Embracing Togetherness to Combat Loneliness this Winter

22 December 2023

Loneliness is a universal and subjective experience that can be particularly challenging during the winter months. While this time of year is often associated with celebration and togetherness, many people find themselves feeling isolated and alone.

According to the National Survey for Wales, 13% of people said they felt lonely in 2022-23 with those experiencing deprivation, poor health and those with mental health conditions most affected. Minority ethnic groups, refugees, low-income households, those living alone or with disabilities are more prone to suffer from loneliness. And we know that people living in isolation have higher risks of heart disease and stroke, obesity, smoking and cognitive decline.

My research is exploring how loneliness is experienced for rural populations in Wales and the role of community in addressing social inequalities. This research, funded by Health and Care research Wales focuses on understanding the unique challenges faced by diverse communities living in rural areas with a focus on individuals engaged in agricultural occupations or identifying as belonging to agricultural communities. The study aims to identify strategies which may work to address loneliness for agricultural communities in rural areas of Wales.

Loneliness is a multifaceted and subjective experience which can affect anyone, regardless of age or background. During the winter months, certain factors can contribute to heightened feelings of loneliness. For some, not being able to spend time with loved ones, whether due to personal or social factors, can intensify the sense of isolation. Society’s expectations and media portrayals of picture-perfect celebrations can create unrealistic standards as well, making those who don't meet them feel even more disconnected.

Loneliness can have a profound impact on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It often leads to sadness, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Research has shown that chronic loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing mental health issues such as depression. It can also damage our physical health, leading to conditions like high blood pressure and weakened immune system functioning. As part of their 2023 winter campaign, Age Cymru identified that 112,200 older people in Wales reported Christmas Day to be the hardest day of the year with nearly 98,000 feeling more isolated on this one day, than any other.

While overcoming loneliness during the festive period may seem daunting, there are practical steps that may help to reduce loneliness this winter:

  1. Reach Out to Loved Ones: Take the initiative to reach out to family members, friends, or neighbours who might also be feeling lonely. A simple phone call, text message, or handwritten note can go a long way in brightening someone's day and establishing a connection.

  2. Embrace Virtual Gatherings: In today's digital age, technology offers us the opportunity to connect with others, even when physical distance separates us. Plan virtual gatherings where you can share stories, laughter and utilise video conferencing platforms or social media to create a sense of togetherness.

  3. Engage in Acts of Kindness: The festive season presents numerous opportunities to spread kindness and make a positive impact on others' lives. If you are able to, you can volunteer at a local charity, participate in community events, or donate items to your local food bank. If you think someone may be alone this winter, reaching out to them can be a supportive way to make a difference. These acts of kindness not only help those in need but also provide a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

  4. Seek Support and Join Communities: If you're feeling particularly lonely, don't hesitate to seek support. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member and share your feelings. Consider joining online support communities or local interest groups where you can connect with like-minded individuals who share your hobbies or passions.

  5. Practice Self-Care: Taking care of your own well-being is essential when combating loneliness. Engage in activities that bring you joy and help you relax. This can include reading a book, going for a walk in nature, practicing mindfulness or meditation, or pursuing a hobby you love. Investing time in self-care can boost your mood and overall well-being.

Loneliness during the winter season is a common challenge, but embracing connection and practical solutions may help to reduce feelings of loneliness. Whilst there are many strategies that could help to reduce loneliness, it is important to recognise that for some engaging in activity or reaching out for support can be difficult. It is therefore important that communities can recognise loneliness and the challenges that may be faced by their neighbours, relatives and friends. If you are able to offer support by reaching out to offer, or signpost to, support it could help someone feel less alone this Christmas. Let us spread kindness, compassion, and empathy during this festive time and beyond.

Stephanie Jones is a PhD psychology student at Aberystwyth University

If you or someone you know is struggling with loneliness this Christmas, it is important to remember that there is support available:

Age Cymru offer support and advice through Age Cymru Advice. If you want to talk to someone directly, in Welsh or English, call us on 0300 303 44 98 charged at local rate (open between 9:00am and 4:00pm, Monday - Friday). You can also send an email for advice to: advice@agecymru.org.uk

Mind UK offer a range of support for people who may need advice or support with their mental health this winter. You can contact them by telephone on 0300 123 3393 or send an email to info@mind.org.uk

If you or someone you know would like to access immediate support the Samaritans can be contacted at any time by telephoning 116123.

If you or someone you know would like to get help with the cost of living, the Welsh Government have published information and advice on their website: Get help with the cost of living | GOV.WALES