It’s the most magical time of the year! Or so the adverts would have you believe. We’re bombarded with images of perfect family gatherings, presents, people and parties. But what if you’re on your own at Christmas? While everyone else appears to be having a great time, you’re stuck with seasonal FOMO and a mince pie. If you’re on your own at Christmas (and would rather not be), it can be a very difficult time. But you can still enjoy the holidays. Here are 10 tips to help you beat loneliness at Christmas.
Christmas on your own – reasons you might feel lonely
“What are you doing for Christmas?” is such a loaded question. For many people, Christmas is the one event in the year where there’s an explicit focus on pleasure, spending time with friends and family and taking time off. It can amount to a lot of expectation and pressure. It’s easy to feel we don’t measure up – especially if we don’t have plans, or feel lonely.
There are lots of reasons you might feel lonely at Christmas. Maybe your partner has to work this year, or it’s not your turn to have the kids. Other reasons may include:
- COVID. It’s been a difficult couple of years for all of us. Christmas was cancelled at the last minute for many of us last year – and many people will be unable to see friends and family again this year due to the latest omicron wave.
- Death of a loved one. If you’re grieving, Christmas can be a particularly difficult time of year – especially if it’s the first one since you lost someone close to you. Anniversaries and ‘firsts’ are hard.
- Relationship ended. It may be your first Christmas since a relationship break-up. However things ended, this may be a time of year when you particularly feel the loss.
- Distance. Maybe your relatives just live far away. Even without travel restrictions or lockdowns, it might simply be impractical or unaffordable to visit in person this year.
- Moved to a new area. If you’ve recently moved, you may simply not know many people in your local area yet. You’ve just not had time to build up your social network. Joining a book club, gym, hobby group, sports team or evening class are all ways to meet like-minded people.
- Social anxiety. If you have social anxiety, Christmas can be a tricky time of year – all those parties and family gatherings! Your instinct may be to withdraw as much as possible – though that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t still experience loneliness at Christmas.
What makes things worse is our tendency to compare. We compare each Christmas with our previous ones, and with other people’s. With the images we see on TV or Instagram – and with our childhood Christmases. We might want to recapture the ‘perfect’ Christmas of our youth – or rewrite the ‘bad’ ones.
Even if you’re not on your own, it’s also possible to feel lonely in a crowd. Christmas can mean visiting relatives and other people you don’t normally see – perhaps for a reason!
12 ways to beat loneliness at Christmas
First of all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being on your own at Christmas. There’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. Some people relish the chance to unplug, recharge and enjoy some quiet time off. But if you’re on your own and don’t want to be, that’s different.
While feeling lonely isn’t a mental health issue in itself, it can exacerbate or encourage the symptoms of conditions such as depression or anxiety. But there are lots of things you can do to reduce feelings of loneliness at Christmas.
- Use technology. Many of us had Christmas in lockdown last year. We coped. Lots of us used technology such as Zoom and FaceTime to see the people we normally spend Christmas with. We even enjoyed Christmas dinner, drinks and present opening this way. So if you’re on your own because of COVID, meet up online.
- Join in. This is a great initiative started by comedian Sarah Millican. She’s been doing it for a decade now. The principle is simple. If you’re on your own on Christmas Day – and would rather not be – there’s a whole community of people on Twitter, including Sarah, who you can join in with. Just search for the hashtag #JoinIn. It’s an excellent way to overcome loneliness at Christmas. You’ll not only feel less alone, you’ll meet some great people – and gain some new Twitter followers! Read more about why she started it and how it works in this article by Sarah.
- Say ‘yes’. Do you tend to turn down social invitations? This is common when we struggle with social anxiety. It can almost become a default position. But, if you experience loneliness at Christmas, it might be worth tolerating some anxiety to accept that festive invitation. You might enjoy yourself. It depends what your values are and what’s most important to you. An approach from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) suggests it’s a good thing to tolerate some discomfort to do the things you want to do in life. Or why not invite someone round who would otherwise be on their own too?
- Retreat and relax. You don’t have to join in. You can slow down, take things easy, pursue small pleasures and look after yourself in the winter months. While the dark days can trigger seasonal affective disorder in some of us, the flip side is that this is also a cosy time of year, where you can hunker down with a hot chocolate, some twinkly lights and a good book. The Danish are great at this – and have a word for it: hygge. Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge is full of tips for having a hyggelig Christmas. Or read Katherine May’s Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. This is a comforting meditation on the fallow periods of life that we all experience. Times when we must retreat to care for and repair ourselves.
- Volunteer. ‘Tis the season for giving… so if you’re not doing much this year, why not give your time to help others? Volunteering is a great way to overcome loneliness at Christmas – and there are lots of opportunities. For example, the homeless charity Crisis is overwhelmed with people wanting to do exactly that every Christmas (apply early, if you want to get involved!) You can also find opportunities on websites such as VolunteerMatch and Do IT. Research shows that volunteering has a positive effect on mental health. It can reduce stress and anxiety, and improve mood, self-esteem and happiness. So you’ll be helping yourself as well as others. And you’ll get to meet people – other volunteers as well as those you’re helping. So it’s a sociable, positive experience that makes everyone involved feel good.
- Work. If you enjoy work and have the option to work at Christmas – perhaps with colleagues or in a customer-facing role – this may help you combat feelings of loneliness at Christmas. You may even get double pay! Or you could use the Christmas break to work on that project you’ve been putting off.
- Reframe your thinking. If you feel lonely and left out this Christmas, spare a thought for those who are surrounded by toxic relatives and people they can’t stick! There are worse things than being on your own. Such as being with (some) other people! You can choose to feel lonely because you’re alone. Or you can count your blessings and choose to feel grateful for the positive things in your life. This reframing of your negative thoughts is central to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
- Prioritise you. A big family Christmas has its plus points – but it’s also full of negotiation and compromise. If you’re on your own, you can do as you please – watch what you want, eat what you want, do what you want. It’s not selfish to take time out to recharge and indulge yourself.
- Avoid perfectionism and ‘shoulds’. Christmas is a time of year where there’s so much pressure for everything to be perfect. If you’re a bit of a perfectionist anyway, Christmas can be hard to navigate. We can also get caught up in our own scripts about what Christmas ‘should’ be like. Nina Stibbe’s An Almost Perfect Christmas takes a lighthearted look at the ups and downs of Christmas. It’s a witty, comforting reminder that Christmas is rarely perfect. And that’s OK.
- This too shall pass. Christmas is just one day. The festive break is just a few days. The regular routines and rhythms of life will return to normal all too soon. Look forward to the New Year, the spring to come and brighter days. And the days are literally getting brighter. By the time Christmas comes, the days are already lengthening as we start to emerge from winter.
- Plan ahead. If you’ve found yourself on your own at Christmas, for whatever reason – and you don’t want to be – the good news is you’ve now got a whole year to plan ahead to make sure you’re not on your own next year! A lot can change in a year. You might meet a new partner, make new friends or move closer to family. You can make a plan and take small steps now to make any of those things more likely.
- Speak to someone. If you’re feeling very down about being alone at Christmas, don’t be afraid to phone a friend, a family member or a helpline. In the UK, the Samaritans are available all day every day – including Christmas Day.
Whatever you’re doing this Christmas, we hope you have a happy, peaceful and healthy one. And if you’re struggling, the New Year might be a good time to prioritise you, and get your mental health back on track. Find out how you can get started with My Online Therapy. And you can download our Self-care courses any time. We’re here for you.