One quarter of adults are lonely for three or more days of the week, and during the holiday season, a sense of loneliness can be amplified. Here are some ways to combat those feelings.
A new study from The Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University has found one in two (50.5 per cent) of Australians is lonely for at least one day a week, which is highlighted at a time of year when people are supposed (or at least hoping) to feel joyful.
The top reasons for feeling lonely, according to a separate Red Cross survey, are death of a loved one (34 per cent), moving from friends and family (31 per cent), isolation at school or work (22 per cent), divorce or separation (21 per cent) and losing a job (17 per cent).
Gold Coast University Hospital Foundation CEO Kim Sutton – whose work involves assisting people in hospital overcome distress and medical hardship – said the holidays are often the most difficult time of the year, particularly for those in the community too unwell to leave the hospital.
“Christmas is when families get together and celebrate life and the year’s achievements. It’s the saddest thing for people to be injured, or to lose family members, over the festive period,” she explained.
“We’re also so culturally conditioned to assume that holidays should be spent surrounded by people and activity. The reality is lots of people are unable to get out and about and share special events with others.”
“It’s different if there is an accident or illness. And in December, we see spikes in both,” she continued.
“A big focus on what we do is keep families together by providing emergency accommodation when a loved one is in hospital.”
There are five ways, Ms Sutton said, that those who are lonely can lift their spirits at Christmas and in the holiday season:
Take the chance to complete those things you’ve always wanted to do
Individuals should make a list of all the things they have always wanted to do, but never had a chance – tick off your bucket list, she said.
“At least plan your time in advance so you don’t wake up at a loss on Christmas morning with nowhere to go and nothing to do.”
Random acts of kindness
A growing mountain of research shows that one of the best ways of lifting your spirits is giving to others, she argued, and so people should think about volunteering their time or donating to a worthwhile cause.
“You will feel good and brighten other people’s holidays in turn,” she said.
Head to a busy social place and chat
“I’ve travelled the world solo many times and often found myself facing a day or a meal alone. To overcome this, try heading to a relaxed busy place, such as the beach front or a café, and chatting with others,” she suggested.
Step out of your comfort zone
“Those that don’t have any plans for the holidays might consider opening their house to a friend or neighbour who may also want company this Christmas – but doesn’t know where to find it,” she posited.
Know that time will heal
If one is alone, or grieving for a lost loved one, there is no escaping the fact that this time of year will be particularly difficult, she noted.
“Mourning the loss of someone, or something, is made harder by the social importance placed on certain periods and assumptions – particularly at this time of year.”
“Reach out and let people know how you feel,” she said.