The Independent

How to survive a solo New Year’s Eve

Last-minute tier changes and new coronavirus restrictions across the county have put us in a spin. This NYE will be tough for many, especially those on their own.

After months of social isolation and closures, the festive period was a milestone event to get us excited, an event that would alleviate some of the pressure of the pandemic, a chance to see loved ones, but many hopes have since been dashed. 

“Human beings are wired for social connection,” says counselling psychologist Dr Nikos Tsigaras of Relationships in Mind, “the prospect of being isolated this [year] will be difficult for many of us.”

While we know curbing the spread of the virus is the most important thing to consider, it doesn’t ease the sense of disappointment, or the despair many are feeling knowing we won’t get to see our friends face to face on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s normal to feel sad, lonely and disconnected when we can’t be with our loved ones at a time of year that is usually spent together. Let yourself feel sad, it’s an appropriate and healthy response to disappointment,” says psychotherapist Kimcha Rajkumar.

Dr Tsigaras agrees, explaining that these are “healthy emotions” and are the very things that “keep you connected to what matters – your relationships and values”.

The worst thing we can do is bury these feelings in comfort eating or drinking, he says. Instead, follow these handy tips to ease the sense of loneliness during the holidays.

1. Use the tools at your disposal

<p>Time to bust out your general knowledge for a festive quiz over Zoom</p>iStock

If coronavirus had hit 20 years ago, we probably would have felt a lot more isolated. Video calling platforms like Zoom, House Party, WhatsApp, iChat and Skype have been life-changing during the pandemic, allowing us to stay connected and “see” our loved ones from the safety of our homes.

Pamela Roberts, a psychotherapist at Priory’s Hospital in Woking, says we can use these tools to have elements of a normal Christmas. “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.”

Dr Tsigaras says social media can also help over the festive period and create solidarity. “Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can sometimes be a way to reach out and normalise your experiences.”

2. Get peer support

Letting yourself feel is good, but you can go one step further and “talk to someone about how you are feeling,” says Roberts.

“If you 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.”

3. Venture outside into nature

<p>Even 10 minutes outside can make a huge difference</p>Getty

There’s tonnes of research that suggests natural environments, including places with water or forested areas, do wonders on our mental and physical health. Even if it is only for 10 minutes, get outside, says Rajkumar. “Even if it is raining and you throw on your raincoat over your pyjamas.”

Bear Grylls’ survival consultant and outdoor expert Megan Hine says that just being present in nature helps alleviate anxiety. “Spending time in nature is an easy way to manage stress,” she says. “Micro adventures are available from our front doors. NHS doctors in parts of Scotland are even prescribing spending time in nature or getting out for a hike to those suffering anxiety-related disorders.”

Dr Tsigaras claims if we pay attention to our surroundings and observe nature over the festive holidays it will help our moods. “Loneliness and isolation can be stressful and exercise or walks can help metabolise the stress hormone cortisol, which is triggered by loneliness.”

4. Do some exercise

Exercise increases serotonin, which combats depression. If you are able to do it outside, all the better, explains Dr Tsigaras: “This is the perfect chance to have a fit and healthy Christmas, and not to overindulge. Your mind and body will thank you for it. If you can’t get outside, keep active throughout the day.”

You don’t have to run a marathon to get active, movement gives us a sense of agency a time when we are having to contend with circumstances that are beyond our control. “Use your body intentionally in some way,” says Rajkumar. “This can be making a jigsaw puzzle, preparing vegetables, playing charades via Zoom, dancing to a favourite tune. Or complete something you intend to do that involves movement, which is good for our brains and bodies.”

5. Busy your mind

<p>Now is the time to start working on a hobby you've always wanted to do</p>iStock

Use the time on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve to learn something like a new song on the guitar, a new dish in the kitchen, paint or draw things around you. “Creativity is a major antidote to depression,” says Dr Tsigaras.

Then go easy on yourself, advises Rajkumar, “treat yourself as you would a disappointed child, in other words kindly and with patience. Do things that comfort you, play the music you love, wear cosy clothes, watch films, prepare something special for yourself to eat.”

6. Plan your festive activities

Organise your time in advance, so you are not left noticing the absence of family on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. “Plan ahead,” says Rajkumar. “Think about the day before it comes and put a few things in place to support yourself.”

“Routine and structure can be helpful and prevent aimlessness and drifting into a negative thought spiral,” reckons Dr Tsigaras.  

7. Help others on Christmas Day

<p>Look for charities and local services that are asking for volunteers</p>Getty

There are many people in the same boat as you, spending Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve on their own, so focus outwards, not inwards, and try to think of those who are lonely every day, “especially the elderly”, says Roberts. 

“Where you can, look into helping others, call a neighbour or elderly friend and offer 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.”

8. Write a gratitude list

Amid the negativity, there are plenty of things that will have been positive for you this year – even if the larger events have swamped them somewhat. Sit down and write a list of all the things you are thankful for – from friends and family to having a roof over your head.

“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,” says Roberts.

“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 or NYE that you hoped for, but at the same time it can make us grateful for what we actually have,” says Roberts.

This year is a chance to create new traditions and break potentially harmful cycles: “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.”

9. Remember it’s only one day

Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve are only 24 hours long. “It is likely you have survived much more difficult experiences, you will survive these as well,” says Rajkumar. Distract yourself with enjoyable things, even sleep if you need to catch up, and it will soon pass.

“Not all past Christmases were happy ones but we tend to look back and believe they were,” says Roberts. “Allow your body and mind to rest from what has been a stressful year for all.”

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