It can be lonely at Christmas, as the song almost goes, and even more so this year when restrictions on travel and social distancing may force us to spend Christmas apart from family and friends when we’d rather be together. Or perhaps having Christmas alone is your personal decision and you’re interested to learn about ways to make this time of year more fulfilling and enjoyable.
‘You can access joy and happiness wherever you are, as long you are in the right mindset,’ says life coach Carole Ann Rice. ‘What may be helpful is to think of all the things that you absolutely adore at this time of year – it could be the baking, it could be the wonderful Christmas dishes, the drinks, the smells and the decorations. It’s about choosing to make the most of what you can and finding the simple things to enjoy. Don’t focus on the deficits, focus on the positives – what you focus on expands.’
Make a plan
It might sound counter-intuitive to join in the fray and start fretting about the order of the day already, but establishing and developing your personalised plan for the holidays is important, believes Kim Palmer, found of hypnotherapy app, Clementine.
‘Even people constantly asking, “what are you doing for Christmas?” can cause an onset of worry and stress,’ she says. ‘That’s why having a plan as early as possible for the day will help you enjoy not only the day itself, but the lead-up as well.’
Kim advises taking a piece of paper and mapping out what you want to be doing on Christmas Day from the time you wake up on Christmas morning to the time you go to bed. You could also do this with other days too, such as Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.
Plan the whole day and evening, from the food you want to eat for all your meals to the movies or music you would like to watch or listen to during the day. ‘It’s a chance to do whatever you want,’ says Kim. ‘If you have some people that you want to connect with online, schedule them in. But if you don’t, or perhaps you don’t want to, that’s more than OK too.’
Ignore annoying adverts
Those schmaltzy television adverts featuring happy families and Insta-ready tables laden with food can seem designed to make us feel worse about being alone.
‘The festive season won’t cease to be a commercial period or a family-focused time,’ says Dr Becca Bland, CEO and founder of Standalone, a charity which supports people who are estranged from others. ‘It’s wise to remember that such images are not produced to make you feel inadequate. These pictures are an intentionally polished representation of the family experience and are not necessarily reflective of reality.’
If you are noticing that certain advertisements or images are making you frustrated or sad, you can try your best to avoid them. Dr Bland also advises speaking to a support group, therapist or counsellor about the feelings they are triggering.
Fresh air and exercise
‘A general life hack – especially on winter days – is to make sure you keep getting outside to experience sunlight during the day, and this includes Christmas Day, because it’s so beneficial for restful sleep,’ says Hafiz Shariff, founder and CEO of hand-made mattress company Owl and Lark.
You might even be able to find a furry friend to accompany your stroll. The website Borrow My Doggy hooks up people offering to care for a pooch part-time, regular dog-walkers and pet-sitting, including home-stays. If you feel that a dog would offer you company this Christmas, it’s worth investigating.
‘If you are stuck indoors, a SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lamp can be great to have on during the day. It can help restore your energy, give you a lift during long grey days, and sets your body clock up for deep sleep,’ adds Hafiz.
Staying indoors doesn’t mean you can’t exercise. There are many online fitness and yoga instructors, or ask your voice-activated speaker such as Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Google Nest to devise a routine which suits you perfectly. If meditation is your thing, plan to start your Christmas morning with salutations that make you feel positive about the day ahead.
If you’re going to be home alone, make sure your home is extra cosy, says Uta Boellinger, Nutritional Therapist In-Residence at Aiverley Wellness. ‘The popular Danish concept of hygge (roughly translated as a state of comfort and cosiness), which was introduced to us a couple of years ago is still really relevant. Scandinavian researchers say it is very effective and as a wellness expert I definitely agree. Anything you can do to make yourself feel extra comfortable during this time is great for your overall wellbeing.’
Choose tactile and natural-fibre throws and blankets, make sure bath towels are soft and ensure that your home is as warm and relaxing as possible to set the scene for your ideal Christmas self-care routine. With the emphasis on the ‘self’ this can be anything you want it to be – if you choose not to rise gently until 11am and spend the day in your pyjamas, that’s fine. With no-one else to please, the experience can be wonderfully liberating.
Whilst cooking can be a chore – especially if you’re only catering for one – it can also be a very calming and balancing activity, offering a mindful opportunity to focus on the process of creation. ‘On Christmas Day, it’s important to take your time and not rush the experience, or do it on autopilot, distracted by thoughts, feelings, and inner dialogue,’ says Sarah Romotsky, director of healthcare partnerships at Headpsace, a meditation and wellbeing programme. ‘The act of cooking is also one of self-care, reminding us that we are worthy of a home-cooked meal.’
