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Home alone for Christmas? Priory experts offer 6 ways to get through it

Millions of people are having to discard their Christmas plans and think again. We asked two Priory mental health experts what advice they would give to anyone finding themselves alone on Christmas Day. Here’s what they say:

Plan it

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Paul McLaren, of Priory’s Hayes Grove Hospital in Kent, says: “Planning is key. If you had plans to spend Christmas with family or friends, plan ahead for remote contact. Best to timetable rather than say ‘I’ll call you on Christmas Day’.  We all know that remote communication is technically easy, but it’s the organisational and emotional barriers that can get in the way. If you know of others in your circle who may also be spending Christmas solo, reach out and ask if they would like to spend time with you remotely.

“Organise your day in advance so to have a good idea as to what you will do when.  It’s still a holiday so you don’t have to pin things down to the minute, but it will help your mood if you have a schedule with a time to get up, meal times, and don’t forget to schedule in some active relaxation or aerobic exercise. Plan to pamper yourself.  If there are treats which work for you, then get them organised. Be wary of alcohol though. Alcohol lubricates social events but if you are on your own, and missing contact, then it could bring you down.”  

Change your perspectives

Pamela Roberts, a Priory psychotherapist at the Priory’s Hospital in Woking, says:  “The key is to remember that this day (and time) will pass. There are very many people in the same boat so focus outwards not inwards, and try to think of those who are lonely every day, especially the elderly. Where you can, look to helping others by calling a neighbour or elderly friend and offering to do their shopping, or run errands for them. Just a conversation or seeing you outside their window could make their day. Research has shown that volunteering improves mental health. Take this time to write thank-you cards and tell your loved ones what they mean to you. Consider reaching out to a former teacher who influenced you when you were younger, or other people you wouldn’t normally thank. Challenge your expectations and be realistic. Remember that, often, expectations are just resentments waiting to happen. Christmas isn’t going to look how it normally does. Be aware of the difference - and try to see the positives. While we all go into the holidays hoping for a harmonious time, the reality was rarely as picture perfect as the TV commercials suggested.

Get outside if you can

“Get outside and exercise. This is the perfect chance to have a fit and healthy Christmas, and not to over-indulge. Your mind and body will thank you for it. If you can’t get outside, keep active throughout the day, and set yourself enjoyable tasks to help you stay positive. Distract yourself with phone calls, TV, radio - and sleep if necessary. Not all past Christmasses were happy ones, but we tend to look back and believe they were. Allow your body and mind to rest from what has been a stressful year for all.

Reach out for support

“Consider peer support – if you want to talk to someone about how you are feeling, but don’t feel comfortable doing so with people that you know, there are communities where you can give and gain support from people. Peer support can also be gained in online communities, such as Elefriends and Big White Wall. Do the festive things you would usually do over a video call, if you don’t want to be alone. Organise video catch-ups with the people you would usually see, get festive games and quizzes in the diary with different groups. Teens might like a virtual viewing party of a Christmas film, or opening cards and gifts with one another on screen.

Remember what you have

“Write a gratitude list; what have you been thankful for this year – friends, family, health, having a home to live in? Try to shift the focus of your attention, and keep a daily gratitude list over the festive season. Before you go to bed, write down five things you’re grateful for, or are happy about, and reflect upon them again when you wake up. Be kind to yourself. It is likely that this won’t be the Christmas that you hoped for, but at the same time it can make us grateful for what we actually have. The quickest cure to the holiday blues is putting things in perspective; counting your blessings and being grateful for what you have. Actively expressing your thanks to loved ones over the holiday, writing a list just for yourself or simply giving a compliment has a way of lifting others’ spirits and your own.

Know your triggers

“Whether your triggers are stress, frustration, fear, anxiety, depression, stay mindful. Make a list of things that you know trigger you, especially if you have a problematic relationship with alcohol, and where you see a risk of these in your holiday plan, add in the resources you can use if they do appear. It may seem difficult to find anything positive in our global pandemic, but this year it may mean that your old destructive or addictive behaviours around the Christmas season aren’t as accessible. This is the perfect time to consider your old season celebrations and swap them for new traditions you can create now. If you do begin to feel overwhelmed, break the day into manageable sizes; an afternoon, an hour or five minutes, and change what you are doing.

“For those with addictions, we urge them to avoid H.A.L.T (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), says Pamela. “If you’re hungry, get something to eat. If you’re angry, reach out and talk to someone about it. If you’re lonely, go to a virtual meeting or call a peer. If you’re tired, prioritise a good night’s sleep. Make sure to concentrate on your overall health. By eating properly, getting enough sleep and making time to take care of yourself, you can keep your body and your mind healthy. Make self-care your Christmas gift to yourself.

“When on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media, it’s easy to compare your life to others which only feeds your potential to feel low or create resentments. Remember that social media representation and reality are often worlds apart.

“Attend virtual 12-step fellowship meetings if you are struggling with addiction. Meetings are quite different this year – on Zoom or remotely as a result of COVID. While this may be difficult for you, try and use it to your advantage this holiday season. Meetings being on Zoom means that there’s almost always a meeting happening somewhere that you can join. Make a list of meetings you plan to attend virtually and stick to it, but always have extras you can join if you’re struggling. Most importantly, stay in the moment and live one day at a time. Don’t worry about what has happened or what could happen; enjoy each day this festive season and remember that the best gift you could give anyone who loves you this Christmas is you spending the festive period clean and sober. Remember the positives of staying sober this year; no hangovers, no regrets and a lot of money saved.”

Crisis Contact Numbers:

Narcotics Anonymous: 03000 999 1212

Alcoholics Anonymous: 0845 7697 555

Cocaine Anonymous: 0800 612 0225

Gamcare Helpline: 0808 0820 133

Samaritans: 0845 7909 090

The Priory: 0808 252 7644/ 0800 188 4647

Who else to contact if you or someone you know needs help:

  • Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org
  •  The Befriending Network has a directory of services in the UK. This can be a good option if you find leaving your home difficult.
  • Age UK Advice0800 169 65 65. For a cheerful chat, day or night, The Silver Line: 0800 470 80 90.
  • Rethink Mental Illness offer practical advice and information for anyone affected by mental health problems on a wide range of topics including treatment, support and care. Phone 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm) or visit rethink.org
  • Mind also offer mental health support between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. You can call them on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463. There is also lots of information available on their website.
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably's (CALM) helpline and webchat are open from 5pm until midnight, 365 days a year. Call CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or chat to their trained helpline staff online. No matter who you are or what you're going through, it's free, anonymous and confidential
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