Coping with Loneliness over the Festive Period
Research from Swinburne University suggests that 1 in 4 Australians are experiencing loneliness, a condition which has been linked to poor mental and physical health outcomes. In 2020 the loneliness “epidemic” has been further exacerbated by the impact of social distancing. Added to this, we're now entering the festive period which is known for heightening feelings of isolation.
If you’re worried about feeling disconnected over the following weeks, here are 5 tips to help you to cope:
- Reach out. Loneliness can produce a negative cycle: the lonelier we feel the more we tend to withdraw and dwell on negative thoughts. A simple trick to break this cycle is to get outside and initiate conversations with all sorts of people, even if it takes some effort. It could be the local Barista, the bus driver, or neighbours. The point is to create opportunities for moments of human connection - you will be surprised at how many people are craving this. Another potential benefit is that you may make new friends. You never know if you do not try.
- Make a list of your supports. Sometimes when we are stressed (like at Christmas), we get caught up and forget all of the support resources around us. So why not make a list now of your trusted friends, colleagues, and family members - and plan to check in with them regularly over the coming weeks. You may even wish to set calendar appointments to prioritise staying in touch (either in person, via zoom or the phone). Realistically, we cannot expect social interaction to just happen, sometimes we need to make it happen.
- Create a short-list of “go to” supports. Now that you have your list of trusted supports handy, scan through the list and identify those top few people that you can turn to in a real crisis. Who are the ones have supported you through tough times in the past? It may be handy to let these people know in advance that you might check in with them more over Christmas – let them know they may need to be on stand-by for a supportive chat.
- Have realistic expectations about Christmas. For some lucky people, Christmas is a time for joyous family get togethers. However, for many Christmas only exacerbates family tensions and creates sadness and loneliness. So, before you head to a family event, adopt realistic expectations, and remind yourself that if there’s tension, it’s just one day and that you can cope. Deep breathing and taking short breaks away from stressful situations can also help you to cope.
- Structure your time off. Whilst the Christmas break can be a good time to recharge, having too much unstructured time can make us feel isolated and disconnected. So, make plans ahead of time with friends or even set “dates” with yourself, to get you out of the house and give you things to look forward to. You might plan meals out with friends, head to the gym, or maybe hit the beach. Again, we can't always expect to be invited out, we have to take the lead and initiate, even if we sometimes don’t feel like it. Your friends will likely appreciate you actually organising get togethers.
Finally, remember Christmas 2020 is not going to be like any other we’ve experienced before, and you may be missing family overseas. If this is the case, be extra gentle with yourself and treat yourself like your own best friend. Get creative about staying in touch and make it personal – share photos and videos and do plenty of Facetime calls. And remember if you need further support over the festive period remember there are resources to assist including Drake Workwise 1300 135 600 (AUS) / 0800 452 521 (NZ) and Lifeline 13 11 14.
Katherine Wagner, DWW Psychologist
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