The most wonderful time of the year?
Christmas, a time when the focus is on family, friends and togetherness. The radio’s playing all the festive songs, there are presents around the tree, people are making plans to get together and everyone’s full of the Christmas spirit, right?
Wrong. Read on to find out:
- How Aussies really feel during the holiday season;
- Tips to help yourself feel less lonely at Christmas; and
- Ways you can help someone you care about feel less lonely this Christmas.
How many Australians really feel about during the holiday season
Christmas can be an exceptionally lonely time of year for many. According to the Salvation Army, more than 45% of Australians feel lonely, isolated and depressed at Christmas. And while these feelings can exist at any time of the year, at Christmas they can seem even worse. Everywhere you look there’s friendship, camaraderie and special people to share Christmas with. And even if you’re surrounded by people, you can still feel lonely and isolated.
Loneliness can affect anybody at Christmas, but primarily social isolation occurs with older people, people with a disability and those living with an illness or injury. People who fall into these categories sometimes struggle with isolation, feeling connected to their local community and maintaining social friendships, and the festive season throws these feelings into an even starker reality.
And to many, navigating the onslaught of Christmas presents its own challenges. People with autism might become anxious because of the loud noises and coloured lights. The shopping aisles can be harder to tackle for those less mobile because of overloaded aisles and less space. Even a Christmas menu might be a struggle to read. For some, it’s simply too much. So while staying at home is lonely, going out can be just as frightening.
Combined with the pressure of what seems like mandatory ‘fun’, Christmas also brings back memories of happier times for many people. The emotional load of remembering Christmases past and missing loved ones lost or far away, can make Christmas a painful experience.
Making Christmas a little brighter
Christmas suffers from an overload of expectation. We’re all meant to be happier, overindulging in delicious food, having more fun, sharing amazing and thoughtfully chosen gifts and generally enjoying a better time than the rest of the year.
For people who are struggling with social isolation and loneliness, this heightened sense of excitement and enjoyment only increases feelings of aloneness and can intensify issues around mental health.
Surviving the holiday season can seem like an insurmountable task to many. But with a little help, having people who care about you and taking time to think about small ways to boost our own mood, making a Christmas a little brighter can be done.
We’re going to look at different ways you can help yourself and, if you have a family member or friend who may be lonely at Christmas, ways that you can help them too.
How you can help yourself to feel less lonely at Christmas
Reframing the Christmas picture
Research has shown that the number one thing that helps people combat loneliness is if they’re able to change their perceptions¹. If our impressions are that everyone is having a better time than us or we were happier in times gone by, reframing our perception of the world around us will help us feel better.
We do this by not attributing ‘failure’ to ourselves, but more broadly to circumstances. By doing this we become more resilient and find that what we do have is more fulfilling. Reframing what ‘today’ looks like instead of comparing it to the yesterdays of times past, helps you appreciate the good things about today rather than pining for what we had before.
For instance, rather than dwelling on previous Christmases that may have been spent with lots of family and friends, look forward to and appreciate the pockets of time you spend with others this year. It could be just an hour, or maybe a whole day but these social connections can be just as enjoyable.
The power of human interaction and connection
Every day at Like Family we see the power of human interaction and connection. The time our Social Carers spend with clients can be the most enjoyable and meaningful periods of the week. We know how much pleasure our clients take from spending time with their Like Family family because of the abiding friendships that are formed.
At Christmas you might be seeing more people and having more visits from family, but we’ve found the bonds our clients have with their Carers are incredibly important. Maintaining those regular visits can offer an important element of continuity to a sometimes-changing routine.
Just one person
Reaching out to others can be hard and sometimes scary, especially so at Christmas when everyone seems too busy. But connecting with others every day is incredibly important.
Even if it’s just one person, whether on the phone, via a video link or in person, it’s essential for our mental health that we have some form of connection and social interaction every day.
It might help to tell someone how you’re feeling. Sharing your thoughts helps you feel better and not so lonely. Something as simple as sharing a cup of tea with a friend can lift our moods and opening up is often easier during a shared activity.
Christmas can be particularly hard for the elderly and those in aged care. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can be intensified after the loss of a loved one. Being apart from family can also increase feelings of depression and despondency.
