Six ways to reduce loneliness this Christmas – from a psychologist

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Snowmen, tables rumbling with food and families having fun together – these are the images that probably come to mind when you think of Christmas.

In fact, feelings of loneliness are amplified for many at Christmas. The parties and socializing leading up to the big day are quickly followed by a lingering vacuum as offices, schools and shops close for the holiday season. It can feel like the whole world is caught up in a universal Christmas experience from which we are excluded.

It doesn’t help that Christmas commercials tap into our emotions and create an expectation of what Christmas should look like.

The hoarding appears to be starting earlier each year, with evidence suggesting people are starting to think about Christmas as early as August, and with the cost of living crisis people have been planning their spending in advance. So by the time Christmas rolls around, the festive messages will have intensified for weeks, if not months.

Christmas itself is difficult, if not impossible, to completely escape. But there are things you can do to manage your experience if you’re planning on some alone time during Advent.

It might help to keep in mind that far fewer people throw a brilliant family party straight out of a Coca-Cola commercial than you might think. For some people it will be a busy time, but for others it will be a time of quiet reflection.

Christmas is a varied experience. There is no predominant version that applies to all, or even most people. Many people work over Christmas and students (especially international students) may or may not be able to return to their family home.

Research has shown that Christmas can be a time of lesser well-being, even for people surrounded by loved ones. Reasons include family tensions and financial worries. This year, the cost of living crisis and labor disputes will throw many people’s plans into chaos. All of this will disrupt that stereotype of a universal Christmas full of joy that everyone experiences without us.

And although we often think of loneliness as something that affects older people, research confirms that loneliness affects all people of all ages. Some studies have shown that younger people are more likely to report feeling lonely than other age groups.

There can be a huge temptation to scroll through social media feeds when we’re alone to see what others are up to. But high levels of social media consumption are associated with increased negative mood and worse loneliness.

Instead, if you’re worried about spending Christmas alone, why not try some of these tips.

1. Connect with others

Introduce yourself to friends, family, loved ones, or a group you feel connected to. For example, join a running group if you like to exercise. Being part of a group with which you share a purpose and an identity can lift your spirits. If you’re hesitant to talk to people you know because you’re worried they won’t have time, think about how you would react if they contacted you. If you made time for them, chances are they would too. Even if it’s just to chat.

2. Voluntary

Consider volunteering with all age groups, communities, animal shelters or charities. Volunteering can reduce loneliness and increase your sense of belonging.

Feeling alone is not the same as being alone. There can be many positive aspects of being alone that you can lean on over Christmas.

3. Make time for gratitude

When we feel lonely, we can find ourselves in a negative loop where feelings of loneliness lead to negative thoughts that reinforce the loneliness. Taking a moment to practice gratitude breaks this cycle.

It can improve your well-being by redirecting your thoughts to more uplifting aspects of life. Regular practice of gratitude has been found to reduce loneliness and even depression.

4. Catch up on books and box sets

Allow yourself to get stuck in a good book. Reading can brighten your mood. If you’re not sure about reading, you can always listen to an audiobook or indulge in a box set you wouldn’t ordinarily have time for.

Man walking on a small footbridge in the frozen countryside during a winter sunrise.

5. Exercise

The benefits of exercise on physical and mental health are well known. Even the gentlest exercise can do wonders for lifting your spirits. Taking the time to mindfully focus on a walk and lean into solitude can help pull you out of a downward spiral.

6. Take advantage of rituals

Spending the season alone doesn’t mean Christmas can’t be special. If Christmas is something you love, then rituals associated with Christmas can improve your mental health and combat loneliness.

Remember that you can decide what Christmas means to you and how you want to spend it, and that’s a gift.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Nilufar Ahmed does not work for, consult, own stock or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.

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