Christmas will be a strange one this year, not just for us in Bristol but the whole of the UK. Are you one of the lucky ones, scrabbling to work out which family members will be in your bubble? But as you tuck into your turkey, pop a few crackers, and enjoy a tipple and some laughs with those you love, a few steps away there will be someone whose festive period will be a nightmare. For the lonely, it is just another day, a day of the same four walls, of zero conversations and an emptiness that is often hard to acknowledge. At NEXA Bristol we are here for all of our community especially during these challenging times, and the thought of one of our own feeling alone is hard. Which is why, if this article can help just one person, it was worth it!
How to spot the physical symptoms of loneliness
We might all experience an overwhelming sense of loneliness at some point in our lives. It could be for a reason as simple as living alone for the first time, moving to a new town, or a relationship breakdown, or even the impact of a pandemic. It doesn’t just affect your mental health but your physical health too, and you could suffer from social anxiety and depression.
Due to the stress caused when you’re feeling alone, you could develop high blood pressure. It is estimated that the effect of living with loneliness is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, increasing your risk of death by 50%.
You also need to acknowledge that there may be an issue if your sleep is disrupted, such as waking up several times in the night, which is common when you’re feeling sad. Loneliness can cause you to withdraw from others; instead of reaching out, you hibernate in your own bubble and as such start to strip aware at your confidence and self-esteem.
It isn’t just withdrawing from the outside world, loneliness can even stop you venturing out to exercise, the one thing you can do that is a great support for both your mental and physical health. The more sedentary you become, your healthy eating may go down the drain too.
If you start to spot any of these signs in yourself, or in others, what can you do to ease the despair?
It’s easy to lie to ourselves, even if we know deep down how we feel. So the first and often the hardest step is to admit it. Be honest, not just to yourself but to someone else too. One thing this pandemic has done is bring communities closer together. We care about our neighbours, we want to help those who may need a conversation or just a bag of sugar. There will no doubt be many people in Bristol feeling just as confused and isolated as you are at the moment, maybe you can help each other?
You may not be able to see your family and friends as you would normally this year, which can bring on a sense of being alone, something you may not have felt before. Talk to those you’re close to, and even those you’re not. As difficult as it is, you have taken the bravest step in being able to say the words, “I’m feeling lonely”.
Take a trip down memory lane
Life takes us all in different directions, we grow, move on, move away and lose touch. Friends from school, from your home town or village, or a previous job, may now just be connections on Facebook. Yet just by reaching out with a message as simple as “Merry Christmas”, you are opening the door to reconnecting. Receiving a message from someone who you’ve not spoken to for a long time can be a wonderful thing, and who knows, one message could lead to several, and a friendship could be rekindled.
It’s cold, it’s wet, and snuggled in front of your fire with your PJs on, the last thing you want to do is step outside or, worse still, exercise. But this is exactly what you need right now: exercise energises you and releases endorphins that lift your mood and can help with depression. So wrap up warm, and set yourself a challenge, walk for a set amount of time, or run to a certain location. And when you feel that wind biting your cheeks, the rain running down your face, close your eyes and take a deep breath, because this is nature telling you how good it is to be alive.
Devour the pages
You may be on your own, but that doesn’t mean you have to be lonely – there is much to be said for getting lost in a good book. Being taken to a different land, a place in time, discovering new characters… all this can make you eager to turn the page, prompting you to stay awake later than you should, because you need to know what happens next. A good book can bring joy, laughter, and tears but best of all, provide a distraction from the real world for a while.
If you’re one of the lucky ones, keep an eye on those around you. Has someone faded into the background? Is there a neighbour you’ve not seen for a while? We know that things have to be done safely, but find a way of getting in touch and staying in touch – your small act of kindness could completely change someone’s Christmas for the better.
From everyone at NEXA Bristol, together we can help stop loneliness in Bristol this Christmas.