A Like Family support worker can offer a few hours of very welcome emotional support over the Christmas holidays. Because our Social Carers are local, it’s easy for them to be on hand to pop in whenever you feel the need for some companionship. Our Social Carers aren’t limited to visiting people in their homes either, we often have older clients who live in retirement communities and aged care facilities.
Everyone has a right to friendship and family and Like Family Social Carers are just that, like family. We care how you feel and know that it only takes one person a day to make a difference.
A little of what you fancy
For the elderly and those with an illness or injury, energy and mobility levels are often decreased meaning they get out less which can lead to increased feelings of isolation. And for those with a disability, getting out during the festive season can be difficult with shops and restaurants more crowded and harder to get round and less quiet places to go.
Places you usually go and and enjoy might feel less welcome with Christmas busyness. This is an adjustment that may already be difficult as we move out of lockdown with various rules about vaccinations, and into the crowds, potentially with our own lingering concerns.
Finding alternatives to regular activities is a good way to discover other places and things that give enjoyment. And Like Family Social Carers - who are required to be vaccinated - can help you safely navigate these new experiences. Whatever your situation, be aware of what makes you feel happy and set aside time to do those things to look after your mental health, and physical health too.
Studies have shown that when we give ourselves treats, we feel happy which boosts our self-esteem. Happiness is a uniquely subjective feeling, so everybody’s treat is different.
What’s your favourite Christmas treat to give yourself? Here are some of our favourites:
- Rewatching a favourite Christmas film with a friend
- Chatting over a cup of tea and a great board game
- Company and help to do those daily chores
- A walk in the fresh evening air to see the Christmas lights in your local neighbourhood
- Learning a new skill like how to bake a Christmas fruit cake
- Decorating the Christmas tree with a friend and carols
- Someone to help turn that Christmas shopping list into a fun and memorable day, either online shopping from home, or heading into the local stores together
You decide what’s most effective to bolster your mood and we’ll help you find the right Social Carer to do those with!
People who are already suffer from loneliness and feelings of isolation can find Christmas doubly hard. When your mood is low and you feel anxious, going out, interacting with others and maintaining friendships can feel like the last thing you want to do.
Humans are incredibly social beings and naturally spend their lives involved in a social community. If a person is removed from social contact, whether through choice or circumstance, it can deeply affect their health and their cognitive ability.
There’s medical science behind that too. It’s been shown that as a result of social interaction dopamine is generated giving us a little high, and it can kill physical pain, it’s like the body’s own naturally produced morphine. Psychologist Susan Pinker says that direct one-to-one contact triggers parts of the nervous system that release a “cocktail” of neurotransmitters that regulate our response to stress and anxiety².
You don’t have to be the life and soul of the party but there are several ways you can enjoy the company of others while being gentle to yourself and your feelings.
Like Family not only expertly match Social Carers to local clients, but we also host online social activities. Some days you like a visit and some companionship from one of your local Like Family Carers, on other days, you might like to join one of the online group activities.
People who live in aged or residential care should see if there are any group activities being hosted that you could join. If you’re worried about having someone to talk to, perhaps sign up for a festive workshop so you have a shared topic to chat about with those around you. And you’ll learn something new too!
Because our Social Carers do genuinely care, we can be by your side to help you navigate the Christmas social season. If you don’t fancy turning up to a function alone or if you’d like to partake in something happening in your community, you can be sure that one of our Social Carers would love to come along with you to offer support.
How to help someone you love feel less lonely at Christmas
The happiest time of the year?
Not everyone feels the same way about Christmas. Your idea of a perfect cookie cutter Christmas simply might not be the reality for some people around you. And while we all want the people we love to be happy, finding that happiness might be harder for some than for others.
Loneliness at Christmas can often be hiding in plain sight. With so much going on, broken routines and people visiting, it’s easy to miss the signs that somebody is struggling. Perhaps they’re facing their first Christmas without a loved one. Maybe they’re struggling with poor health or they have extra needs. Whatever their situation, feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression are common.
What we can do is to listen, understand and empathise and help make their Christmas as enjoyable as possible.
Lend an ear
A very simple and easy way to help your loved one is to be an active listener. Active listening is where you make a conscious effort to hear the words that are being said but importantly, the complete message that’s being communicated. Let the other person know that you’re engaged with them by reflecting words back at them, asking an occasional question (but not too many) and importantly, not brushing away their feelings or immediately trying to ‘fix’ their problem.
