Mental health columnist Sarah Barr shares some small and simple steps you can take to guide you out of a lonely or difficult time.
“Christmas, we are told, is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet for many it is a time of loneliness, isolation and sadness”.
Our society paints a picture of the Christmas ideal, of sitting around a sparkling tree, full of presents, singing Christmas carols, a perfectly set table with all the trimmings to enjoy with our nearest and dearest. Yet the reality is many of us do not meet that ideal. Instead, many people feel even more isolated, lonely and sad at Christmas.
Disillusioned by tainted memories of Christmas, unable to spend time with those we wish we could and facing monumental financial stress. For many Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year.
Christmas may become a time of dread and depression. Society and the media tell us, ‘not to be alone’. Being alone is feared, as we are alone with our thoughts and feelings. For some people, being alone with our thoughts and feelings can be very difficult. We have been conditioned by society to not be alone, this is not part of the norm. Yet we may not have a choice.
Feeling lonely is not a mental health problem, however the two are strongly linked. Having a mental health problem does increase your chance of feeling lonely, and feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health. Although most people do require some kind of social contact to maintain good mental health, everyone has different social needs.
People often describe being lonely as:
“They do not see or talk to people very often”
“They may be surrounded by people, yet feel they are not understood or cared for”.
Coping with Loneliness
- Is there a class or group that you are interested in, that can help you to meet new people?
- Volunteering can also introduce you to new people within your community.
2. Take it slow
- If you have felt lonely for some time, the thought of starting something new can be quite daunting. If this is the case, take it slow. Go easy and set small goals, such as going for a coffee. You will be surrounded by people yet there is no expectation of you.
3. Reach out
- If you feel comfortable open up to close friends our family. A listening ear can help when we are feeling down.
- If you feel you cannot talk to a friend or family member, ask for help. Talk to your G.P as they may be able to recommend local services that can help or contact a counsellor.
4. Look after yourself
- Sleeping, impacts greatly on how we feel. If you are not sleeping well at night, it is difficult to function the following day. To help get a good nights sleep, these tips can be helpful: limit or cut out caffeine drinks in the evening, take a bath filled with lavender oil, no phones or screen time before bed and don’t put pressure on yourself to sleep. Often just lying in bed and telling yourself you are having a rest, takes away the unnecessary pressure to fall asleep.
- Eat healthily and exercise. A small walk can improve your mood. Especially as we have less daylight hours in winter, getting out during the day will have a positive impact on your mood.
5. Don’t Compare
- Remember everyone has their own story, comparing yourself to others can have a negative impact on your mental health.
- Social media can often make you feel like you are the only one feeling lonely. You are not the only person.
By showing awareness and offering kindness within our community over Christmas we can help defeat loneliness. Checking on your neighbour, calling an old friend and even a simple ‘hello’ can mean so much to others.
If you are finding it difficult to cope this Christmas, there are services and people available to help. Below are a few contact details of services available in Donegal. Also I can be contacted at New Beginnings, all enquiries are confidential.
Society of St Vincent de Paul: 0860544993
Samaritans: 071 914 2011
ALONE (befriending service): 074 912712