Many of us are preparing for a big family Christmas. But another reality is that a lot of South Africans will be facing Christmas alone. Stats have shown the percentage of those living in single-member households increased from 16.3% to 26.7% in the years 1996 to 2011.
We are naturally social creatures who need human contact for optimal wellbeing.
But if you’re missing that over the festive season, it can be especially hard, with people meeting up with loved ones almost every night of the month, it seems.
If you or someone you know is one of the millions of people dealing with Christmas loneliness or depression, you aren’t alone. We’ve compiled some tips on how to deal with loneliness and depression over the festive period…
Christmas depression – what is it, and what can you do about it?
Depression is a condition with many symptoms and causes, but it is usually known as a persistent low mood that affects your everyday life.
If a low mood doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, or is recurring, this could be a sign that you’re experiencing depression.
Depression can affect us at any time. But it can be especially difficult with the social and financial pressures of Christmas. Common symptoms include: restlessness, irritability, feeling worthless and finding no enjoyment in activities you normally would.
Other warning signs may be behavioural changes like:
- having a low or increased appetite
- drinking or smoking more than usual
- or having a low libido.
What you can do to combat Christmas depression over the festive season
Make sure you speak to your GP about how you have been feeling. If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be lonely or depressed this season, call SADAG at 0800 20 50 26 where you can speak to a trained counsellor.
Emphasising healthy habits over the festive period is another important tool to keep you feeling good.
- eating plenty of fruits and vegetables
- reducing alcohol consumption
- getting regular exercise
- self-help techniques such as mindfulness. Find 10-20 minutes of quiet time during the day when you can pause and focus on your breathing.
Older people and loneliness
Loneliness can affect anyone. But it is particularly harder for people older than 75. Research has shown that the number of people aged 60+ in South Africa increased from 2.8 million to 4.1 million in the years 1996 to 2011. Many of these elderly people live in homes, where they don’t get many visitors. The Flower Foundation gives advice on how to be a help to those feeling lonely over the festive period:
- Take children who are keen singers and dancers to visit
- Pet therapy – take well-behaved dogs to visit the elderly
- Pamper sessions – provide simple hand and foot rubs or mani/pedis
- Something to eat – but communicate with the matron first to find out about dietary requirements
Loneliness at Christmas time
Loneliness is the feeling of isolation but is not the same as being alone.
Mental health expert Stephen Buckley says, “Some people choose to be alone and live happily without a lot of contact. Other people might have lots of social contact, be in a relationship or part of a family, and still feel lonely.
“Loneliness isn’t a mental health problem in itself, but it can contribute to mental health problems like anxiety and depression.”
“Christmas has a lot of expectations associated with it. It can feel like there’s a lot of pressure to be celebrating with family and friends, which can make feelings of loneliness even bigger. For some people it might be their first Christmas after losing friends or family, others might be unable to travel to see loved ones, and some may be spending the festive period entirely alone.”
What you can do to combat loneliness over Christmas
- Speak to your GP – “If you’re concerned about your mental health, you may find it helpful to talk to your GP,” says Stephen.
- Start a conversation – smiling at or beginning a conversation with someone can help alleviate loneliness. Say hello to a neighbour out for a walk. Or get chatting to a stranger in the line at the grocery store. Better yet, call one of your loved ones to ask how they’re doing. They’ll definitely be pleased to hear from you!
- Invite someone over for Christmas lunch – you’re likely not the only person spending the festive period feeling lonely. Invite a loved one over for lunch (or to watch some Christmassy TV) to help ease loneliness over Christmas.
- Volunteer – volunteering can do wonders for combating loneliness. There are plenty of opportunities during the festive period. Not only will you be helping a good cause, but you will also get the chance to socialise outside of your normal circle. “Many people find that volunteering, taking up a hobby or doing more exercise can help manage feelings of loneliness,” adds Stephen.
- Avoid comparing yourself to others – looking at others’ seemingly perfect Christmases on social media can make you feel like you’re the only person feeling lonely. Remember that Facebook and Instagram posts are usually highlights of peoples’ lives – no one is likely to share their family tiffs – and switch off your feed to focus on other things, if only for Christmas day.
Written by Isa Jaward, womanandhome.com