It’s a time full of festive cheer, but there are a lot of reasons why a person may feel lonely at Christmas—and, sometimes it can have nothing to do with being physically alone.
The festive season is painted as a magical period full of time spent with loved ones. But, for some people, it can be difficult to navigate. It can intensify pre-existing feelings of loneliness, bring up trauma from difficult Christmas times in childhood, be the first year a person is spending the holiday alone or without a loved one or can come at the end of a difficult year.
Understanding what triggers your feelings of loneliness at Christmas is key to knowing how best to navigate the festivities this year.
Why do people feel lonely at Christmas?
“We’re bombarded by the ‘magic’ of Christmas from as early as November,” says Dr Katherine Coutsoudis at The Soke. “We’re constantly reminded what a magical time of year it is, with an emphasis on social engagements and family togetherness. For those who don’t have this in their lives, they may feel their sense of loneliness reinforced.”
Julia Samuel MBE, a leading psychotherapist specializing in grief agrees. “I think it’s more pre-existing feelings of loneliness and isolation that are intensified over Christmas,” she says.
"It might be that across the rest of the year they have distractions, a busy schedule or responsibilities that might take one's mind away from their emotional state," adds Dr Kalanit Ben Ari.
Common reasons why a person might feel lonelier at Christmas also include:
- They are already struggling or going through a difficult time
- They have had bad past experiences at Christmas time
- They are spending their first Christmas without a loved one who has passed away
- They are missing a family member who is not there for the holidays
- They have difficult family situations and often face Christmas dilemmas
- They have mental health challenges that make social situations overwhelming
How to combat loneliness at Christmas
“It’s important to understand your loneliness triggers and find ways to best manage them, possibly by filing your time in some way that would divert your attention from these triggers,” explains Dr Coutsoudis.
Here are the steps you can take to combat loneliness this Christmas:
1. Reflect on how you felt last year
Thinking about the moments that triggered loneliness for you last Christmas can help you to plan your holiday differently this year."Reflect well in advance," advises Dr Ben Ari.
"There's no single way to address loneliness during this holiday. Some people might long for connection and relationships, while others want space for themselves. Consider what it is you long for and what may help to support you during Christmas," she adds.
2. Plan ahead
This time for reflection will help you identify your triggers and create a plan for the holiday that will make things much more manageable.
"If you have challenging family relationships, make a plan for how much time you spend with them. You might choose to go for lunch but not stay the night, for instance," suggests Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic. "If you’re worried about spending Christmas alone, start reaching out to friends now to see if you can plan fun things to do, even if they’re not on Christmas Day itself," she adds.
3. Do activities that make you feel good
Focusing on making Christmas about you and the things you enjoy can alleviate feelings of loneliness. Whether that be picking up your favorite festive food, indulging in a long bubble bath on Christmas day or going for a Christmas day walk—big or small, do the things that make you feel good.
You could also sign up for online or in-person festive workshops (see our guide to the best Christmas wreak making kits), join a book club and catch up on reading, or get involved in Christmas charity events.
4. Volunteer to help others
Using your free time over the Christmas period to help others in need can give you lots of purpose and structure to your day. "Supporting other people who are struggling can bring a sense of community and take our minds off our own struggles," says Dr Touroni.
Look out for local charities seeking a helping hand. "There are plenty of them [charities] that need help at this time of year, and it can be enormously life-affirming, as well as being, surprisingly, a positive environment to find yourself in," adds Dr Coutsoudis.
5. Connect with others every day
Whether that be in person, on the phone or via video call, Dr Coutsoudis emphasizes just how important it is to speak to someone every day over the holidays.
If you live alone, work from home or have the holidays off work, you might miss socializing with the people you normally see on a daily basis. In advance, schedule phone calls or make plans to meet up, even if it's just for a walk in the park.
6. Reach out for support
If you're struggling over the holidays, reach out to a loved one or a mental health charity that can support you during this time.
"Be honest with others about how you’re feeling," advises Dr Coutsoudis. "Ideally, you would meet in person to talk, but if that’s not feasible then do it on a call. If this feels too difficult then send a text or email and express that you’re struggling. If people are aware, then they can offer more valuable care and support."
"Others may relate to what you're saying, which can feel supportive," adds Dr Coutsoudis.
If you don't have family or friends you feel comfortable discussing this with, talking with a stranger might feel less daunting. If that's the case, get in touch with a mental health charity such as the Crisis Text Line or CALM.
In the US:
- Crisis Text Line—available 24/7, you'll be connected with a crisis counselor for support via text. Text HOME to 741741 or visit the website.
- Talk To Someone Now—available 24/7 across the United States, you can call this line if you need emotional support or are worked about a loved one. Call 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website.
In the UK:
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)—open from 5pm to midnight 365 days a year, and offers listening services, information and webchat support for anyone who needs it. For support 0800 58 58 58 or visit the website.
- Samaritans—open 24/7, 365 days a year and offers support via phone, email, post and a self-help app. For support call 116 123 or visit the website.
w&h thanks Dr Katherine Coutsoudis at The Soke, Dr Kalanit Ben Ari, Julia Samuel MBE leading psychotherapist specializing in grief at Grief Works, and Dr Elena Touroni, co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic for their time and expertise.
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