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Snowmen, tables groaning with food and families having fun together – these are the images that probably come to mind when you think of Christmas. In fact, the feeling of loneliness is intensified for many during the holiday season. The festivities and fun leading up to the big day are quickly followed by a lingering emptiness as offices, schools and businesses close for the holiday. It can feel like the whole world is caught up in a universal Christmas experience that we are excluded from.

It doesn’t help that Christmas ads play on our emotions and create an expectation of what Christmas should be like. The build-up seems to start earlier each year, with signs of people thinking about Christmas as early as August, and with the cost of living crisis, people have been planning their spending in advance. So by the time Christmas rolls around, the festive messages will be more intense for weeks, if not months.

Christmas itself is difficult, if not impossible, to escape from completely. But there are things you can do to manage your experience if you plan to spend time alone during Advent. It may help to keep in mind that far fewer people throw a dazzling family reunion straight out of a Coca-Cola commercial than you might expect. For some people this will be a busy time, but for others a time of quiet reflection.

Christmas is a varied experience. There is no one-size-fits-all version that applies to all, or even most, people. Many people work during the Christmas period and students (especially international students) may or may not choose to return to their parents’ homes.

Research has shown that Christmas can be a time of reduced well-being, even for people surrounded by loved ones. Reasons are family tension and financial worries. This year, the cost of living crisis and labor disputes will upset many plans. All this will break the stereotype of a universal Christmas full of merriment that everyone experiences without us.

And while we often think of isolation as something that affects older adults, research confirms that loneliness affects all people of all ages. Some studies have shown that younger people are more likely to feel lonely than other age groups. It can be very tempting to scroll through social media feeds when we’re alone to see what everyone else is up to. However, high social media use is associated with increased negative mood and increased loneliness.

If you’re worried about spending Christmas alone, try some of these tips instead…

Connect with others

Take to the streets with friends, family, loved ones or a group you feel connected to. For example, join a running group if you like sports. Being part of a group with whom you share a purpose and identity can lift your spirits. If you’re hesitant to talk to people you know because you’re afraid they won’t have time, think about how you would respond if they contacted you. If you made time for them, chances are they will too. Even if it’s just for a chat.

volunteers

Consider volunteering in a variety of age groups, communities, animal shelters or charities. Volunteering can reduce loneliness and strengthen your sense of belonging. Feeling lonely is not the same as being alone. There can be many positive aspects of being single to lean on during the holiday season.

Take time for gratitude

When we feel alone, we can get caught in a negative loop where feelings of loneliness lead to negative thoughts that increase loneliness. Taking a moment to practice gratitude breaks this cycle. It can improve your well-being by directing your thoughts to more uplifting aspects of life. Regular practice of gratitude has been found to reduce loneliness and even depression.

Stay up to date on books and box sets

Let yourself be carried away by a good book. Reading can improve your mood. If you’re unsure about reading, you can always listen to an audiobook or enjoy a box set that you wouldn’t normally have time for.

Work out

The physical and mental benefits of exercise are well known. Even the gentlest exercise can do wonders to lift your spirits. Taking the time to focus intensely on a step and lean into solitude can help you break out of a downward spiral.

Enjoy the rituals

Spending the season alone doesn’t mean Christmas can’t be special. If you love Christmas, the rituals associated with Christmas can improve your mental health and combat loneliness. Remind yourself that you can decide what Christmas means to you and how you want to spend it, and it is a gift.

Nilufar Ahmed, Lecturer in Social Sciences, CPsychol, FHEA, University of Bristol

This article has been republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.