Recognising loneliness at Christmas
For some, Christmas means having breakfast at home, lunch at the parents’ place, and dinner with the in-laws. It’s a busy time filled with people, presents and pavlova, and there’s not a moment to themselves.
But for others, Christmas Day may look very different. Some people don’t have family to visit, some can’t leave their home, and some find themselves working away from home over this period. They could be:
- estranged or living away from family
- working FIFO, shift work or away from home
- homeless or between jobs
- sick, injured, frail or immobile, or
- feeling isolated for any other reason
While we’d all like to think everyone spends Christmas Day surrounded with love and laughter, the reality is, loneliness is very commonplace. And it doesn’t just affect us emotionally. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health. Lacking social connections is as comparable a risk factor as smoking 15 cigarettes a day for early death, and it increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%.
Not very festive I know!
But the thing is, if we’re not feeling lonely ourselves, then I believe we have a civil duty to help those around us overcome or at least better manage their loneliness. Every day would be encouraged; but Christmas Day is certainly the one day of the year it should be highlighted. This day is all about giving, and what better present to give someone than your time and focus? All it takes is a text message, Christmas card or phone call to check in on those around you and wish them a Merry Christmas.
How to know if someone could be lonely at Christmas
If you’re not experiencing loneliness yourself, it can be difficult to identify it in others. Lonely people can still run businesses, go to work, go to after work drinks and wear a smile. You see, lonely is a feeling, and that’s not something we can always see on the outside.
Try looking for these signs:
- Less interested in catching up
- Sleeping a lot
- Frequently negative
- Non communicative
- Significant weight gain or loss
How to help someone who might be lonely over Christmas
Because you may never know who in your world is lonely, I would suggest making a concerted effort to reach out to five people before Christmas – don’t make Christmas Day the first time you reach out, because their anxiety about the day could be minimised a lot earlier.
Think about the people you don’t connect with every day but have associations with – the work colleagues who you know could be at risk, your neighbours or friends from your past. Scroll through your Facebook friends list – that’s like our personal rolodex these days!
Wish them a Merry Christmas and invite them over for a Christmas drink. Anyone who gets invited somewhere – whether they are lonely or not – appreciates the feeling of inclusion. They may decline but the gesture can go a long way. You can always go one further and take a gift to them physically. Again, they don’t have to be lonely to appreciate your company, but if they are, then you’ve created a social connection for them.
Let’s get into the true Christmas spirit this year and give the gift of presence, not presents.