How to combat Christmas depression and loneliness over the festive season

While others gather with loved ones to celebrate Christmas, millions face a period of loneliness and isolation.

We are naturally social creatures who need human contact for optimal wellbeing.

But if you’re missing that over the festive season, it can hit home particularly hard, with people meeting up with loved ones almost every night of the month, it seems.

If you or someone you know is one of the millions of people dealing with loneliness or depression during Christmas, you aren’t alone. Here are some tips on how to deal with loneliness and depression over the festive period…

Christmas depression – what is it, and what can you do about it?

Depression is a condition with many symptoms and causes, but it is usually known as a persistent low mood that affects your everyday life.

If a low mood doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, or is recurring, this could be a sign that you’re experiencing depression.

Depression can affect us at any time, but it can be especially difficult with the social and financial pressures of Christmas. Common symptoms of restlessness, irritability, feeling worthless and finding no enjoyment in activities you normally would can flare up over this period.

Other warning signs may be behavioural changes like experiencing insomnia, having a low or increased appetite, drinking or smoking more than usual, or having a low libido.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be in danger this season, call an ambulance, go to A&E or call the Samaritans free on 116 123 to talk to someone.

What you can do to combat Christmas depression over the festive season

  • Speak to your GP, or if they are closed over the holidays call NHS 111, a 24-hour hotline to discuss symptoms.
  • Adopt healthy habits over the festive period, including eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, reducing alcohol consumption and getting regular exercise.
  • The NHS recommends certain self-help techniques such as meditation. Find 10-20 minutes of quiet time during the day when you can pause and focus on your breathing.

Loneliness at Christmas time

Loneliness is the feeling of isolation but is not the same as being alone.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at mental health charity Mind, says, “Some people choose to be alone and live happily without a lot of contact. Other people might have lots of social contact, be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely.

“Loneliness isn’t a mental health problem in itself, but it can contribute to mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

“Christmas has a lot of expectations associated with it. It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to be celebrating with family and friends, which can make feelings of loneliness even bigger. For some people it might be their first Christmas after losing friends or family, others might be unable to travel to see loved ones, and some may be spending the festive period entirely alone.”

Older people and loneliness

Loneliness can affect people at any age, although it can be particularly hard on those over the age of 75.

According to Age UK, almost a million older people feel lonelier at Christmas, two out of five of whom have been widowed.

They also report that half a million older people can go up to a week without seeing or speaking to anyone.

What you can do to combat loneliness over Christmas

  • Speak to your GP – “If you’re concerned that your feelings of loneliness are having a negative impact on your mental health, you may find it helpful to talk to your GP,” says Stephen.
  • Start a conversation – the NHS recommends smiling at or beginning a conversation with someone can help alleviate loneliness. Say hello to a neighbour out for a Christmas walk, or get chatting to a stranger in your local pub. Better yet, call one of your loved ones to ask how their Christmas is going. They’ll definitely be pleased to hear from you!
  • Invite someone over for Christmas dinner – you’re likely not the only person spending the festive period feeling lonely. Invite a loved one over for dinner (or to watch some reruns) to help ease loneliness over Christmas.
  • Volunteer – volunteering can do wonders for combatting loneliness, and there are plenty of opportunities during the festive period. Not only will you be helping a good cause, whether it’s for the homeless, an animal shelter or a charity, but you’ll meet other like-minded volunteers. “Many people find that volunteering, taking up a hobby or doing more exercise can help manage feelings of loneliness,” says Stephen. “You can also try a supportive online community like Mind’s Elefriends, or visit Mind’s info pages on loneliness to find more information and support available.”
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others – looking at others’ seemingly perfect Christmases on social media can make you feel like you’re the only person feeling lonely. Remember that Facebook and Instagram posts are usually highlights of peoples’ lives – noone is likely to share their family tiffs – and switch off your feed to focus on other things, if only for Christmas day.
  • Join Contact the Elderly – Contact the Elderly is the UK’s only charity solely dedicated to combatting loneliness among older people. They hold free Sunday afternoon tea parties for people over the age of 75 who live alone. Head to their website to enrol as a volunteer or join as a guest at one of their events.

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