Lonely this Christmas
Christmas can turn out to be the most desolate period for many. Caro Handley offers invaluable tips on how to survive it.
There are few things in life more awful than feeling empty and alone at Christmas. The relentless pressure to be jolly, to feel happy and be surrounded by people, leaves many people feeling isolated and miserable at this time of year.
There are plenty of reasons why you might feel lonely at Christmas. Loss is the primary one - the loss of someone you love, who has either died or left you, is bad enough at any other time, but very agonising at Christmas. Being alone is another. You might be new in town, far from your family and friends, or the kind of person who leads an isolated existence and has few close contacts with others.
There may be times when this suits you, but Christmas isn't likely to be one of them. Feeling that you don't fit in is a third reason. If your only choice is to spend Christmas with people who are very different from you, then it can dent your self-esteem and leave you feeling lonely, even in the middle of a crowd.
So what do you do?
No matter how low you feel and how lonely you are, there are always things that you can do to change your situation and the way you feel. Even though it may not feel like it, you always have choices.
Your Inner Core of Steel
The first thing to remember is your ICS - your Inner Core of Steel. We all have one, and it gets us through the worst situations. It's the part of us that copes, no matter what. Sometimes we lose touch with it, but it's still there. So if you feel helpless, defeated, hurt or abandoned, turn to the best ally you will ever have, the one person who will always be with you - yourself.
Never underestimate yourself. Be guided and supported by the wisdom that you have inside you. This part of you always knows what you need, and has the answers you're looking for. If you feel you don't know how to cope say to yourself: 'What if I did know. What would I do then?' Often the answer will become clear.
Secondly, remember that feelings follow behaviour. That is, when you behave in a certain way, particular feelings will result. For instance, if you smile, even a forced smile, it has a chemical effect on your brain and will make you feel happier.
What could you do differently to create happier feelings? If you're alone and would like company, if you don't know anyone to join, volunteer to help others at one of the many centres set up for the homeless at Christmas.
Think of this as an investment in your own well-being as well as a generous contribution to others who might be feeling as bad or worse than you do.
The third thing to remember is that other people care. There are many kind and generous people, who are waiting out there to offer friendship, interest and company. If you choose to stay isolated, then it is your conscious decision to keep yourself away from them.
If you're not sure how you can find a kind friend, you may already know some. You may have been invited to spend Christmas with others, but have turned it down because you felt so low. Change your mind, call them and say yes.
Hotels are great places to meet people at Christmas. If you can afford to go to a small hotel, which is celebrating Christmas, you will always find other people there, who are also alone at this time of year and are happy to share it with you.
If you can't face going out then call a helpline. You don't have to be suicidal or desperate to talk to the Samaritans - 24-hour helpline: 0845 790 9090. You'll find a friendly, compassionate voice at the other end, and can talk for as long as you want to.
One more reminder
Finally, remember that everything will pass. Nothing stays the same, life moves on and it's the worst moments that make us grow, spiritually and emotionally. The low points are always balanced by higher ones. When you are low, joy is always just around the corner.