With limits on social gatherings in place this December, more people than usual may find themselves feeling lonely during the festive period. This is what you can do to help yourself and others feel less isolated
It is the time of year when people are normally getting into the Christmas spirit. But with limits on gatherings in place across the UK and other nations, the countdown to the festive period has been somewhat muted this year.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, there were nine million lonely people in the UK before the pandemic – a figure that is likely to have risen significantly since restrictions came in.
Fortunately, there are many ways we can connect with each other over the coming weeks. From writing to strangers to volunteering for a charity, here’s how you can help combat loneliness this Christmas.
1. Write to a stranger
The mental health support organisation WarriorKind is connecting lonely individuals via the written word this winter, encouraging participants to share some of the challenges they have faced during lockdown as well as their tips for staying resilient.
“We’re linking people the old fashioned way and using writing as a cathartic therapy to [help people] talk about their mental health to strangers and to get tips and advice from one another, hopefully creating new friendships in the process,” says Sarah Drage, founder of WarriorKind’s Contact for Christmas project.
2. Phone a (new) friend
The Silver Line operates the UK’s only confidential telephone befriending service. It helps connects old people who are experiencing loneliness with volunteers willing to give up their time for a friendly natter.
“The phone is almost universal, personal and a relatively inexpensive way to create social connection,” explains Robin Hewings, director of campaigns, policy and research at the Campaign to End Loneliness. “It’s a two-way thing, but not symmetrical so often one party is much more vulnerable.”
Other organisations also offer befriending opportunities. Visit Befriending Networks for more information.
3. Become a volunteer
The volunteering landscape looks very different this Christmas due to the pandemic, but there are still many opportunities to help others. The homeless charity Crisis is looking for volunteers to, among other things, lead online activities, make calls to members and even perform live music over Zoom.
There are also nationwide volunteering opportunities with Meals on Wheels, which delivers dishes to people who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals.
“People who work as volunteers always say to me that they do two things at once,” says Hewings. “They do something practical, but also help people connect and enrich relationships. Being part of the social world around someone can be really valuable.”
4. Join an online social club
Bringing together people from all walks of life, The Cares Family is an intergenerational social club with 18,000 members in London, Liverpool and Manchester.
Hosting anything from quizzes and dancing to group yoga, organisers usually host in-person events, but have moved all jamborees online during the lockdown.
CEO Alex Smith says the social club provides a valuable support network in challenging times. “We’ve seen older people support younger people to feel less anxious about the world, and to gain patience and perspective; and we’ve seen younger people support older people with daily phone calls, friendship and connection to the world,” he says.
5. Jam with others online
During the first lockdown, many online choirs launched to connect people through music. The Sofa Singers is one of them and continues to bring together hundreds of people online through song. Similarly, the Benedetti Foundation brings amateur musicians together, teaching people to play instruments in online workshops.
Another singing group, Shared Harmonies, runs free, uplifting singing events online. Founder Emily Baylin says the classes “improve confidence, communication and wellbeing through inspirational singing”. So far, more than 300 people have got involved, from the ages of three to 92 and she’s planning special Christmas harmony sessions plus ‘ring and sing services’ for those not online.
6. Walk and talk
Taking a stroll with someone is an informal way of making a connection – and it’s still permitted under current lockdown rules in England. If you don’t know any would-be ramblers in the area, you could join a local walking group to connect with other hikers. Alternatively, there are many strollers seeking company on forums such as Go4awalk.com.
“Walking groups are good for your health, but there’s also something wonderful about not directly facing someone that makes it easier to have a conversation,” says Hewings.
7. Connect virtually with colleagues
Working from home can be lonely. If you or your colleagues feel disconnected from each other, sign up for a play-based wellbeing and teambuilding session with Jess Shaw, founder of PACT Creative.
The virtual workshops are fun and a great stress buster, she says. “Play in a group brings us into the present moment with a shared experience,” explains Shaw. “It’s joyful and we have found that play has been an excellent tool for reaching through the screen and bringing that experience of connection.”
Image: Kevin Laminto