Traditionally, Christmas is a time for togetherness and reconnecting with our loved ones. In any other year, December would have been a time when people travel back to their hometowns, get in touch with old friends, and spend Christmas morning unwrapping gifts with their extended family. This year, however, Christmas will be different. To reduce the spread of COVID-19, the UK Government has recommended people to follow the restrictions in their area and spend time only with those living in the same household or support bubble. At the same time, more than 40 countries banned UK arrivals, so this year, a socially distanced Christmas is unavoidable.
But while holiday lockdown is a reasonable decision for the health and safety of the UK population, many perceive it as yet another blow from an already overwhelming year. According to a study conducted by De Montfort University Leicester and the University of Cambridge in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation, UK adults feel more stressed now than at the beginning of the pandemic. The study found that the number of people who report feeling lonely has increased from 10% to 25%, and researchers expected this emotional impact to be more pronounced around the holiday season. UK adults have already gone through long periods of isolation in 2020, and meeting with their loved ones for Christmas is something that we’ve all been looking forward to.
If you’re feeling lonely and disconnected from your community during the lockdown, know that what you are experiencing is perfectly normal and understandable. Social connections are an essential part of our lives, we thrive on emotional interactions, and you should not blame yourself for needing contact.
Although the list of social activities faces severe restrictions this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to connect with the people that matter in your life. Here’s what you can do to help yourself feel less lonely during the holidays and feel at least a bit of Christmas joy:
Rule #1: acknowledge your feelings
Studies show that people are more likely to acknowledge depression than loneliness because they’re afraid of feeling judged and inadequate. However, being honest about how you’re feeling is the first step in getting help. Remember that you are not alone, and everyone is stuck at home this year, struggling with the long-term emotional impact of social isolation. Even if you feel like staying at home and doing nothing, pinpointing the source of the problem will motivate you to do something about it.
Social distancing is not emotional distancing. You can still connect with your loved ones
Hugging your grandma after one year of being apart, exchanging gifts under the Christmas tree, going ice-skating with your friends, and drinking mulled wine in a bustling Christmas market – all of these personal interactions won’t be possible this year, and while we may not have a perfect replacement for them, we do have the next best thing: online hangouts. They may have their flaws, but right now, they’re the safest way we have to connect with loved ones, and it would be a pity not to take advantage of them.
Just because you can’t physically be in the same room with your friends and family doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to talk to them, so don’t hesitate to explore all the creative ways in which you can hang out virtually. Family conferences, virtual happy hours with co-workers, socially distanced Secret Santa, all of these are fun ways to bring a smile to your loved ones’ faces and support each other during these challenging times. If you’ve been missing an old friend, send them a DM, and ask how they are doing – they may be wondering the same about you.
Join an online community
Online interactions with friends and family aren’t the only way to fight lockdown loneliness. In fact, this time of year can be an excellent opportunity to invest more time in your hobbies and even make new friends by joining online communities such as book clubs or board game clubs. During the lockdown, most social clubs have found creative ways of moving online, so there’s no reason why you can’t continue doing your favourite activities.
Christmas is a time to give back to the community and help those in need. This year, when the COVID-19 crisis has affected the lives of so many people, volunteering is more important than ever. And while volunteering activities are a bit different, you can still get involved. For example, you can help cook meals to underprivileged families, write a letter to an elderly pen pal (loneliness among the senior population remains a huge problem in the UK), read Christmas stories on Skype to children with limited resources, or be someone’s Secret Santa. All these activities can safely be done from home, and apart from the satisfaction that you’re helping someone in need, you’ll experience great mental health benefits. Research has shown that people who volunteer have a sense of purpose, are less likely to feel lonely, stressed, and angry, are more engaged, and feel more connected to their local communities.
Know when to reach out
While it’s possible to cope with loneliness by yourself and maintain meaningful connections during the lockdown, sometimes you need a certified expert by your side to help you navigate your feelings and develop healthy coping mechanisms. If loneliness causes you considerable distress and you’re experiencing these signs, reaching out to a therapist may help:
- You feel emotionally overwhelmed by loneliness, and you do not have a support bubble.
- You feel fatigued, you’re having trouble sleeping and you are neglecting your physical health.
- You feel excessively anxious and angry.
- Your feelings are interfering with your daily life to the point where you cannot concentrate at work and relate to your loved ones.
- You are developing unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol abuse, gambling, or compulsive shopping.
Even if going to a therapist’s office is out of reach, you can still have online therapy and work through the challenges holding you back.