If, however, being alone at Christmas gives you the biggest excuse to avoid cooking at all, order in your favourites instead. No-one is making the rules; you could have a delicious curry or pizza if traditional Christmas fare isn’t your thing.
And this year, Deliveroo has teamed up with food retailers including the Co-op, Aldi and Waitrose (availability varies according to location) to deliver festive snack bundles such as crackers and cheese, mince piece and mini panettones. Find them on the app or visit Deliveroo’s website.
Tune in to technology
Perhaps you dread work Zoom calls, but technology can be a positive force at Christmas, allowing us to find ways to connect with other people and share our feelings, emotions and experiences. Even if it’s not possible to mix households because of social restrictions or travel difficulties, we can still be together.
‘Remember we have technology on our side,’ says life coach Michael Cloonan. ‘Why not arrange a virtual after-dinner party with family and friends where you can all join on a Zoom call and play some games together, perhaps a family quiz with photographs? Take the time to focus on the positives and not the negatives this year, spend the day “in” with your loved ones without distraction.’
Social media can also be life-affirming. You could join a virtual choir and sing carols together on Facebook, suggests integrative therapist Katriona O’Connor from We Listen Therapy. Or if you’re missing travelling overseas this year, find a like-minded group or community and exchange photographs, videos and experiences of exciting places you have visited, says life strategist Maria Nicola Cristiano from Iam Mindfulness.
People generally find silence difficult to handle, at any time of year, says Sarah Romotsky: ‘Particularly when living alone, we can feel more comfortable when there’s a constant stream of sound, whether that’s listening to the radio, watching TV, or plugged into a podcast.’
At Christmas, you might feel like you need a break from the constant cacophony, just to enjoy the peace – but does silence scare you?
‘We forget that silence is an inherent quality of the human mind,’ says Sarah. ‘Recognise that silence is neither good nor bad, and we can learn to sit in it with ease.’
One of the most positive things about going solo is being able to choose your favourite movies and music with no arguments over the remote or volume. Start compiling a special playlist now through an app such as Spotify or voice-activated speaker such as Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Google Nest. Music can be your best friend this season, and the good news is, you don’t even have to include a single cheesy Christmas tune if that’s not your thing.
When you’re planning your ultimate at-home Christmas, certain scents can help to create a supportive and uplifting atmosphere by helping evoke positive memories. This is remarkably simple to achieve – simply choose eco-friendly candles or wax melts with fragrances which immediately transport you to the happiest of times.
‘Whether it’s a memorable winter walk in a forest with friends, a big festive family meal, or an evening by the fire at a quaint local pub, scent can take you back there,’ says Jake Page co-founder of artisan fragrance company Mckinley and Paget.
Seasonal scents can trigger your scent memory (also known as olfactory memory) and boost your mood. ‘Christmas has such a marvellous array of scents, whether it’s the citrus and spice of mulled wine or fresh pine needles, even the smoke of an open fire, and they all have the power to trigger that seasonal joy,’ says Jake.
In every town, village or city there are opportunities to volunteer, take care of those in need and meet other people who may be spending Christmas alone or don’t celebrate in the traditional way. Food banks, hospital charities, shopping and befriending services, and organisations which support the homeless, including Crisis at Christmas, all need volunteers. Act quickly however, as staffing has to be planned in advance and you may need to attend in-person or online training.
Crisis needs volunteers for its projects in London, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Coventry, but search social media, your local volunteer bureau website, and local press for opportunities in your area.
If you have decided to spend Christmas alone, try to make sure at least one other person knows about it, advises Dr Bland, because even with the best-laid plans Christmas Day can turn into an emotional rollercoaster. Unforeseen challenges may arise, and it’s good to know that there is someone to reach out to if your mood dips.
The Stand Alone charity has a supportive and empowering Facebook group for people who live alone. Should your feelings take a darker turn, don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans, which exists to listen to anyone facing difficulties, is available on 116 123, every day of the year, 24/7. You can also email [email protected]; the charity aims to respond within 24 hours.
Many people won’t be spending this Christmas with family or friends this year. Try to keep this context in mind. It is just another day and many people in the UK don’t celebrate the festival at all.
12 Days of Christmas Wellbeing: boost your mental wellbeing, take joy from the small things, and create a happy home this festive season.
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