Christmas is all about togetherness. The media and social media are full of programmes, adverts and posts that emphasise celebrating with friends and loving family.
But research shows that more and more of us in Western societies feel lonely, and the Christmas festivities can emphasise our isolation. Like all our feelings, loneliness has a purpose. It tells us we need more connection with others, just like hunger tells us we need food. Isolation is bad for our health. But our fears can get in the way of reaching out.
Even otherwise confident people can feel embarrassed to admit to loneliness. Others tend to feel uncomfortable around people generally, because of unhealthy relationships in the past. And long-term loneliness can reach a tipping-point, where isolation gets comfortable.
Whatever the reason for finding it difficult to connect, the answer is always the same: good boundaries. These are the limits we place on how we will relate to others, which make relationships mutually safe. They can be about anything from how long we choose to spend with someone – making sure we don’t get fed up with each other – to what information we share and how involved we get in each others’ lives.
Unclear boundaries often create social awkwardness, while good boundaries actually allow for greater closeness – as you can learn at https://positivepsychology.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/ or from the book “Boundaries” by Jennie Miller and Victoria Lambert.
Classes, clubs or charities are a great way to start making connections in a boundaried way.
If finding something on your own feels difficult, contact BANES’ social prescribing service (call 01225 310077 or search online for “MyScript Bath” which will research options that meet your interests and circumstances.
An even gentler way to reach out is through the online community at https://www.elefriends.org.uk/ But if your sense of isolation is overwhelming and unbearable, get immediate help by contacting your GP or calling Samaritans on 116 123.
If you do find yourself feeling lonely this Christmas, listen to what the feeling is telling you.
Resolve to build connections over the coming year so next Christmas can be different.
Karen Bray (MBACP) is a counsellor with a private practice in Bath. Her website is at www.karenbray.co.uk.