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5 ways to combat the Christmas blues, according to a neuropsychologist

As Christmas approaches, and even as restrictions in Australia ease, it’s still incredibly common to feel lonely at this time of year. Neuropsychologist Hannah Korrel explains how to tackle it.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, put your head between your knees and brace for impact. Yes, it’s Christmas time again… Some of us may be exclaiming with joy and the other, single, unmarried, kid-less of us may be quietly preparing ourselves for the Christmas blues.

Christmas is the time of year where the focus is on family, connectedness and socialising, which is beau-ti-ful.

However, it may also bring attention to the absence of that connectedness. And let’s face it, loneliness sucks. Most people feel lonely at some point in their lives.

In Australia, only about 25 percent of Australians report having a close friend they can talk to every month – and one in two reports that they do not have any close friends.

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The risk factors increase for loneliness if you live alone and aren’t in a relationship (surprise, surprise, my fellow independent singletons).

But fear not, if you want to tackle the Christmas blues, there are practical things you can do.

You are not alone

Recognise you are not alone in feeling lonely. These stats can be seen as positive. They tell us that every second person you see may also want to be more connected and have more friends.

Enjoy ‘me’ time

This means actually scheduling in something to fill your cup! Yes sitting on the couch and doing nothing can be good because you are not making further deductions burn you out more. But it is also a passive pastime that doesn’t always add to your emotional bank balance.

So schedule something that actually adds to your emotional balance, like scheduling a massage, going to that class, buying yourself a manicure, paying for the lovely hotel room, etc. It can be as small as going and sitting in the sun.

Get connected

Take the reins dears, and actively get connected with others out there (too soon for Chrissy puns?).

Schedule a Christmas lunch with the friend or work colleagues who you know are in the same boat! If you don’t have access to people like this, there are plenty of groups on social networks sites that will schedule picnics and gathers for the holiday period (like MeetUp and Bumble friends – Don’t give me that look! These actually work to meet new people and socialise). It’s important to actually participate (safely).

Even if you don’t feel like it right now, you may find you are very grateful that ‘past you’ had the wisdom to put your name down for some gatherings to get you up and out of the house.

Communicate

This is the one that tends to make people roll their eyes and tune out. But tune in, friend.

If you know you are headed for a tough time this Christmas, it’s important you let those around you know, so they can send more support and love your way.

Actually say to friends and family “I find this time of year hard and lonely, can you please help me not to feel this way?”. Do this over text if it makes you feel uncomfortable to say it in person.

Recognise when you need help

Australians have a mentality of ‘soldiering on’, but it’s important to recognise when you’re not coping so you can get the help that’s out there! Your GP can easily connect you to a psychologist via a mental health care plan, which the government has increased from 10 to 20 Medicare-rebated sessions per year due to COVID, or reach out to LifeLine.

The important thing is that you actually act on these things and don’t wait for others to approach you.

It is totally ok, and good in fact, to actively seek out social connectedness and let others know you need support. There’s no shame in this. Truly accepting that it’s OK to put your mental health first may be the best gift you can give yourself this Christmas.

Neuropsychologist Hannah Korrel is the author of How to Break Up With Friends (Impact Press $24.99) and has spent over a decade becoming an expert in why the brain makes us do the things we do. Hear more from Dr Han on Instagram.