I’ve written a couple of posts in the last few weeks about Christmas; The excitement, the traditions, the parties, the food and the fun. For many of us it is (generally) a very positive time of year. For others, the coming of the Christmas festivities is a time to be dreaded; Some are alone, and isolation and loneliness are that much more keenly felt in the holidays; whilst others feel the weight of the intense pressure, the cost, and the overall expectation. So, while many of us are currently enjoying the build up to Christmas, juggling parties, present buying and planning, for some it is the absolute worst time of the year, a time of depression, loneliness and even suicidal thoughts.
We think of Christmas as a time spent with family, being warm at home with loved ones and friends, safe in our familiar surroundings. But, for more than 24,000 people in Britain in December 2018, Christmas will be spent sleeping on the streets. These figures have risen alarmingly in the last five years according to research from the homeless charity Crisis. It’s hard to imagine not only having nowhere to go at Christmas, but also having to face the physical deprivations of homeless life – the cold and the lack of food, shelter and warmth.
People from all walks of life may find Christmas a challenging time. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are experienced by the old and young alike, and also by those who seemingly have lots of friends and busy lives. We are in the darkest part of the year, there is very little natural light and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is extremely common. The fact that we have a mid-winter festival at all, deliberately placed at the end of December as an attempt at alleviating the gloom and trying to provide some light and cheer in a season where spring is still a long way away, underlines the issues across the ages of people coping with long months of winter darkness.
Of course, loneliness is not confined to winter and Christmas; This year Theresa May announced that the government would be instigating a ‘Loneliness Strategy’ which will tackle loneliness in local communities, where as many as 1 in 5 are suffering. GP’s will have an option of signposting patients to community workers and local agencies to offer support.
Experiencing prolonged loneliness is highly likely to have an adverse effect on physical and mental health and it is thought to increase the likelihood of heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s. Worryingly, recent data has shown that 200,000 older people living in the UK have not had a conversation with a friend, relative or anyone known to them in the last month.
It is not just older people who experience feelings of isolation and detachment. The nagging feeling of not ‘fitting in’ or indeed, missing out, is increasingly common in young people. Christmas and New Year is a flash point for suicides and many thousands are just now experiencing suicidal thoughts. Already suffering from depressive thoughts/behaviours, these are made worse by the highly visible surrounding jollity and by heightened feelings of loneliness because Christmas traditionally underlines the importance of a loving family and friends to spend the holiday with. The Samaritans received over 10,000 calls to the service on Christmas Day 2017 from those experiencing loneliness, depression or suicidal feelings.
“Worldwide, suicide claims more deaths than accidents, homicides, and war combined. And many cases of suicide, particularly in the elderly, go completely undetected and unaccounted.” – Psychology Today.
For those lucky enough not to suffer from depression, the pressure alone can be problematic. The expectation that Christmas needs to be perfect, from the decorations to presents, parties and food, the pressure is intense. Certainly the media does its best to promote a particular view of what Christmas should look like, and the advertising with which we are bombarded promotes a version very few of us can identify with. Instead of the perfect tree, presents and a lunch a Masterchef would be proud of, most of us will experience family arguments, burnt offerings and presents that may well get returned come January.
And let’s not forget that we are also all caught up with the notion that looking perfect for the Big Day is a must. How many are racing around spending money on new clothing, accessories and hair and body treats in order to look our best. I even caught myself thinking that I must get the car washed in time for Christmas. Quite why, I’m unsure.
The financial pressure is, of course, huge and probably the very hardest hit are parents. Children want expensive toys, branded clothing and the latest technology. None of it comes cheap. I’m sure we all (except those very few) experience concerns of where the extra money is coming from for all these extras in December when wages are still relatively stagnant. Worse, January brings credit card bills through the letterbox, causing further pressure and stress.
So, as you raise a glass of fizz and enjoy Christmas with your family, think of those who are less fortunate, young and old who are feeling isolated and lonely. Look in on an elderly neighbour if you can, volunteer at a local homeless charity or take the time to call a friend that you haven’t heard from in a while. And if you are feeling the pressure of the season, give yourself a break. The perfect Christmas is a myth. Be grateful for what you have, don’t exceed your budget and don’t expect perfection. Keep it simple and if you can, reach out to someone lonely.
I’m not religious so the Christian side of Christmas doesn’t particularly resonate with me. I am however a big fan of Christmas as a vehicle for remembering that we are all part of the human race, that kindness and forgiveness toward our fellow men is important, and that we should try and help those who have less than we do. Christmas, after all, should be less about displays of wealth and ostentation and more about focus on loved ones and the importance of charity, generosity and consideration for those less fortunate than ourselves. ❤️
“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others.” ―Bob Hope