DR Julia Sen: Lonely This Christmas?

Lonely this Christmas

In this month’s post, Dr Julia Sen will discuss experiencing loneliness over the festive period.

Have you experienced being lonely over the Christmas period? As we prepare for the visit of the big, beardy guy in the red suit, eating too many mince pies and panicking about how much we still have to do, it’s easy to lose focus on the most important aspect of the festive period; spending quality time with the people we love most in the world.

This is, after all, what Christmas is really about. Every culture celebrates religious holidays, weddings and anniversaries with families and friends coming together to eat, drink and be merry because as social animals, we need the company of others who make us feel loved, valued and accepted.

Dying for Company

When I say “need”, I really mean it. Did you know that loneliness can literally increase your chance of dying prematurely by 26%?  This shocking statistic was discovered when all of the published literature on social isolation was reviewed by psychologist Holt-Lunstad and colleagues in 2015 and is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! The Age UK Evidence Review published in 2014 reported increased risks of heart disease, stroke, depression and dementia. And yet, thanks to 21st-century technology, it’s so easy to communicate with anyone, anywhere at the touch of a button, surely we should feel more connected than ever before? Au contraire – social media connection is not merely a poor facsimile for the real thing, the Journal of the American Medical Association of  Psychiatry reported that adolescents who spend more than 3 hours daily on social media platforms had higher rates of loneliness, depression, and suicide.

Older adults are another high-risk group, with 40% stating that TV is their primary companion. Being widowed and having a disability or other significant health concerns, perhaps unsurprisingly, also make experiencing loneliness more likely.

At least the Covid effect is over, right?

Alarmingly not. In fact, according to the Office of National Statistics, the prevalence is higher than before the pandemic, with 3.3 million Britons reporting “feeling lonely all the time”, between December 2021 and February 2022, compared with 2.6 million during the first lockdown. It seems that many of us have been unable to re-establish our pre-pandemic social connections. There may also be ongoing anxiety about the risks of infection for those with underlying health issues. We have yet to see the effects of the current cost of living crisis but it seems safe to assume it will have a further negative impact, especially on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society who are already amongst the loneliest.

Read more: For The Most Beautiful Christmas

“Tis the Season

The festive period can, for many, be the most difficult time to spend alone. It’s easy to imagine that everyone else is having a great time and reminders are everywhere. Adverts will be showing smiling couples walking hand in hand in the snow in matching hats and insanely happy multigenerational families with suspiciously well-behaved toddlers, pulling crackers and laughing raucously at some kind of in-joke. It can trigger feelings of inadequacy and shame. It’s easy to forget that these Disney-esque vignettes are merely marketing campaigns and that for most people Christmas more closely resembles an episode of Eastenders!

Real Christmas

Spending time with family can admittedly be a bit fraught, particularly where there is friction between family members, divorce or separation, however, it’s usually possible with some seasonal good cheer (and a controlled amount of alcohol) to make it a fun time for all. It’s certainly a timely reminder for those of us surrounded by our loved ones to remember how genuinely fortunate we are and to feel a glow of gratitude as we soothe the sugar-overloaded screaming toddler, practice diplomacy over who controls the remote and try not to overcook the sprouts!

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases!

 Love, Julia x

If you are experiencing loneliness, support is available from the British Red Cross support line at 0808 196 3651 or the Samaritans on 116 123.

For more advice on wellbeing issues, visit www.drjuliasen.co.uk where you can also find information about weight loss, dermatology, eyelid surgery and aesthetics. To make an enquiry or appointment email [email protected] or phone 07548 964367.

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