It’s the most wonderful time of the year the song says but we all know that isn’t true for everyone and for many it is a lonely and unhappy time. I met with Fiona Venner, director of Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service, which is an organisation that provides sanctuary and support in times of crisis, to find out why this time of year can be so difficult and if there were any ways to help.
“Christmas magnifies what’s going on in our lives at the moment. If we’re happy and loved Christmas is a magical time. If we’re on our own, or we’re bereaved because of relationship break-up, illness, or our kids are in care, Christmas is a terrible reminder of what we’ve lost. Christmas is everywhere and it can feel like there is no escape. It can be a flashpoint for domestic violence and for people struggling with substance misuse. Oddly enough August can be another difficult time for people.”
“So, at this time of year if admitting to being lonely is the last taboo, what can you do?” I asked Fiona if there were any practical tips she could offer.
“First of all, you must realise that loneliness is not restricted to older people – anyone at any age can be affected by it for the reasons we’ve already highlighted as well as many others. You’re not a social failure, life has taken an unexpected turning.” she says
How can you look after yourself? I asked
“Plan, and have a back-up plan, of what to do during the holiday period,” suggests Fiona, “make a timetable and fill it in.”
- Choose activities that distract such as watching a favorite movie, working on a puzzle, Sudoku, crossword and word searches, read a book, or simply take a relaxing bath.
- If the weather is good get out into nature, go for a walk away from Christmas TV, shops, and people. Nature has a way of putting things into perspective.
- Find an outing that you can go on that is open during the holiday season – the theatre or cinema or go to church. Even if you are not religious, churches are open at Christmas and visiting is a way of sharing the festivities with others.
- Don’t turn down invitations, get back in touch and say “yes”.
- Volunteering to help others can be a great way to meet other people, and can make you feel positive about the work you are doing. Different organisations host events on or around Christmas where you can meet other people and celebrate Christmas together check out St George’s Crypt, Salvation Army and Streetwise Love Leeds
- Talking about feelings can also help. There are listening services available whether you are feeling emotionally distressed or lonely. Contact the Samaritans, 08457 909090 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, Connect Helpline, 0808 800 12 12, provides up to half an hour of emotional support by telephone. Open 6pm -10.30pm every night of the year in Leeds, Saneline, 0845 767 8000, 1pm – 11pm, Offering emotional support and information.”
Fiona added “The organization I work for, Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service has two crisis houses Dial House, which will be open on Boxing Day (0113 260 9328) and Dial House @ Touchstone which is open , Christmas Day (0113 249 4675). You can visit to talk to someone. Dial House is a Christmas-free zone.”
What if you want to offer a helping hand to others?
One of the simplest things is just to talk to your neighbours take round a card, offer to go to the shops, ask if they need something doing in the house such as replacing a light bulb, Be mindful of the people around you – like the work colleague or neighbour who may be on their own – invite them to a social event such as the office fuddle
Volunteering is not just for Christmas – opportunities exist all year round so why not make one of your New Year resolutions to become a volunteer.
More information about how to help yourself and other people this winter can be found at leeds.gov.uk/winterwise