Taking the time to listen to your loved one will show them you care in a deeply personal way and may help alleviate some of their sadness or loneliness.
If you’re separated from your loved one or can’t be with them at Christmas Like Family can help. Our dedicated and compassionate team of Social Carers can be called on to visit and spend time with your special person. Specially trained and naturally caring, they’ll be sensitive to your loved ones needs and are always there to listen.
Not good health to all
Christmas for those with health conditions can be particularly demanding. Coping with illness is hard at the best of times but at Christmas it can be even more draining. People with ongoing health conditions can be particularly susceptible to depression and at Christmas this can be heightened.
It may be that your loved one isn’t able to get out to enjoy social activities as they once did, or they might feel they’d struggle on their own. Perhaps they’d feel they’d be a burden to others.
Understanding that your loved one might not ask for help but simply retreat, is the first step. Be conscious that Christmas for them is going to be harder because they simply don’t feel well.
Instead of suggesting a big day Christmas shopping, offer to help them choose gifts online. If you think they might enjoy getting out, plan a trip somewhere that you know has plenty of opportunities to sit and rest, or is a shorter excursion.
Our Like Family Social Carers live locally so we understand what facilities are nearby and suitable for your loved one. We’ll happily take your loved one out in the car, help with shopping or accompany them to a Christmas concert, event or even workshop. Our Carers are always empathetic and thoughtful to the needs of your loved one.
It just doesn’t feel like Christmas
For our older loved ones Christmas can be a depressing and incredibly sad time. Missing loved ones who have passed away, noticing that Christmas cards from friends don’t arrive, or the first Christmas living in a new situation, can all be triggers for feeling lonely and melancholy.
When it just doesn’t feel like Christmas, what can you do to help your older loved one?
Consider helping them with some Christmas decorating, but perhaps keep it low key. Maybe take them out to see some Christmas lights or festive window displays. Suggest watching some classic Christmas movies together and treating them to their favourite Christmas food.
A good way to move forward rather than dwell on Christmases past, is to start new traditions that can be celebrated for Christmases to come. Make an occasion of buying a new ornament for the Christmas tree. Go to a special café or restaurant for lunch or dinner. Plan a walk to a favourite spot and do it every year at the same time.
If your loved one is in aged or residential care, talk to the manager to see if they’re arranging any Christmas themed activities.
Like Family Social Carers can help your older relative or loved one too. Our services can be used as part of a Home Care Package and because we partner our Carers to match your loved one’s lifestyle and interests, we know lots of ways to help your older loved one get in the spirit of Christmas.
When Christmas is too much
Christmas means routines are thrown out of the window, new people are around and things aren’t how they usually are. While unexpected and surprising things can be fun for a lot of us, this can be especially challenging to those with a physical or learning disability. Bright lights and colours, more people, loud noises, crowded shops and perhaps broken routines can all mean sensory overload, sometimes leading to anxiety and feelings of isolation.
If your loved one has a disability, helping them handle unfamiliar things during the festive period might be all about keeping some things as normal as possible.
Even though you might have more time or extra people on hand to help, if your loved one has a Like Family Carer, consider keeping their normal days and activities. A sense of continuity and routine is important and the friendships and sense of companionship your loved one has with their Carer can be crucial to their mental health.
Your Like Family Carer may also be happy to offer more assistance while you deal with the added workload of having family, friends and social activities on. Don’t forget our warm-hearted carers are available for sleepovers too if you wanted to enjoy a special night away without worrying.
Christmas can be a lonely, confusing and emotional time for lots of people. Whether you’re trying to help a loved one, or facing your own fears, recognising you aren’t alone is the first step in making Christmas less scary.
The quality of your social interactions is more important than the quantity. Like Family Social Carers are kind, compassionate and dedicated to their clients. They’re there to lend a hand, have some fun and offer genuine and authentic connection and social interaction on a one-to-one or small group level.
And because every visit from your Like Family Social Carer is completely tailored to your needs, you’ll feel special and cared for and we’re sure, less lonely.
Whatever your circumstances, we wish you all the best for Christmas. Please reach out to Like Family if you would like more information on our Social Carers and how they can help you or your loved ones enjoy the festive season and feel less lonely, whatever the time of year.
If this article has raised any concerns for you, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1800 512 348. Both organisations offer crisis support, 24/7 and have online forums and online chat.