Coping with feelings of loneliness and isolation during the holidays
‘Loneliness in Northern Ireland: 2019/20‘, a report published by NISRA, found that levels of loneliness are increasing in Northern Ireland, with 1 in 20 adults here reporting feeling lonely ‘always’ or ‘often’. People aged 16-24 and 75+ are more likely to feel lonely and females are more likely to feel lonely than males. The report found that various factors contribute to levels of loneliness, such as access to transport, relationship status, living in an urban vs a rural area, and employment status.
So if you’re feeling lonely this festive season, feeling like you are the only one not in a festive mood, merrily shopping for gifts and going to Christmas parties, it seems you are not alone. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, more than 9 million people in the UK ‘often’ or ‘always’ feel lonely, and more of us are likely to feel this way in the run-up to Christmas. Of course, Christmas is not the only time we experience loneliness, but it can feel highlighted at this time of year.
There are many reasons you may feel more alone over the Christmas period. Family strife, grief, illness, and financial burdens can make it difficult to enjoy the holidays. The good news is that you can take steps to lessen feelings of loneliness and cultivate moments of peace and happiness this Christmas.
The NISRA report on loneliness also found that people with higher levels of self-efficacy were less likely to feel lonely. Self-efficacy measures a person’s belief in their ability to achieve their goals and is closely linked to other aspects of their wellbeing. Self-efficacy is essentially the belief in your own ability to control your own behaviour, emotions, and motivations. It is your belief that you can solve a problem, reach a goal, complete a task, and achieve what you set out to do.
With this in mind, we’ve set out some simple self-care tips for combatting loneliness that might help you take back control of your situation and gain some sense of self-efficacy.
Acknowledge your feelings
Loneliness happens in a vicious cycle for many people. Sometimes, the longer you contain feelings of loneliness without talking about them, the more difficult it can feel to discuss with others. The first step to break the cycle is acknowledging your feelings to yourself and then talking to someone you trust. Speaking about your feelings can make them feel more manageable. If you find it hard to express your feelings out loud, writing them down in a journal could help. Being aware that what you’re feeling is loneliness can help spur you to try to do something about it.
Find ways to connect
Try to find ways of reaching out to others. If you’re feeling social, you could attend a local community event to be around others. You could sign up to a festive workshop or reach out to an old friend – a ‘Merry Christmas’ text could be all it takes to break the ice.
Aim to talk to at least one person a day; it’s important that you don’t become totally isolated. If your family has moved away or you can’t be with them, keep in touch with them via Skype, FaceTime or similar apps. Lots of organisations are in need of volunteers over the holidays. Why not help out for a few hours? This can be a great way to meet other people!
See the ‘Useful Links’ section at the bottom of this article to find volunteering opportunities or organisations that can help you combat loneliness this Christmas.
Re-frame the way you think about Christmas
Remember that another person’s expectations of Christmas do not have to be the same as yours. Take a moment to consider your expectations and set realistic goals for yourself for the holidays. Taking the time to define what Christmas means to you personally and practising gratitude for the things that you do have, can help you feel more relaxed and improve your mood. Loneliness can be amplified when you compare your circumstances to other people’s or previous experiences, so re-framing your way of thinking about Christmas can help you feel more connected to your surroundings.
Cold weather doesn’t have to stop us from going outside! Exercise can make a huge difference in how we feel, but so many of us don’t even think about it during Christmas. Take a walk around your neighbourhood, or drive to somewhere scenic like the beach or park. Keeping active and spending time in nature can help lift your mood, reduce feelings of stress and boost your energy levels. It’s important to be mindful of your exposure to sunlight during winter also, as a lack of this can exacerbate depression.
Give the gift of kindness
Little gestures and acts of kindness can help make someone’s day. Whether you are volunteering, being a thoughtful friend, or helping vulnerable neighbours, there is so much you can do to support others over the holidays. Even simple acts like checking in with your neighbours or sparking up a conversation with someone can make a difference and help someone else feel less isolated. Helping others can help us too.
Self-care is so important to maintain positive mental health and look after yourself in general, and it is crucial when you are experiencing difficult emotions and feel overwhelmed. Loneliness is as much about our connection with ourselves as it is with others – when we feel good about ourselves, it is easier to connect.
Here are some ways you can practice self-care over the holidays:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. We all expect a little bit of overindulgence around the holidays, but try to find balance as food affects your mood.
- Watch your alcohol intake; remember it is a depressant!
- Get a good night’s sleep. Make time to recover at night and create a calm environment to have a good sleep routine.
- Be present in the moment. Take time out of your day to calm your mind, and it helps you recharge.
For more self-care tips, check out the Take 5 Steps to Wellbeing
Help is available
Christmas can be a difficult time for anyone, even without the pandemic. It’s important to remember that there’s lots of support to help you if you are feeling overwhelmed. If you can, confide in someone close to you or call a 24/7 freephone helpline such as Samaritans (116 123) or LifeLine (0808 808 8000) for advice.
The following are organisations either offering support to those experiencing loneliness this Christmas or that are looking for volunteers to help them out
- Bengal Brasserie on Ormeau Road, Belfast are offering a free meal for anyone spending this Christmas alone. Call 028 9064 7516 for details.
- Common Grounds Coffee Shop on University Avenue, Belfast are offering a free meal on Christmas Day from 12pm – 2pm. Call 028 9023 8443 to book in!
- The Hub Cookstown are delivering Christmas meals on Christmas Day, contact 02886763398 or send them a message on their Facebook page.
- AWARE Volunteer & Community Worker Kat Jones is organising a Christmas Day Lunch in Newtownards for anyone experiencing homelessness or loneliness this Christmas. If you would like to attend, call or text Kat on 07955008306
- The Warehouse, a community centre in Newtownards are looking for volunteers to deliver Christmas meals on 17th December and 24th Sign up here by clicking here.
- Age NI, with the support of the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, is offering a ‘Check In and Chat’ telephone service for everyone who is over 60 in Northern Ireland, who may feel isolated or lonely during this time. The Community Navigator service is another project, in partnership with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, to help older people in the community to access local services and activities. If you are interested in either of these opportunities, please visit their website by clicking here for more details.
- Another World Belfast are looking for volunteers to help them check, sort, pack and deliver clothing for local organisations. Click here to visit their website for more information.
- East Belfast Mission are looking for volunteers for a number of different roles. Fill out their online form or contact Clare at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Salvation Army have a number of Christmas community projects to help vulnerable people this holiday season, visit their website by clicking here to see how you can help.