'Tis the season to be jolly and happy. 

But this isn’t the case for many people. Loneliness during the festive season is not a myth.

“While many are excited to have some downtime and get festive with friends and loved ones, others are dreading being alone,” relationship expert Paula Quinsee tells YOU.

There are many reasons why people don’t look forward to the holidays. These include coming face to face with happy people, joyful couples and families spending time together, while they will be home alone, Paula explains.

“This could be because they’re single, their loved ones are far away, they may not have the financial means to be with them over this period or they’re estranged from their family,” she says.

According to Paula, research shows that loneliness has the same impact on our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, making it even deadlier than obesity.

“Chronic loneliness can impact our immune system, making us less resistant to stress and increasing our risk of depression, which is a big factor for people who are on their own or are going to be alone over the festive season.

“Loneliness epidemic knows no age, race or socio-economic bounds – it’s prevalent across all classes and groups.”

There are other ways to measure loneliness, the relationship specialist says.

“Loneliness isn’t the physical absence of other people – rather it’s the sense that you’re not sharing anything meaningful or that matters with anyone else,” Paula explains.

“You can have lots of people around you, but if you don’t share anything that matters with them, then you’ll still feel disconnected and lonely.”

She also stresses the power of human connection and the importance of sharing common interests.

“This gives us the ability to develop meaningful connections in both our personal and professional worlds.”

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), signs of depression or serious stress shouldn’t be dismissed as mere holiday blues in the hope that things will return to normal in January.

"It can be dangerous to ignore depression symptoms for weeks or months," says Sadag’s counselling manager, Cassey Amoore.

The organisation explains that there are many triggers during this time of the year.

Our tendency to compare our families with their idealised versions is a recipe for disaster, Sadag says.

Most of us have less than perfect holiday gatherings. We have family tension, a drunk uncle, and dry turkey too.

So, if you’re feeling a tad less than festive coming up to the holidays, you shouldn’t try to deny your feelings.

Sadag advises people to avoid doing things the same way just because that's how you always do them.

“Make a choice, take a stand, and do something different. Even volunteer and allow a hospice worker, an old age home assistant or hospital clerk time off with their family,” Cassey adds.  

Paula says while the festive season may be a happy time for many, individuals need to take their own steps to avoid falling into the loneliness trap over the holidays.

“Go outdoors, do exercise, try something new such as a cooking class, gardening, a DIY project, getting a pet and if necessary, seeking professional help,” Sadag adds. 

Paula stresses that there are several things you can do to beat the festive blues depending on who you are and what you’re willing to do:

  • Talking a walk in nature – helps to keep you grounded.
  • Decluttering – cleaning out cupboards and so on can be a liberating experience. Donating it all to charity or those less fortunate can make you feel good/better about yourself.
  • Change your routine so that you don’t feel so alone or lonely over this period – try a new recipe, go to new shops or shopping malls, a new gym, and so on.
  • Have a date with yourself – spoil yourself with your favourite movies or series, snacks and treats.
  • Volunteer at a shelter – giving back make gives you a sense of gratitude for what you do have.
  • Reach out to a friend, family member or colleague who you know is also on their own over this period.
  • The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) has counsellors on duty seven days a week and during Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year.

    Call 011-262-6396 or Sadag’s toll-free suicide line 0800-12-13-14 if you just want someone to listen and support you.

    Sources: Paula Quinsee, South African Depression and Anxiety Group