Much like how you socialise, work, play, sweat and travel, your Christmas is set to look a little different this year. And, while Yuletide is typically a time in which some of us feel – in stark contrast to the narrative of what this time should be about – somewhat disconnected, 2020 could needle a sharper dose of festive loneliness.
“For many different reasons, such as separation, bereavement, distance from those you care about, having few friends and difficult relationships with family, Christmas can be a lonely time of the year,” says clinical psychologist and author of The Imposter Cure, Dr Jessamy Hibberd.
79 per cent of you feel lonelier now, than you did before the pandemic, according to WH research
This, she says, is especially true during the pandemic, in which social ties have been severed. “Add to this the constant adverts/pictures/social media/films/stories of the ‘perfect’ Christmas and it can be hard not to compare your experience to this idealised version.”
What does it actually mean to feel ‘lonely?’
Before we dig into solutions, how might we tease out what loneliness truly means? “Loneliness is an absence of connection, not the absence of people – that’s why it’s possible to ‘feel lonely in a crowd,’ as the saying goes,” explains Dr Jessamy.
“At the moment it’s much harder to keep up social contact – loneliness can occur because you don’t feel like you have anyone you can talk to, or if you don’t have a support network of people to see or rely on.”
In effect, loneliness is a warning sign that we evolved, in order to kick you into reconnecting with other people. “We’re highly social beings, and early humans needed to live together and get on in a group to ensure survival,” elaborates Dr Jessamy.
“Being cut off from the group would have resulted in death. This means we have a deep need for social inclusion – we feel rewarded by positive social interactions and hurt by negative interactions.
“Positive interactions with the same individuals within a framework of long-term and stable care is a fundamental human need and, in addition, the need to belong is integral to self-development. This means we have an in-built drive to belong.”
And why does it matter?
“That need for a sense of belonging is still part of us now and relationships are still key to our health and happiness,” she adds. “Research shows that a lack of social support is as bad for you as smoking.”
This is no joke: we know from decades of data that social isolation is twinned with an upped chance of incurring serious disease and early death. Conversely, mutually supportive relationships come coupled with benefits for your wellbeing and can mean that you live longer. “Connection is key – relationships are what give meaning and purpose to our lives,” says Dr Jessamy.
7 ways to handle festive loneliness
1. Don’t fall back on habits that hurt you
“When you feel lonely, your mood drops and it can be easy to fall into unhelpful coping behaviours (like withdrawing from other people, spending too long online, eating foods that don’t make us feel good, drinking too much). The most important thing to do is to look after and be kind to yourself,” explains Dr Jessamy.
Boost your mood by doing the things that make you feel good, and avoiding the things that make you feel bad. Try to set yourself a goal each day to incorporate the small things that bring you pleasure – maybe an hour of Zoom yoga, journaling or listening to a podcast in the bath, or help you relax.
2. Connect with someone
This is vital. “Try to reach out to someone: phone them, or text if that feels too much. If you can get out and meet someone – remember, no matter what tier you’re in, you can meet up to six people, outside, so long as you social distance. Seeing someone in person makes a big difference.”
3. Catch your spiralling thoughts
“Your thoughts aren’t facts. Just because you feel lonely, for example, it doesn’t mean no-one cares, or that there’s something wrong with you.
“And remember: You are not alone. Lots of people feel like this, particularly at Christmas, especially during Covid times. Modern life means we are increasingly disconnected and social media has taken many interactions online. If you can try and see it as your time rather than a time to endure. Think about how you can use this time for you and to do the things you enjoy and that make a difference to you.”
4. Join in with online meet-ups
If you are struggling with connection with the people in your life, or if you’ve found yourself increasingly removed from people you used to be close with, make an effort to connect with new people, online. “Try and find a group or hobby – there are lots of online groups like singing, craft and making wreaths,” says Dr Jessamy.
5. Play nice with people you encounter
In spite of restrictions, you might still be heading to the supermarket. “Build up small interactions, like always saying ‘hello’ to the person at the bakery or in your local shop,” says Dr Jessamy.
6. Go outside
You know this, but to reiterate: do get out of the house every day. “Time outdoors is good for mental health and a chance to switch focus and get a boost of endorphins from a walk or some exercise,” is Dr Jessamy’s advice.
7. Know that social media will probably not make you feel better
“I don’t think that social media connection is the same as speaking on the phone or meeting in person, at all. It’s an extra effort to phone someone, rather than to comment under a post or fire a DM, and then you get to hear the warmth in the other person’s voice and listen to their verbal cues,” says Dr Jessamy. Chatting to a mate via their Instagram is easy, but going the extra step will serve as a far greater reward.
In need of some at-home inspiration? Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for skincare and self-care, the latest cultural hits to read and download, and the little luxuries that make staying in so much more satisfying.
Plus, sign up here to get Harper’s Bazaar magazine delivered straight to your door.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io