How to reduce anxiety and loneliness at Christmas

Christmas may have its perks, but it can also bring worries and feelings of isolation as well as practical challenges.

To help make the most of the season and stay independent at home, we’ve brought together some information about the reasons why Christmas can be hard on mental health, plus strategies for ensuring this season is safe and enjoyable whatever your circumstances.

Winter worries and isolation

It’s not hard to see why anxiety peaks around Christmastime: financial pressure from shopping, hosting and travel combines with social pressure to attend hundreds of events and uphold cultural traditions. It can also be a boozy time of year, which can lead to arguments as well as low mood the day after.

With its heavy emphasis on family, Christmas is hard work for those with difficult close relationships, or none at all. (Even those who spend it with loved ones usually find something to fall out over.) Expectations around Christmas (such as memories of better years, or comparisons with what others are doing) can also make us feel alone.

Christmas isn’t usually the picture-perfect holiday that we see on greetings cards and at the end of festive rom-coms – it’s more like the comedy specials that crop up around the holidays: burnt turkey, disappointing presents and generalised chaos. Little wonder we turn to classics like A Christmas Carol every year to remind ourselves what we’re really celebrating.

How to cope with loneliness at Christmas

Connecting with others is vital for good mental health, and luckily enough, there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy other people’s company. If your version of a good Christmas means as much socialising as possible, then host people at your home, send Christmas cards, say yes to invitations and email or text your loved ones all month. On the other hand, if party season spikes your anxiety, then skip parties in favour of one-on-one winter walks or phone calls with the people who appreciate your quiet side.

Whether you like a companion or a crowd, Christmas is traditionally a festival that we share with others. But thanks to ill health, poor weather and miscommunication, it’s also a peak time of year for cancelled plans. If your plans fall through, it’s a good idea to have some self-care strategies in your back pocket to lift your spirits.

Connecting with others can be a great way to tackle loneliness head-on. From church or park events to Sarah Millican’s #JoinIn hashtag on Christmas Day, seasonal events are an easy way to connect with dozens of others. If you’d like to spend Christmas with people but don’t have plans yet, consider whether you could attend – or host – an ‘orphan’s Christmas’, joining up with others who are in the same boat as you. If you’re feeling low and looking for more support, then helplines like those of Samaritans, and online forums like Mind’s Side by Side, are available around the clock.

When you’re on your own, there are plenty of ways to show yourself care and kindness this season. Eating well and getting exercise are undoubtedly harder during mince pie season – all the more reason to be proud of getting our five-a-day, having a day or week without drinking, or going for a lunchtime walk.

If you want to go beyond your common-sense strategies, the NHS has self-help tips, guides and tools available for free online. In particular, its Every Mind Matters website has self-guided CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) that you can do anytime, anywhere, when loneliness hits.

How to manage anxiety at Christmas

Anxiety is tough enough at the best of times, but with all the social and financial expectations and disruptions to health and social services, December can be particularly gruelling.

As with loneliness, anxiety can see huge reductions from healthy habits such as good diet and exercise. It can sometimes be more challenging to exercise in the winter but it’s no less important – the NHS recommends aiming for 150 minutes a week of activities that raise your heart rate. (Exercise makes us feel better and also improves sleep.) As for diet, avoiding or cutting back on caffeine and alcohol could reduce anxiety symptoms.

It sounds corny, but having a relaxation practice may reduce anxiety in the long term. The NHS has an example of a relaxation exercise on its website that you can try for free.

Learning anti-anxiety techniques can also prepare us for moments of stress. For example, the NHS Every Mind Matters ‘Reframing unhelpful thoughts’ guide has a ‘catch it, check it, change it’ exercise that explains how to spot common cognitive mistakes that make anxiety worse.

How to get practical help

Broken boilers, heating bills and draughty doors are not particularly festive, but Frances Ryan’s guide to winter has advice for putting a stop to all three (and more). In it, she covers:

  • coping with emergencies
  • staying warm
  • getting help with bills
  • eating well in winter
  • getting vaccinated

After reading the guide, it might help to make a list of all the advice that applies to you – Mind’s guide also has good ideas for making Christmas more affordable.

It may take a bit of planning for those of us living independently, but with a little help this Christmas you can celebrate whatever this holiday means to you.

Further reading

Additional support at home

The Priority Services Register (PSR) is an important, free support service which is designed to support those who need a little extra help in the event of interruptions to their gas, water or electricity supply. If you or someone you know has extra communication, access or safety needs, signing up to the PSR will help ensure you or they can access the best possible services at all times, and feel safe and independent at home. 

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