#SELFCARESUNDAYS: lonely at Christmas

So, you’re lonely at Christmas. Maybe you’re a student and you’re having a Christmas dinner with your housemates but you don’t really want to know their last names, let alone be around them. Maybe you’re an international student and it wasn’t possible for you to go home this year. Maybe you’re newly single, or perpetually single; maybe your plans broke down or maybe you never made any. Maybe you don’t want to be around your family, or maybe you don’t have a family to be at home with.

And maybe you’re just not that into Christmas. Whatever reason, whether surrounded by people or by yourself, you’re facing the prospect of being lonely this winter and you don’t know how to fill the impending void. Here are some tips from me, the Queen of Solitude, to you.

Don’t worry about it too much

Time isn’t even real, so I don’t know why two arbitrary months in the year have such a powerful effect on the mass consciousness. Everything at Christmas is about Christmas and if you’re the type to start pre-arranging your tinsel by colour and density on 1 November then you probably love this time of the year, in that selfishly cheery way that people with happy families do.

But for anyone who doesn’t celebrate, or have anyone they want to celebrate with, it just feels like entering a suffocating alternate universe for a few weeks. The cards, the presents, the visits home, the food and the photos – all rituals that look so happy and normal in the hands of others. The yearning to have an Instagram worthy, or even just a standard holiday period is so much more painful than the actual lack itself. The loneliness of not having what everyone else around you has can feel so sharp.

“Most people would probably voice their loneliness if the cultural stigma wasn’t so huge”

But it’s important to remember that people generally find it difficult to be honest when they are struggling. Sometimes people who have families they dread visiting at Christmas choose to cope by focusing on only the best parts of the holiday for the gram and ignoring (i.e. suppressing) everything else. Often, Christmas is an overwhelming period due to the logistical, familial and emotional responsibilities heaped on us at the same time as the year ending far too quickly.

Most people do feel lonely at Christmas no matter what they’re doing and would probably voice it if the cultural stigma against loneliness wasn’t so huge. You really don’t need to worry about how much fun others may or may not be having because it’s genuinely difficult to know and, therefore, pointless to compare your own situation to.

Embrace your loneliness

Once you accept that you are going to be a little lonely at Christmas, whether surrounded by others or alone, a lot of anxiety crops out, because you’re not fighting your reality and fixating on others anymore. For me, the key to being lonely in a busy time of the year is to approach loneliness as a gift rather than a burden, because we can sublimate it to peaceful solitude. True solitude is actually very rare but can connect us to the most important, prescient person in our own lives – ourselves.

“Attempting to embrace being alone with ourselves is a radical act of resistance”

Racism perpetually enacts violence on our bodies, transforming them into permanent places of violence. Existing in our bodies can then become fully unbearable. Flooding ourselves with people, ruminations, on-screen distractions and unhealthy habits can feel more safe than even acknowledging that we have a body and an existence, especially at an overloaded time like Christmas.

In that respect, attempting to embrace being alone with ourselves is a radical act of resistance. All those insecurities, deep seated hatreds, and traumas need to be neither hidden nor acted on when we are alone with ourselves. For brief moments, we can exist as we are in our purest forms and stake a claim in the world without having to modulate ourselves, which is terrifying in its rarity but also liberating in its wholeness.

Have fun!

While the rest of the nation has a day off, you can too. I like to plan my Christmas plans with myself way in advance. I’ve previously rented a little B&B in Scotland without telling anyone and used that time to go on walks, paint and read.

But plans don’t need to be complex or expensive. This year, I’m going to stay at home while everyone else is out, play excellent music all day, cook a fat lasagna, and smoke an even fatter spliff in the bath surrounded by candles and rose incense. It’s the chance for me to do everything that I say I will every weekend that I always sacrifice for more work.

If you don’t have the luxury of being physically alone and will be surrounded by others in your loneliness at Christmas, you can still plan fun things for yourself. Even just a few minutes of grounding breathing with yourself can be a soft and memorable experience.

Enjoy your food (gently)

Food and diet industries must be connected in some way by the same CEOs because it can’t be a coincidence that Christmas is about eating twice your bodyweight, and January is about losing half your bodyweight. December and January are difficult for everyone in terms of food, purposely so, because that’s how so many companies make their profits this time of the year. When we feel lonely it’s easy to play out our scary feelings onto food, by over or under-eating, rather than having to acknowledge them.

Food can dismember our diasporic bodies further if we find ourselves having to eat food that doesn’t reflect where we feel we are from that day. The act of putting something in our bodies is a powerful thing; it exemplifies the ultimate control over our bodies and asserts our rights over ourselves. So it’s important to eat wisely and joyfully.

When done right, eating the food that our body really needs in that moment can be so refreshing. Eat what you need to, pay attention to it, enjoy it, and stop when you really need to.

Give to others

There’s no better way to be alone than to transform it into gratitude and compassion for others. Nationally, Crisis in the UK holds one of the biggest volunteer drives at Christmas, where volunteers can share their skills to provide a safe and warm Christmas for people experiencing homelessness, from cutting hair to performing theatre. Other UK charities that recruit at this time of the year include The Trussell Trust, The Samaritans, and The Marmalade Trust.  

Locally, refuges, hospitals, community centres, animal shelters and food banks always need donations and volunteers, especially in the winter months. And individually, we can visit elderly neighbours, put out homemade shelters for stray animals, and cook for others in our community.

“Loneliness is a fundamental part of the human experience”

There is such a thing as ineffective charity giving though. From my own experiences with volunteering, I know that training a completely inexperienced new volunteer for just weeks at the busiest time of the year is more of a drain than an asset to any charity, especially if the organisation is local and small. Similarly, donations of items that donors would not buy themselves are essentially demanding the charity to be a free recycling service.

It’s important to consider if you already have some relevant skills and experience before applying to a volunteer role, or possibly applying for a longer time period a bit after Christmas, when the weather is still bad and the demand is still high.  

Loneliness is a fundamental part of the human experience, more so with capitalism and racism working to keep communities of colour apart. It’s okay and completely normal to be alone, especially at a time like Christmas. Hopefully with these tips you can do something fun and memorable in your solitude this year.

If you or someone you know suffers from an eating disorder Beat can offer help and advice over the Christmas period. Their Christmas hours are:

23 December: Normal hours

Christmas Eve: Normal hours

Christmas Day: 6pm -10pm

Boxing Day: 6pm -10pm

27 December: Normal hours

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