Many people look forward to the Christmas period. Children look forward to the holidays, many look forward to spending more time as a family together and people take the opportunity to take the last days of leave around this time. It is also a time when families, friends and workmates invite each other over to family meals or go out to dine or party. It is a time to enhance our participation in religious activities, and celebrate the birth of baby Jesus.

The picture is not so positive for others. There are people who feel lonely and, many times, they actually dread the holiday season more than any other time of year. Loneliness is not the lack of having friends or companionship, but a qualitative one. Lonely people have a
feeling of deep emotional or social disconnection, or even at times both. Some are married and yet still feel very lonely. Certain situations tend to increase the chances that
a person feels lonely such as when the whole family moves to another country and one person remains back home, recent death of partner, being sick, in a home or hospital,
someone suffering from a disability, having recently ended a relationship or not having a good relationship with partner or friends.

Lonely people become lonelier as they watch everyone around them connect to others especially those they love as their feelings of emotional isolation becomes even more
profound. This situation is not only emotionally painful but it can have a devastating impact on one’s long-term psychological and physical health. It is a known fact, that loneliness predisposes a person to depression, increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, increases risk of ischaemic heart disease and strokes and suppresses the immune system. If loneliness is chronic, it could lead to premature deaths.

As a reaction to the situation, lonely people often develop defensive coping mechanisms that make it difficult for them to create new connections with others or deepen existing ones. This leads the person into the trap of a viscious circle worsening the situation. Many would be reluctant to reach out for help.

In order to overcome loneliness, one needs to take action involving emotional risks. The first step is to stay or become active. Moderate, regular exercise has multiple benefits
for wellbeing and health. Physical activity enhances the mood and a person feels more positive. In such situations, a person is more likely to reach out and connect with the
people around – ideally doing physical activity with a friend such as walking, jogging or swimming. One could also take an Aerobics, Zumba, or Pilates class.

The key to preventing and managing loneliness especially around the festive season is to get social and not wait for others to contact you. The best way to do so is merely to ask what others are doing for Christmas or the New Year and attract those who do not have plans yet or ask if you can join others. Being proactive in planning and organising your own social events and getting others on board, assures you are part of the team. Social media can definitely help you create any event quickly and easily, inviting a friend for coffee or a movie or even organising a reunion for some old friends.

Volunteering is a great way to avoid feeling lonely at Christmas and remain inclusive in society. There are many people who are much more in need at this time of year and support by others will create a reciprocal feeling of happiness. Through volunteer work, one can experience altruism. Altruism is the act of selflessly caring about the welfare of others. In fact, an altruistic person is someone who actually feels good giving to others. A great altruistic gesture is to donate blood.

During the festive season, many presents are exchanged – however, one of the best things about Christmas is not receiving gifts, but giving them. It is a sense of showing the person how much you appreciate them and how special they are to you.

The worst thing you can do is blame it all on lack of luck and feeling sorry for yourself
and for the situation. Yet if we look around us, there is so much to be positive about,
and to be grateful for. The practice of gratitude is a good way to move out of this viscious circle. Looking at the bigger picture – this shifts the mood, and your troubles may seem smaller than you think. This will encourage the person to take action to feel positive and appreciate life.

On behalf of all the staff working within the Superintendence of Public Health, I would
like to wish health and wellbeing to all for Christmas and for the upcoming year 2018.

© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Dr Charmaine Gauci