Don’t be stoic about being alone this Christmas, or any time when you are usually with family.
No matter what kind of person you are: a people person, or someone who likes to spend time alone, there is nothing as lonely as a traditional family day spent on your own.
It can be particularly difficult this time of year when growing up; it would be the most exciting thing to look forward to.
Be aware of your feelings:
Acknowledge disappointment if you were planning on spending Christmas with family or friends and nothing has come of it. It’s okay to feel sad.
Acknowledge that it may be possible to meet up with friends and family on another day, even if it may be a few months away, and feel the love and joy then: give yourself something to look forward to.
Accept how you are feeling. Move your pride and prejudice of being ‘strong’ and ‘stoic’. Being alone at Christmas can be awful, especially if your denial of your feelings comes back to bite you on the day itself. It can lead to resentment of self and others and a drop in well-being and self-esteem.
Change your expectations of this Christmas, whether you choose to spend it with others or alone.
Expecting perfection leads to disappointment and having low expectations can lead to no action, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Spending Christmas with Others
Be pro-active. Instead of hoping someone will reach out or invite you, reach out to them.
Hope only sometimes leads to a solution, but action always does
Chances are that the other people thought you were busy or were hoping you would call. Reach out and see.
Don’t turn down invitations because of your pride. Accept that people have invited you because they want you there.
If someone asked you to spend Christmas with them and their family, and you answered no because you thought that you would only intrude, they did not really mean it or it makes you feel uncomfortable, call them and ask if the invitation is still open.
But: accept invitations from people you actually like, so you can enjoy your day with them.
Avoid people you do not want to spend time with.
Spend time with those you can spend time with. If you can do something and get there in person, do so. If need be, get out of your comfort zone and suggest something. If you cannot meet up, schedule a call, Zoom, FaceTime, or even just chat over WhatsApp.
If you cannot be with family this year, organise your own:
Host or join an ‘Orphan Christmas’ at home, in the park, on the beach (weather permitting), make it a potluck so everyone can contribute, or go out for a meal.
Create your own temporary Christmas Family. There are not many days left, but ask your single friends, or those whose partner is away if they would like to spend Christmas with you. It does not have to be big, or expensive. These days, it’s about being with people you like and get on with instead of being alone.
Go to a church, temple, or another prayer place, even if you are not religious. These places have had millennia of perfecting these traditional days to work for everyone. Usually, there is a post-service event where you can talk to other people who are not quite ready to go home either.
Volunteer at Christmas There is nothing quite like the good feeling we get from volunteering, especially in comparison to sitting home alone and feeling lonely. When you volunteer, you are actively helping other people feel better which, in turn, lifts your mood and mental state. The conviviality experienced with other volunteers is positive and good for mind and spirit.
Spending Christmas Alone
If you really are better on your own, make sure your day is planned. Have a planned walk or a marathon of uplifting movies that will get you through.
Focus on what you can do:
Is there something you’ve wished you could do if only you had the time? Something you really wanted to do? Give yourself the gift of time and permission to do it at Christmas this year. Plan it out, look forward to it and do it.
Go for a long walk around the city or in the countryside, getting rid of the cobwebs in your mind, invigorating and connecting with the oldest part of your brain that likes to look at and listen to natural surroundings.
Be kind to yourself.
Reward yourself throughout the day by doing things you love: a long bath, spa treatment, a good book or a box set to lose yourself in, cooking, a long walk, or something that makes you feel happy and comforted.
Do something you like that brings you joy.
Decorate your house as if you are not alone at Christmas because you are worth the decorations. Turn your home into a warm, self-loving nest. It can be a little tree with lovely little lights in the corner or the biggest tree with lots of decorations and flashy lights, depending on your personality, style and budget.
Get yourself a nice Christmassy candle. As we have learnt from aromatherapy, scents have a powerful effect on us, taking us back to places we love or hate and helping us feel better and comforted.
If Christmas is something you would rather ignore completely, surround yourself with people who do not celebrate either, and do something different with them. Even lunch or a movie will do.
You don’t have to celebrate Christmas.
Get yourself somewhere else. On the day itself, go out, and change your environment.
If you can afford it, have a change of scene altogether.
Many cultures do not celebrate this holiday, so get to one of those countries where Christmas is not on the calendar (i.e. Thailand) and revel in it being just another day… Get out of your comfort zone and ask your friend to come with you.
Stay away from social media, as it can lead to negative comparisons, leaving you lonely and depressed. Do a digital detox with things that make you happy.
Lonely with Your Friends and Family Present.
If you have to spend Christmas with family who will not meet your emotional needs, have a call, chat, or video with friends you do connect with, or the Samaritans. They are brilliant listeners and allow you to talk it off.
Choose another day to meet up with those who meet your needs, such as good friends or have a ‘reward yourself’ day to recharge your batteries.
Whether Alone or with Others:
Practice gratitude. Sometimes we get so bogged down with what we don’t have that we neglect or take things we do have for granted. Sit back, look around and appreciate what you have, even if it’s just a little thing. Gratitude increases the positive chemicals in our brains, making us feel better.
Plan ahead. At Christmas, look ahead and plan for next year. What goals will you set? What would you continue doing? What would you stop doing? What will you start doing? Write a plan, timeline and actions to create a positive outlook for your future with goals and ways of getting there.
Sleep! Have a few good nights’ sleep, as sleep deprivation can increase stress and depression.
Alcohol is a depressant. Drinking your sorrows away is a myth – try other drinks. Hot chocolate or aniseed milk are warming, good before bedtime, watching a movie, or reading a good book.
If you’re not coping or are not sure, reach out. Either friends, family, or the Samaritans. They are here to listen, are open all the time and are happy to take your call, even if you feel just a little blue or lonely.
See a counsellor or psychotherapist to talk about it. We are here for you, on your side, supporting and working together with you to figure things out and get you through this tough time.
Elise Phillipson is a psychotherapist who practises at AMindset in Central and at Central Health in Discovery Bay.