A Merry Little Covid Christmas – 8 Tips to Cope with a Holiday away from Home

By Sandrine Wyrich (@SunnyWyrich_)

It’s Christmas, if you hadn’t already noticed from the excessive Christmasy songs on the radio and relentless TV ads. This year is set to be different though. The Covid-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down and with the festive season upon us, many of us are facing a Christmas alone away from home, possibly for the first time ever.

Jokes aside, spending the holidays away from family and friends can be emotional and it’s perfectly normal to feel more homesick than usual. When hugs, treats and all the usual festive pleasantries aren’t quite possible, loneliness can barge in through the chimney and we can feel less than merry on Christmas.

Samaritans volunteer Vikki has been on the helpline for 14 years and covered many festive shifts. The Christmas season can be difficult even under normal circumstances, but “we know this year may be particularly challenging.

“Loneliness can really hit home for people and other services they may rely on are closed or on reduced hours.”

One student, who will just be referred to as Jo due to reasons of discretion, is struggling with the thought of having to spend the holidays without their family. Although Jo has been living away from home for a while, “Christmas feels weirdly different than the average day.

“You think about everyone sitting around the Christmas tree, the laughter and excitement when you all open your presents and when it sinks in that you won’t be there this year, you kind of want to burst into tears.

“I don’t get to see my family very often and Christmas has always been the fixpoint. Not to have that this year, even though it is the right thing to not take risks during the pandemic, is a bit disappointing and saddening.”

But that doesn’t mean it has to be a blue Christmas. Hannah Carmichael, CEO and co-founder of the Living Well Alone Project, recommends to try accept the situation and adopt a ‘can do’ attitude:

“The first step is really just to say alright, I am here where I am, but actually, what can I do? And even if it’s going to be a Christmas that’s very different, what can I do to make it the kind of Christmas that works for me?”

Here’s a motto for a solo holiday: being alone and being lonely are not the same thing. Dealing with loneliness is by no means easy, but it is possible. Here are eight tips to have yourself a merry little Covid Christmas:

Hannah Carmichael’s message to solo holidayers. You can find more great advice in the Living Well Alone Project’s handbook for students.

1. Video Call your Way through Christmas

Being alone away from home is a cause for anxiety for many as Vikki confirms: “We are already hearing from callers who are worried about being separated from family over the festive season and how they’ll cope with loneliness. Others are worried about the well-being of loved ones.”

Getting on a video call can make you feel part of the celebrations back home. While it won’t be the same as being there in person, it’s the next best thing. Spending Christmas away from home doesn’t mean you have to be completely cut off from your family and being aware of staying connected is crucially important as Carmichael says:

“We all have a need for connection. Make sure to schedule in time with your friends and family, even if it’s virtually, to have that contact. It’s possibly the most powerful way to get through the next few weeks.”

2. Link up with Friends in the same Situation

Chances are, you’re probably not the only one who can’t travel home this Christmas. Covid-19 restrictions must be adhered to, but it is still possible to arrange small get-together with other loners. Resort to social media, ask around and try organise a coronavirus-safe meet-up of around three people. No one has to be alone and you might make some new friends.

Carmichael puts forward the idea of a ‘Super Christmas’; “we all celebrate Christmas in our own way and the idea is to share and bring all the traditions together into one big Super Christmas. It’s a great way to get to know new things and even learn more about your friends.”

3. Keep up Old Traditions or Create New Ones

You might miss the traditions your family practises during the Christmas days. Some of them you might be able to replicate – cook your traditional meal, listen to the songs you always listen to … Doing these things alone could potentially make you feel even more homesick though, so the alternative is to create your own traditions. Discover new activities, integrate some of the local customs and make Christmas special for yourself.

4. Practise Self-Care

Try to do something that makes you feel calm and comfortable. Cook a meal you like, read your favourite book, watch a film that gets you in a good mood or buy something to treat yourself. Carmichael emphasises that self care is deeply personal, “it’s about finding the ways that work best for you. For some people taking time out being really quiet is what they need while for others it’s talking to friends.”

That can even be small and fun things. “I was really struck by some research looking at why it is that when we look at pictures of puppies and kittens we feel really happy. It makes your brain really serotonic and that in turn makes you happy. I love that; if you’re feeling down, you just spend an hour looking at puppies and kittens and you feel better.”

Edinburgh demonstrates that Christmas can be beautiful – even during a pandemic.

5. Go for a Walk

Head out of the house for some one-on-one time with nature or enjoy the Christmas lights in town. Take some deep breaths and try appreciate what’s around you. Also, exercise increases endorphins which will improve your mood. And why not take the neighbours’ dog with you? Dogs are wonderful company.

6. Ghost Social Media

Some people will insist on sharing their most wonderful time of the year on social media and we can fall into the trap of thinking everyone else is having the celebrations we wish we had. This can in turn feel very isolating and exacerbate feelings of loneliness. It might seem like you’re the only person in the world who feels lonely at Christmas, but that’s not the case. Nine million people in the UK report loneliness – it can affect everyone.

Carmichael confirms that there is a proven link between social media use and anxiety. “Something really powerful you can do is just step away from social media for a while and particularly turn off notifications so you are not constantly being alerted that there is something else to look at.”

7. Volunteer for a Good Cause

Volunteers are always needed at charities and shelters, no more so than throughout the Christmas period. Many in-person volunteer opportunities are out of the question due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but many organisations do still hire and there are options for virtual volunteering as well. The additional hands will be appreciated and your own spirits will be boosted too – volunteering has proven to benefit happiness and health.

8. Challenge your Mental Narrative

Negative self-created narratives around being alone on Christmas can haunt us. The trick is to combat these thoughts with truth and opportunity – you’re spending Christmas away from home and that’s okay. Therapists recommend to give thought to the choices or circumstances that led to spending the holidays alone to find comfort in the reasoning behind it.

However, it is equally important to acknowledge our feelings, as Carmichael underlines: “we often want to put on a brave face, but we probably will be feeling not that great. Talking it out is really helpful; talk to your friends, talk to your families or write it down and get all your thoughts out on paper.”

You may want to write a letter to your past or future self in which you reflect on experiences and lessons you want to remember and things you are grateful for. Thereby you can give this time away from loved ones a new sense of purpose.

Despite all struggles, Jo seeks solace in accepting the situation and looking ahead to the future:

“It is what it is just now. We’re all in the same boat with the pandemic and for the moment we just need to be sensible and not take any silly risks.

“The good thing is that there’s an end in sight and if we’re being sensible now, this will be the only Christmas we have to spend this way.”

Loneliness is a shared human experience and we crave connection even more during the festive season. This Christmas will be different and challenging for many of us. Remember that it’s okay to do what suits you – if you want to make the holidays special for yourself, go for it. If you want to treat it like any other day, that’s fine too.

Try to take the pressure off and, where you can, do things that bring you joy. Above all, be kind – most of all to yourself.

If you are feeling low and struggle to cope, reach out for help. Call a friend or family member or get in touch with a charity like the Samaritans, Breathing Space or CALM.

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