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Opinion: A simple act of kindness could help someone feeling alone at this time of year

Spare a thought for those who will be on their own over the holiday period – this can be one of the worst times of the year.

Shane Kelly

AS YOU GET ready for the festive season and all the celebrations, reunions and parties that Christmas entails, spare a thought for those people who will be on their own over the holiday period. For the elderly or people who live in rural areas, this can be one of the worst times of the year.

It’s true that people suffer from loneliness all year round, but at Christmas time their feelings can get much worse and the problem is exacerbated because for most people it is a time of happiness, reunions and celebration.

In many cases, these people are your neighbours, relatives or colleagues. No one has to look too far in their community to find someone who is lonely and in need of human contact. According to figures from Alone, a charity that works with the elderly and the vulnerable, there are approximately 170,000 elderly people living on their own in Ireland.

Given that there is a clear link between loneliness and depression, it is not surprising that the Christmas period leads to an increase in people experiencing anxieties or feeling depressed.

Simple acts of kindness

How can we as a society help this group of marginalised people? The answer is simple: during the festive season we should extend our feelings of goodwill to those who live on their own or who feel isolated. Simple acts of kindness, such as calling in for a short chat and a cup of tea to a neighbour or friend, can make an immense difference if they suffering from loneliness or feeling isolated.

Call around to your neighbour’s house, especially in the evenings, and check if they need any help with small chores like getting fuel for the fire or making a cup of tea.

If you are aware of someone that is spending a lot of time alone, consider inviting them over for a chat, for dinner or to share in a family event as they may be too shy to ask. This kind of interaction can make all the difference to anyone who has to spend the long winter nights on their own.

It’s also important for people who experience loneliness not to isolate themselves and accept invitations from their family and friends to attend events.

They should also consider joining a local group or volunteering for a charity. This will get them out of the house and into contact with like-minded people. Volunteering for a charity will also make the participant feel good about helping others.

Make a plan to do something you enjoy

It’s also important for people who live on their own to remain in good health. They should take regular exercise, eat well and get as much fresh air and daylight as possible, all of which will help to improve a person’s mood and outlook.

If being alone is unavoidable at Christmas, then make a plan to do things that you enjoy – such as walking, watching movies or eating your favourite meal.

Most importantly don’t suffer in silence or bottle up your feelings during Christmas. Talk about your feelings to family or friends or consider contacting a professional such as a counsellor or psychotherapist.

Sharing these feelings is the first step to better mental health. Along with simple acts of kindness, it can go a long way to ending the affliction of loneliness this Christmas.

Shane Kelly is spokesman with the Irish Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy. For a list of accredited counsellors and psychotherapists in your area, visit www.iacp.ie

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Shane Kelly

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