help now’ button on their website for more information.

Samaritans

If you need someone to talk to, you can call the Samaritans helpline any time of day or night, any day of the year, including Christmas Day.

  • Call 116 123

Shout

Shout is a free, confidential text messaging support service for anyone struggling to cope. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

  • Text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258

YoungMinds

YoungMinds is a charity supporting young people with their mental health. They offer a helpline for parents worried about their children, and a text service for young people looking for help and support.

  • Parent’s helpline: 0808 802 5544
  • YoungMinds Crisis Messenger: text YM to 85258 for urgent help, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you’re worried about your mental health, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get mental health advice and support usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Fatmata Kamara
Fatmata Kamara
Specialist Nurse Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Christmas and mental Health. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published October 2021
    • UK Chief Medical Officers' Physical Activity Guidelines. Department of Health and Social Care. www.gov.uk, published September 2019
    • Franco LS, Shanahan DF, Fuller RA. A review of the benefits of nature experiences: more than meets the eye. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2017;14(8): 864. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080864
    • Five ways to mental wellbeing. Government Office for Science. GOV UK. www.gov.uk, published 22 October 2008
    • Karim F, Oyewande AA, Abdalla LF, et al. Social media use and its connection to mental health: a systematic review. Cureus 2020;12(6):e8627. doi:10.7759/cureus.8627
    • #JoinIn. Sarah Millican. sarahmillican.co.uk, accessed 14 December 2021

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