How to help anyone feeling lonely this Christmas
HLN’s Expert in Residence – Dr Rhian Lewis from online counsellors The Clearing – shares how we can spot the warning signs of loneliness this Christmas.
Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?
That’s what we’re told, anyway. But for far too many of us, Christmas can be the toughest, loneliest season. For many, that’s only been made worse by the restrictions imposed since the Covid pandemic began. For others, a loss or distance from their loved ones has meant that Christmas can only be a time for reflecting on happier times gone by. And for some, loneliness – at this time of year, in particular – has less to do with the physical company around them and more to do with their own mental health and wellbeing.
For those of us who may be aware that someone we know is suffering from some form of loneliness, we can often feel powerless to help. Sure, we can pop round for a cuppa every now and again, but is that enough? And how can we support those who feel alone at Christmas, despite being surrounded by their friends and loved ones? How can we even recognise if someone we know is feeling like that?
It’s tricky. That’s why we’ve enlisted the help of our mental health Expert in Residence, Dr Rhian Lewis from The Clearing, to help us understand a little more about loneliness; how it can manifest itself in our behaviours, why it’s so important to stay compassionate, and how we can support ourselves, and others, this Christmastime and beyond.
What is so destructive about loneliness?
Humans are social creatures, which means we are hard-wired to want to interact and connect with each other. Whilst our need for social contact will vary depending on where we sit on the introversion-extraversion spectrum, most of us do need some form of connection and intimacy with another if we are going to feel mentally well.
We derive pleasure, stress relief and support from our good, intimate connections. And so, when we find ourselves lacking this closeness, the loneliness that we feel can very quickly turn into low mood, hopelessness, anxiety and, ultimately, depression.
How might we be able to recognise if someone is regularly alone from their behaviour?
I’m not sure you can tell, as we’re all so good at pretending we’re OK. In someone for whom loneliness has become a problem, you might notice that they seem sad and withdrawn, or they may appear overeager to communicate or spend time with others they have yet to build a natural bond with, as a way of trying to keep their loneliness at bay.
Why might we feel lonely at Christmas, even if we’re surrounded by loved ones?
Loneliness indicates a lack of true intimacy – i.e. relationships where we can be fully ourselves, freely expressing all of the weird and wonderful parts of our natures. Therefore, we can be surrounded by others and still feel lonely because the quality of connection that we’re craving is not being met by the people we’re with.
If we are feeling lonely – whether because we are physically alone or not – how might we be able to help ourselves recognise it and seek support?
It’s always good to talk, so I would recommend reaching out to either someone you trust, a counsellor, or even a helpline if things are feeling at crisis point.
The challenge with loneliness is to start making realistic steps towards the connection that you’re seeking, even though it might feel scary. This could be: opening up to friends and family more to give them the opportunity to know you better and to support you; joining a new class or group activity; or volunteering, so you can open up your social world and try to make some connections.
How can we best support someone we think will be alone at Christmas, in the most sensitive way?
It’s important to follow their lead and not assume that they feel any particular way about being alone on Christmas Day. Just as it’s possible to feel lonely in a group, it’s also possible to feel perfectly content in solitude. I think the key thing is to lean in and show an interest in what they’ll be doing over the break and how they feel about that.
And how can we best help someone we think may feel lonely this Christmas?
If you’re worried about someone you know this Christmas, drop them a line on Christmas Day. Showing someone that you care and that you’re thinking of them can go a long way, especially at this time of year, and can make someone who is struggling feel less alone.
The Clearing offers counselling from the comfort of your own home, or from another safe place chosen by you.
If you’d like to find out more information about how you or someone you know can receive support with any mental health and wellbeing concerns, visit The Clearing’s website.