Festive TV commercials never show people spending Christmas on their own. The holidays are always depicted as a time for spending with family and loved ones.
‘Loneliness can creep up on you quite slowly, even in a crowded space, and most of us will feel lonely at some point in our lives,’ says Adrian Beaumont, Member Services, Opening Doors London (ODL).
‘ODL is a charity focused on the older LGBT community, who are three times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be single and live alone and less likely to have children.
‘This time of year we have more people contacting us as feelings of loneliness can be exacerbated around Christmas. Moments alone can be great and therapeutic, but what do we do if we just want to connect with ourselves or others to shake that feeling off?
Reach out to others
Beaumont’s advice includes reaching out to others – perhaps even those you’ve lost touch with.
‘Christmas card to your neighbors; stop and chat.’
He also says joining a group (social, sports or otherwise), can be beneficial. Do what you can to avoid isolation at home (ODL offers a befriending service for those in the UK capital).
‘Contact a local group or charity who may be able to match you up with a befriender who shares similar interests. Or bite the bullet and invite someone round for a cuppa!’
Exercise is also known to lift the spirit.
‘Take a nice walk join a gentle exercise group, like yoga. Do something that makes you feel good.’
Exercise is also endorsed by Dr Michael Dale Kimmel, a San Diego-based psychotherapist.
‘Go for a walk or a jog or a hike. Hit the gym or go out dancing and break a good sweat. You can’t buy anti-depressants as good as the endorphins your body produces when you exercise/dance/run/skate/surf.’
‘Make a plan,’ says Beaumont. ‘We’re more likely to connect with people if we have something specific planned to look forward to. Book a trip or organize a catch up for January.
Don’t feel pressured to be festive
‘It’s easy to feel Christmas is unavoidable, there seems to be increasing pressure year on year to have the best one possible,’ says Monty Moncrieff, Chief Executive of London Friend – a LGBTI wellbeing and counseling service.
‘It can be helpful to remember where a lot of this pressure comes from, and that’s the commercialization of Christmas. Retailers want you to think you have to spend loads of money and have a big family get together with lots of expensive presents.
‘Many people would love to avoid this and have a much simpler time, but of course it can feel different if this isn’t a choice.
‘It’s worth remembering Christmas Day is just one day. Options can feel more limited, as almost everything closes and public transport shuts down, so plan ahead for what you want to do.’
Time to catch up on that box-set?
‘Can you try to approach is as a day to just give yourself over to trashy Christmas telly?’ says Moncrieff. ‘Or maybe it’s time to catch up on that box set you’ve been meaning to watch, or that book you’ve been meaning to read?
‘Are there any activities taking place in the community that you could attend? Sometimes community centers run activities, or a carol service at church can be pleasant, even if you’re not religious. And don’t forget about volunteering to help out over Christmas – Christmas can be an ideal time to give something back.’
Volunteering is something also highlighted by Beaumont at ODL.
‘Many opportunities to volunteer exist, it’s a great way to get out of your place and do something rewarding with others.’
Pick up the phone
‘If you do think you’re going to feel alone,’ says Moncrieff, ‘have a think beforehand about things you can do to cope with this. Maybe avoiding drinking too much alcohol, if that tends to make things feel worse, or having the numbers for your local LGBT switchboard or crisis support helpline on hand.
‘They’ll be staffing their phones precisely so people can call for a chat if they need to.’
Serena Worthington, Director of National Field Initiatives at SAGE, echoes the advice already given, and would urge people to find out about local service providers in their own area.
‘There is a growing movement of people to ensure that folks who are isolated and lonely at any time of the year have more opportunities for connection and community. I would urge folks to find those people who are doing this.
Worthington says undertaking advocacy yourself not only can help improve funding for such services, but can also be another way of meeting people.
‘At a major holiday, it’s maybe not the thing you want to do, to be an advocate or activist, but when people do have the energy for that, advocating for what you need in your community can be an important way to break out of feeling isolated and a way to meet people.’
She also says we should all try to spare a thought for those who may be alone this Christmas. Wishing someone a happy holidays or giving them a card can make a big impact.
‘A very small gesture, which doesn’t take up much of your time, can be really meaningful.’
Sit with the sensation of loneliness
Coping with feelings of loneliness is something psychotherapist Jane Czyzselska has experience of exploring with her clients. She points out people can be lonely even if they are in a relationship.
She suggests confronting those feelings head on could be beneficial.
‘Loneliness can hit us all, whether we’re in relationships or not. For those feeling lonely in a relationship it may be because their significant others are not on the same page or perhaps they are not paying attention to their partner’s needs. This feeling might shift if it feels possible to communicate this feeling state to their partners or proactively state what they need.
‘For those not in an intimate relationship or for those who don’t feel they have a close friend with whom to share thoughts, interests and feelings, one approach to combat loneliness could be to focus on that lonely feeling and see if there’s an accompanying sensation that can be felt in the body.
‘For example, how does the loneliness manifest? Perhaps there’s an empty feeling, or is your chest or throat tight?
‘Once you’ve located the sensation, try to focus on it and ask what it needs and take time to see if a thought emerges.
‘Often we imagine that someone else will make our feeling of loneliness disappear and while connection with others can often distract us from some of our own troubling feelings and thoughts, it is also possible to learn how to become our own resource, our own comfort.’
‘Spiritual not religious’
‘Think spiritual, not religious,’ says Kimmel. ‘It’s great if the religious aspects of this time of year are meaningful to you. If they’re not, does this mean you’re left with commercialism as your God instead?
‘Fear not. There’s something else: find a spiritual/peaceful/calming component at this time of year. It could be meditation, walking in nature, creating a “vision” board of how you’d like your 2018 to be, or it could just be sitting quietly and reading an inspiring book. Find something centering, grounding and inspiring…the shopping mall ain’t enough.’
‘Feelings of loneliness can spiral’
Tackling negative thoughts is also the advice of happiness expert and writer Vincent Vincent.
His advice is to keep busy.
‘Feelings of loneliness can spiral. If you’re feeling isolated, give yourself something else to focus on by tackling a task that resonates with you. You’ll be able to lose yourself in the activity, and completing it will leave you feeling good.’
He also encourages people to talk about their feelings to others.
‘There’s a stigma around loneliness which can make it hard to discuss, but opening up to someone about it can make a real difference. Talking to someone will remind you that you’re not on your own, even though you might feel like you are.
Possibly not the time for hook-ups
Lastly, Kimmel cautions against things that offer a short-term fix but may end up leaving you feeling lower.
‘Anonymous sex? This isn’t a good time to hook-up and feel sad and lonely afterwards,’ says the man who has counseled more gay men than you’ve had Christmas dinners.
‘Many people try this to avoid feeling lonely. Too bad it doesn’t work. Instead, spend time with people who love you. New in town? Don’t know many people? Do things that make you feel good, like going to the movies, getting a massage or taking yourself out to a nice lunch.
‘If you’re having great sex with someone you love, well done! If not, focus on things in your life that please you.’