As we near Christmas, many people may be excited about the prospect of spending time with loved ones – but for others, the festive season can intensify pre-existing feelings of loneliness or trigger feelings unique to this time of year.
45% of England’s population, around twenty-five million people, report feelings of loneliness throughout the year. These feelings often increase around Christmas if you find yourself spending it alone due to the loss of a loved one, travel limitations, or limited social activities to take part in.
Alongside the effects loneliness can have on your physical health (e.g. risk of stroke and high blood pressure), research has shown that loneliness can also be a risk factor for depression, especially in later life. Social interactions significantly support positive mental health and give us opportunities to give and receive help when we need it.
Nobody should have to feel lonely, here are some tips to help you combat loneliness.
Tips to combat loneliness
Improve your awareness
The first step to successfully combatting loneliness is to improve your awareness of why you feel that way. Ask yourself if you’ve felt lonely a lot or if this is a recent development. This can help you to understand what triggers your feelings of loneliness and identify any patterns that you can actively work to change.
E.g. if you’ve been feeling lonely recently because you’ve declined invites to social gatherings that revolve around alcohol a possible solution could be to find or suggest alcohol-free social gatherings.
Say “Yes” when invited
A simple way to combat feelings of loneliness is to say “yes” whenever you’re invited to an event or gathering – even if you’re not massively excited about it. You may find that you actually end up enjoying the event but even if you don’t, the simple interactions you can have with others will help to lessen your feelings of loneliness.
Reach out to others
Rather than waiting for others to reach out to you, you may need to actively reach out to them.
Call an old friend or family member and arrange a date to meet and catch up. You can invite them to your home or go out to a café.
Arrange a social event yourself and invite others to it. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair, you can simply ask your colleagues if they’d like to go for a coffee together at lunch, or ask your neighbours if they’d like to come over for dinner.
Join a class or club that you’re interested in to meet others with similar interests who could become new friends. Even if you don’t form strong bonds straight away, getting together with others for an activity you enjoy may make you feel less lonely.
Volunteering is a great way to combat loneliness – you get to meet other volunteers and charity workers while getting a good feeling from helping others. Loneliness can often be a result of not feeling like you’re part of anything so being part of a community of volunteers can help you feel less lonely.
At Shawmind, we’re always looking for volunteers to help… Either with our campaigns or in our Breathe Cafés. Apply to become a Shawmind volunteer.
If being alone is unavoidable at certain times, it can help you feel less lonely by being productive. Keep busy with a project around your home or at work. If you’re feeling up to it, you might also find that exercise is a good way to fill your time – while also having massive benefits for your mental and physical health.
If you can’t meet up with friends and family in person, spend time with them virtually. Video calls aren’t as complex as they once were – you can easily do them through phones, tablets, computers and smart home devices using Messenger, WhatsApp or Zoom.
Plan virtual events together, call for special occasions, or simply give them a ring when you fancy a chat.
If you can’t avoid being alone at a certain time, treat yourself to things you can only do when you’re alone, such as reading a book, watching a whole boxset, or giving yourself a day of pampering. Generally doing things that make you feel good will give you a more positive outlook and help you to feel less lonely.
Adopt a pet
While you shouldn’t just adopt a pet to make you feel less lonely at one specific time (e.g. Christmas), if you’re regularly feeling lonely throughout the year a pet can be a great way to combat those feelings.
If you can’t commit to a pet full time, many shelters are often looking for foster homes to help care for animals until they can be adopted.
Look after yourself
If you look after your mental and physical health, you’ll be more likely to feel positive about life and take action if you feel lonely. If you’re not feeling great generally, any negative feelings like loneliness are likely to be intensified.
Get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, avoid excessive alcohol, and exercise regularly.
Ask for help
There is no shame in asking for help. If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to a loved one for support, you can call a helpline to discuss how you’re feeling or simply talk to someone and feel less alone. Some helplines you can call are
Samaritans – 116 123
CALM – 0800 58 58 58
SupportLine – 01708 765200
If you’re consistently experiencing feelings of loneliness and low mood, you may want to consider seeking professional help e.g. from a GP or counsellor.
At Shawmind, we recognise that half of all mental health problems start in school so we’re on a mission to improve mental health support for young people and reduce their mental health struggles as adults. Connect us with the head of your children’s school, donate or learn more about our #Headucation campaign.