Christmas is the season of joy, gift-giving and… loneliness?
Christmas and the festive season can be a magical time filled with family and friends getting together to share food, presents and memories. But for some, this time of year only highlights a lack of support, social network or an abundance of empty chairs. So if you are one of the fortunate with time, family and love to spare, why not share a little of the Christmas joy around, and help to prevent loneliness during the holidays.
Humans are social creatures and a lot of our behaviour, development and survival is dependent on the social interactions we have with others. Loneliness is then the longing for this social interaction when it is lacking.
Unfortunately, loneliness is more prevalent than we would hope, with higher numbers of reported young adults and those over the age of 75 experiencing it. An estimated 30%-43% of older adults report feeling lonely ‘sometimes’, 5%- 9% feel lonely ‘often’ and 2% report feeling lonely ‘always’ in the UK and USA. And after many of us experiencing prolonged periods of isolation, loneliness is likely to have increased as a result. Only to then be further exacerbated with social media showing a highlight reel of other people’s lives allowing for unhealthy and unhelpful comparisons to unrealistic expectations.
Loneliness and drinking
One of the reasons why loneliness can be so damaging is because it can lead to increased drinking, alongside other negative lifestyle choices such as physical inactivity and smoking. This may be because loneliness is linked to psychological distress and alcohol is used to self-medicate and self-soothe. It may also be something used to pass the time as more time is spent in solitude. Loneliness has also been found to be a significant variable in depression and other mental health related concerns which too have a relationship with increased drinking.
Drinking more on a regular basis can then cause a whole other list of health problems, such as dehydration, increased blood pressure, weakened immune system and organ damage in the long term, and can increase chances of falls or engaging in risky behaviours in the short term.
What you can to to help prevent loneliness during the holidays
If you want to try to help those less fortunate than yourself who may be experiencing loneliness this holiday season, then we have some ideas for how you can do so.
- Check in with your neighbours
Of course, it depends where you live – you may have lots of neighbours in an apartment block, or maybe only one or two if you live somewhere more remote. But it is easy to live your life so nearby someone, without taking the time to get to know them. Something as simple as a festive card through the letterbox could help remind them that there are people around who care. Suggest going out to grab a coffee, maybe drop off some festive baking. The activity itself doesn’t really matter, it is the thoughtful gesture that helps someone feel less alone.
- Make plans in advance
Life is busy, we know. It can be hard to fit everything in and it can be easy to forget when you haven’t seen an old friend in a while. But having plans to look forward to can make all the difference in how positively a person looks to the future. Designating time to catch up with people, especially if you suspect they might be spending a lot of time on their own, might be the event in their calendar that sparks a little joy.
- Text, call, even send letters!
Fortunately, we live in an age where it takes very little effort to get in touch with someone. It takes a couple of seconds to send a ‘how are you getting on?’ text, minutes to have a deep conversation over the phone or if you do prefer being a little more old school, you can send and receive letters within a matter of days. Something that takes minimal effort from you may be the only social interaction the recipient has for a while so getting into the habit of reaching out regularly can help to show you care.
If you yourself are feeling lonely this year, and find yourself drinking more than you’d like to, then the OYNB community is ready and waiting with open arms. This global community is active 24/7 so there is always someone to reach out to. It’s built on a foundation of support and encouragement, sharing in each others successes and lifting people up when they feel low.
Spread the festive cheer
The holidays can be a more difficult time for some people, and while loneliness is prevalent throughout the year, this time of year is about giving. Taking the time to think about how you can play your part in fostering a culture of compassion, making others feel welcome and cared for, and doing what you can to help prevent loneliness can help to spread some festive cheer.
Association of Alcohol Use and Loneliness Frequency Among Middle-Aged and Older Adult Drinkers. Sarah L. Canham, PhD, Pia M. Mauro, PhD, Christopher N. Kaufmann. 2015.
Loneliness and alcohol abuse: a review of evidence of an interplay. Akerlind I, Hörnquist JO. Soc Sci Med. 1992.
The effect of loneliness on depression: A meta-analysis. Erzen E, Çikrikci Ö. International Journal of Social Psychiatry. 2018.