Omicron permitting, it looks as if this year we can look forward to a near-normal Christmas. For sure, some celebrations – chiefly office parties – may be curtailed but the traditional family get-together, replete with turkey, disappointing telly and Santa’s bulging sack, will be back on the agenda.
And, on the face of it, this is A Good Thing. Many of us – actually, most of us – had a desperately uncool yule in 2020 and, while we kept calm, carried on and did our best to make the most of it, it was difficult not to miss spending time with our loved ones. And yet, for some people, Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year. Loneliness has a serious impact on our mental wellbeing and, when everyone else is enjoying the revelries of the festive season, those with nobody to see and nothing to do find their own situation even more unbearable than usual.
And so to the paradox of last year’s lockdown Christmas: for once, we really were “all in it together” and some of those people who might dread the holiday season actually experienced a sense of national solidarity which, in turn, went some way to mitigating their distress. Let’s face it, being on your own when you know others are in the same boat is not as bad as being alone when everyone else is out having a whale of a time.
Another year on, and the pandemic continues to dig its merciless talons into our collective mental health. Psychotherapist and hypnotherapist Sophie West explains: “During the holiday season, we are no longer feeling the “all in it together” that we felt last year; many of us are feeling overwhelmed for the Christmas season pre-Covid.
“It is so important to remain vigilant to those who are not coping, please try to remember nobody likes feeling left out, exclusion doesn’t feel good, so when making social arrangements, even if you know that someone can’t make it or won’t be interested or they will probably reject the invitation, show them that their presence is not only welcomed but desired; the fact that you have thought about them will make them feel so much better.”
Sophie adds: “By being kind to someone can boost our own mental health, as kindness produces the love hormone oxytocin. This incredible hormone turns down activity in the fear centre of the brain, helping to promote our happiness which will help to protect us from depression and fear.”
Yvette Greenway-Mansfield, founder of the charity SOS Silence of Suicide reminds us: “Let’s not forget, for many, huge anxieties around mixing and either passing the virus on, or contracting it, are at the forefront of everything they do. Many will not wish to mix, such is their fear.”
Yvette continues, “Many people have lost loved ones to Covid, indeed, they continue to lose loved ones to Covid. Again, the bereaved will be feeling isolated and lonely or bereft for different reasons.
In an age of identity politics, trite hashtags and constant exhortations to support this cause or that cause – some more worthy than others – on occasion we need to remind ourselves that, sometimes at least, charity really does begin at home. Those of us who are lucky enough to have robust mental health and the safety net of friends and family have a moral duty to keep an eye out for those who might be struggling. Even the occasional text message can make someone’s day and, for those going through the darkest of times, can even save lives.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, help is out there. Visit SOS Silence of Suicide here or call them on 0300 1020 505
Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline, are just a phone call away: 0300 330 0630