Christmas. It's a time when the focus is on family, friends and togetherness. The radio’s playing festive songs, there are presents around the tree and everyone’s full of the Christmas spirit. Right?
Not quite. 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 some Australians really feel during the holiday season
According to the Red Cross, 31% of Australians feel lonely at Christmas time. 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 it's more common amongst people who are young, elderly, ill and living with disability. People who fall into these categories sometimes struggle with social isolation, and the festive season throws these feelings into an even starker reality.
And it's not just loneliness. 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. And those who are immunocompromised may not be able to see loved ones in person at all.
But with a little help, Christmas can be a brighter time for all. 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
1. Reframe 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.
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.
2. 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 Members can be the most enjoyable and meaningful periods of the week (for both parties!).
At Christmas you might be seeing more people and having more visits from family, but we’ve found the bonds our Members have with their Carers are incredibly important. Maintaining those regular visits can offer an important element of continuity to a sometimes-changing routine.
3. Connect with at least one person
Reaching out to others can be hard and sometimes scary, especially so at Christmas. 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.
4. A little of what you fancy
Getting out and about is much harder during the busy Christmas shopping period, particularly for those living with disability or chronic illness.
Finding safer, quieter alternatives to regular activities is a good way to discover other places and things that give enjoyment. Studies have shown that when we give ourselves treats, we feel happy which boosts our self-esteem.
For example, you could swap your regular Santa photo with a sensitive Santa one. These take place at participating Westfields before the shopping centres open, so you can enjoy a nostalgic moment without facing the hustle and bustle of peak-time shopping.
Here are some other Christmas treats to give yourself:
- Rewatching a favourite Christmas film with a friend
- Chatting over a cup of tea and a great board game
- A walk in the fresh evening air to see the Christmas lights in your local neighbourhood
- 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!
5. Get social
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 and interacting with others 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.
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.
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 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
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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
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, 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.
3. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas
For our older loved ones, Christmas can be an 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.
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.
4. 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 living with 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 Social Carer, consider keeping their normal days and activities. A sense of 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 Members. 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.
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.