Dealing with being alone this Christmas

The upcoming festive season is synonymous with tradition, holiday cheer, Christmas lights and love. But what if you’re set to be alone this holiday season? Maybe you’ve moved away from home or you’ve just gone through a break-up. Danielle Van Wyk looks at how one healthily deals with being alone during this season.

“For people on their own, Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year and a period to be dreaded, especially if it is the first holiday after the death of a loved one. For others, Christmas may be a melancholic reminder of happier times that may have passed,” states the South African Depression and Anxiety group (SADAG).

According to Wendy Walters, a social worker at a SADAG Hospice programme: “A loss is felt even more acutely at this time of year because the person’s absence is so conspicuous at family gatherings, and people who are grieving often find it difficult to allow themselves to enjoy the festive season.”

Tell-tale signs

This is when many people employ various coping mechanisms to get them through.

In order to cope with the stresses and difficult emotions of Christmas, some people make merry by overindulging in alcohol, for example, with the result that their depression is often only further aggravated and pronounced.

Burnout is another contributing factor, regret over what you might not have achieved or hoped for this year and loneliness over the festive season may also be contributing factors, adds clinical psychologist Liane Lurie. “Feelings of extreme exhaustion, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness. Sleeping too much or sleeping too little, over or under eating, feeling irritable, loss of interest or pleasure in usually enjoyable activities, a withdrawal from anything potentially sociable and difficulty concentrating may all be tell-tale signs that you are not ok.”

Ways to help

In order to combat feelings of loss, Walters suggests making changes to usual Christmas rituals.

“The biggest trap well-meaning families and friends fall into is to pretend that things will be just the same as they have always been – it is only through doing something different that the loss can be properly acknowledged.”

This can be done through the little things like rearranging the seating around the Christmas table or opening gifts on Christmas evening instead of Christmas day can help ease the pain, adds Walters. It is also important to spend time with people who understand the suffering and loneliness, and will not mind emotions that are unpredictable. “To move through grief, you must be willing to share it.”

Should you not have that family support, Lurie advises joining a support group. “It is far too easy to withdraw into a deep dark hole and live in your head this time of year. Some form of contingency plan and distraction is needed. If you know you are going to be alone, reach out.”

Joining a support group, becoming involved at a charity or religious institution and ensuring you have regular telephonic contact with those you hold dear even if they are far away, may all help to ease the feeling of isolation and depression Lurie adds. “If you find it requires energy you just don’t have, it may be necessary to contact a medical doctor and assess how serious the depression is.”

“If you are suffering from loneliness, enquire ahead of time as to whether there will be any gatherings in your neighbourhood, if so, join in the festivities. If your biggest fear is having to be in the company of people you are not particularly partial to, try to minimize your anxiety by explaining ahead of time that you will be leaving early. If family usually descend on you for too long, plan to go away immediately after Christmas,” adds Walters.

There are also helplines like SADAG available in the case of you needing to talk to someone.

“Remember that despite the euphoria, Christmas does come to an end – there are officially only 12 days of Christmas, and the trauma of the season can be minimised if activities are carefully planned,” Walters highlights.

It is also important to remember that overspending on gifts and entertainment causes stress and anxiety. To prevent this, do not spend more than you have budgeted for.

SADAG offers telephonic counselling and referral service to assist those suffering from loneliness and depression. Contact them on 0800 567 567, their offices are open from 8am to 8pm, and will be open on Christmas day.