Ask a Therapist: 7 of Your Questions Around Handling Christmas Loneliness, Answered

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Whatever your typical set up around December the 25th – perhaps a chunky get together with the extended family, a little celebration with a few key friends and fizz or a firmly 'non-traditional' takeaway from your local Chinese restaurant – between high Omicron rates and the desire to be 'cautious', things might look different, this year. (Again!)

One possible ramification of this is a sensation of loneliness. The festive period is a core cause of the feeling – notwithstanding a global pandemic that has severed our physical ties like a piece of silverware through brandy butter. This especially goes for those who have tested positive for the virus and now must isolate over the day itself.

79% of you feel lonelier now, than you did before the pandemic, according to WH research

To help you through, WH asked leading psychotherapist and author of This Too Shall Pass, Julia Samuel, to respond to some of your questions, musings and comments on feeling alone, this Christmas.

How should I deal with Christmas loneliness?

But first, there is some universal advice to root yourself in. Regardless of your situation, the below is likely to be a tonic, to some degree, in this bizarre time.

Keep a routine

'It helps to have regular routines that you can rely on that give you some certainty, so it might be structural routine of exercise before breakfast, or meditate after work,' says Samuel.

Just breathe

'Both exercise and any breathing technique also reduce the anxiety caused by uncertainty, so you get double benefit. Intentionally choosing to do things that give you joy also helps manage uncertainty, so it might be listening to wonderful music as you cook.'

Know what you can control

'Recognising and jotting down the things you can change and influence and those you can’t is worth sticking on your fridge door,' Samuel details.

Remember that, even amid wild uncertainty, you are in control of some aspects of your life. 'It is important to be proactive, make times for online connection and if possible real connection through walks together, even taking hot drinks that you can stop and drink together,' she adds.

'We need connection to others more than anything else. People need people and love in every form is vital medicine right now, we have to commit and work to have it, not wait for someone else to connect with us.'

Scroll on for her response to WH readers who are feeling a little stuck, sad or solitary, at this time.

7 of your Christmas loneliness questions, answered

1. 'I feel sick about Christmas! I am alone and dreading seeing people with their families on Instagram. What should I do?'

'I can understand that living alone is heightened over Christmas when you both imagine and see on Instagram families being together,' says Samuel. 'I wonder if you might contact an organisation like The Cares Family which is an organisation connecting people in communities, young and old online and in person.

'Another thing to note is that using our skill and agency to make something through painting or any kind of craft gives us both purpose and satisfaction, there are also many online craft meet-ups that you can join to discuss your area of interest.'

2. 'I am struggling with uncertainty. It looks as if Christmas will be very miserable this year and there’s a shortage of money through no work...'

'The uncertainty and shortage of money make celebrating anything worrying. I wonder if you can schedule virtual meet-up with, say, four good friends to wish each other a happy Christmas.

'I have been pleasantly surprised how meeting with a small number of close friends can feel intimate and enriching.'

3. 'My main concern is my 94-year-old mum, who lives alone, abroad. My sister is nearby and sees her a couple of times a day, but if there's a bad snowstorm or Covid regulations, she might not see anyone.'

'I imagine not being with your mum on Christmas day is particularly hard, when the number of Christmases you are likely to have together in the future is uncertain.

'Could you perhaps create a Plan B for your mother if there is a snowstorm – does she have a next door neighbour who she could ring and would agree to drop in, and could you agree a time you will telephone each other on Christmas day whatever the weather?

'I would write and send her a card with a message of all that you feel about her, and memories of your happy Christmases of the past that she could open on Christmas Day.'

4. 'I lost my mum four years ago and she made Christmas magical. It's not ever been the same again.'

'Having memories of those very Happy Christmases with your beloved mum must be bittersweet.

'I would create an annual Christmas ritual which reflects your mum and your love of her, maybe light a candle with flowers and a photograph of her that you can turn to at particular times or do something that connects you to her over Christmas.

'Touchstones to memory are a way of expressing the love of the person who has died, for our love for them never dies.'

5. 'I think I will get depressed as I alone am expected to carry out all household chores. I used to have my friends as support, but, because I’ve not been in touch with them regularly through lockdown, they have left me.'

'I can hear how hurt you are not being in touch with your friends, but I would suggest you draw on your courage and contact them and agree to reconnect. I am sure they would welcome hearing from you as they might well be feeling left and lonely too.

'Partly it is about just daring, taking the leap to text or call and it is also cognitively recognising that the feeling of fear doesn’t in anyway match the reality of fear – feelings are not facts.

'The worst that can happen is the status quo, they don’t respond, so you have lost nothing and may gain a friend so it is definitely worth the jump.'

6. 'I can't visit my family as my mum is very high risk, which means feeling very disconnected and alone. Help?'

'That’s tough for you and your Mum. I wonder if you could record a voice message for her from you and others that know and care about her, saying Happy Christmas but also why she is special to you, that she could receive on Christmas Day.'

7. 'I have no family anyway and I think Christmas is over-amped as a time of togetherness – and that itself is the key cause of the seasonal loneliness.'

'I wonder if you would find some sense of enrichment over a time that feels over-amped by volunteering on Christmas Day or around it? Helping others is both good for those that receive but also the giver.'

Need some help with loneliness? Try these organisations

  • The Mind infoline can signpost you to mental health services, that might help: 0300 123 3393

  • The Samaritans are there to talk, every day and every night: 116 123

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