For many, the festive season can be a stressful time of the year as well as a joyous one. There’s all the gifts you have to buy, making sure to post presents and cards in time for the big day, getting the whole family around a table on Christmas day – and these are just a few of the many things you have to deal with. There are many people who don’t celebrate Christmas, of course, but for a number of those who do Christmas can actually be the loneliest time of the year. They might not have families or friends to go to. Amongst these were the 300,000 elderly who spent Christmas day on their own last year – but loneliness and isolation can be one of the hardest things to overcome for other people too. For someone with a disability or a rare or invisible condition that others struggle to comprehend, loneliness can be exceptionally hard.
With a condition like Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, symptoms can be incredibly variable. One day you might be walking unaided, able to do most things, while the next you could be in a wheelchair. People can find it difficult to understand this variation, to the point where they struggle to believe that the condition is real. To be in pain and not be believed is devastating. Losing loved ones, friends, or family because they don’t believe is absolutely heartbreaking.
There are many people who don’t celebrate Christmas, of course, but for a number of those who do Christmas can actually be the loneliest time of the year.
Feelings of loneliness can often arise due to a sense of being disconnected from others and the world. We all need to belong. It’s as important as the need to eat or sleep – being social is part of human nature and a way of maintaining our emotional health. When this need is not fulfilled, we feel lonely.
There are things we can do to fill the hole that loneliness creates. To make connections with people, no matter how small. With advances in technology it has become easier to live a comfortable life from within the home. You can order food, clothes, and goods without ever having to walk out through your front door. Social groups can be made via online gaming or social media. These are all very useful ways for people with health conditions and disabilities to help create a fulfilling life. But humans are social animals, who need in-the-flesh connection. The written word is flawed. It doesn’t convey tone or inflection, and without those things words can have different meanings and true communication can be lost. When we speak, 55% of our communication is through body language, and 38% is the tone of our voice. That leaves just 7% to the actual words we use. If we leave our communication to solely the written or spoken word, the quality of our social interactions then leaves a lot to be desired.
Getting out of the house is one of the best things we can do to combat loneliness. Being stuck within the walls of our homes can drive anyone to distraction. Sometimes something as simple as going to a supermarket can help alleviate loneliness. The small verbal exchange at a check-out or seeing people going about their day can help make you feel more connected. I sometimes go out not to buy anything specifically but to surround myself with the hubbub of life. If anxiety means that any sort of interaction can cause problems, then perhaps a small walk around the block or in a park or garden could help you to feel engaged with the world.
Getting out of the house is one of the best things we can do to combat loneliness.
On Christmas Day it can seem like the whole world is inaccessible to us. Everyone has a place to be. They belong. The shops and attractions are closed to us. But there are things we can do to make our day enjoyable. I found a fabulous site that gives 51 ideas of things to do by yourself at Christmas. Some are quite imaginative, like recreating outer space in your sitting room, creating a fort out of pillow and blankets (my personal favourite) or spending the day as a nudist in your own home (providing you can afford the heating bill). Some more down-to-earth ideas are to pamper yourself or have a movie marathon. And then there are the mindful ones, specifically designed to actively look after your emotional health – like eating a favourite food slowly, or sitting outside and appreciating nature.
If the idea of being alone this time of year is too much for you, there are places you can go. Throughout Norwich and Norfolk there are breakfasts, lunches and dinners being served to anyone who chooses not to be on their own this time of year, but has no one they feel able to go to. You can go as a guest, or as a volunteer. It’s an opportunity to meet new people, get involved with your community, or an opportunity to “give something back”. Norwich Open Christmas has been running for the past 25 years, bring Christmas cheer to so many. They provide wonderful meals, entertainment and activities, as well as clothes for those struggling to keep warm during the winter months. There are so many more places in Norwich and Norfolk that are open to those in need of human contact this Christmas. If you are, click on the hyperlink above to find a place near you.
Whatever you decide to do this festive season, be kind to yourself.