Ask a Results Coach: Navigating loneliness around Christmas and New Year's Eve | HerCanberra

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Ask a Results Coach: Navigating loneliness around Christmas and New Year’s Eve

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It’s natural to feel a complex mixture of emotions around Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Enter Alex Wright-Moore, a Results Coach who has kindly offered to answer some commonly asked questions she gets from clients—and share her knowledge with the HerCanberra audience.

Each month, Alex will explore some of the ways we can better understand what challenges us and empowers us to find solutions.

“While Christmas and New Year is meant to be a happy time of year, I commonly experience loneliness and find it hard to escape negative thoughts. Are there any simple strategies to help me get past these feelings and enjoy the holidays?”

Sociologists, historians and scientists do not always agree on everything. But one thing they do tend to agree on, is that human beings are inherently social creatures.

Studies tell us that social groups not only contribute to our sense of identity, but also teach us skills that help us to survive and thrive in life. As far back as we can trace, as a species we have hunted, travelled and lived in social groups because if humans became separated from their tribe it often had severe consequences. This makes this month’s question pertinent as a year of intermittent COVID-19 lockdowns and isolation draws to a close.

In the modern world, feeling socially connected has become more vital than ever – but also increasingly challenging. So here are some ideas, tools and resources which can provide support and help bolster our happiness if we are feeling lonely and disconnected this festive season.

We can practice emotional first aid and emotional agility

In a culture that often prizes positivity over emotional truth, modern psychology evidences that we can significantly up-level our ability to respond and cope with negative emotions by practicing strategies of emotional first aid and emotional agility.

We also have good reason to sit up and pay attention to these strategies, as the research indicates that our likelihood of early death is increased by 14% if we suffer from chronic loneliness. A sobering statistic indeed!

Hearteningly, psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts, Guy Winch, says there is such a thing as mental first aid to help us when we have battered emotions such as loneliness. Furthermore, Winch says that empowering ourselves with the knowledge and awareness to provide this first aid can give us fast, simple, and effective results.

“We all sustain emotional wounds and failure, guilt, rejection, and loss are as much a part of life as the occasional scraped elbow,” acknowledges Winch. “But while we typically bandage a cut or ice a sprained ankle, our first aid kit for emotional injuries is not just understocked; it is largely non-existent.”

As a result, Winch has invested his life’s work in identifying the most essential tools we need in our ‘psychological medicine cabinet’ to remedy our situation, advocating that we all need to practice daily ‘emotional hygiene’ by proactively taking inventory of our emotional well-being and isolating the parts of our psyche which need first aid.

Find out more of what Winch has to say in his TED talk on “How to Practice Emotional First Aid” below:

In the same vein, the research has also begun to tell us that no matter how intelligent or creative people are, or what type of personality they have, it is how we navigate our inner world – our thoughts, feelings, and self-talk – that ultimately determines how successful and happy we will become.

In her book Emotional Agility, psychologist Susan David shares that the way we deal with our emotions shapes everything that truly matters: our actions, careers, relationships, health and happiness. Hence, it is critical to have emotional agility in the ever-changing unpredictable world in which we live.

Put simply, the term ‘emotional agility’ refers to having an ability to navigate life’s twists and turns with self-acceptance, clear-sightedness, and an open mind.

As humans, we are all prone to common hooks (i.e. self-doubt, shame, sadness, fear, or anger) that can too easily steer us in the wrong direction. However, David says that, “emotionally agile people know how to adapt, aligning their actions with their values and making small but powerful changes that lead to a lifetime of growth.”

Importantly, emotional agility is not about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts, but rather about holding them loosely without rigid ideas and expectations, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to bring the best of ourselves forward. A central aspect of this practice is that we must initially increase our emotional self-awareness to recognise our emotional needs, before we can make progress.

To do this, David refers to The Emotional Pyramid of Needs, encouraging us to reflect upon the parts of the pyramid where we are not currently being fulfilled in our lives to identify practical activities at each level which will increase our emotional agility. If we can manage to think of at least 1-2 practical activities for each pyramid value, it can help us to become unstuck, embrace change and thrive.

The Emotional Pyramid of Need (Credit: Susan David).

Noting that connection is a key value on the pyramid, bolstering social interactions and nurturing relationships with others is essential to helping us feel better emotionally – especially at this time of year.

So for any looking for activities to start with, websites such as Meetup provide a range of options for likeminded people to form connections based on mutual interests or hobbies (whether in person or virtually online). Similarly, Friends for Good offer support services for those experiencing loneliness including a confidential telephone service (Friendline).

We can invest time and energy in building ‘happiness’ as a skill set

Developing an understanding that happiness is a skill set is one of the cornerstones of fostering greater physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Contrary to the myth that happiness comes easily and shouldn’t require effort, recent neuroscientific studies tell us that the secret of happiness is often investing energy daily with the aim of deliberate habit formation.

As it turns out, happiness is largely a product of small, incremental actions and consistent, focused efforts over time.

Particularly of note, activities such as mindfulness, meditation, acts of kindness, gratitude, self-acceptance and self-compassion have all been proven to influence happiness. Yet an often-forgotten precondition of happiness is a sense of ‘worthiness’.

Research about our identity, emotional regulation and the brain, indicates that we must first feel we are worthy of happiness before we can realise it in our lives.

What’s more, when we feel we truly deserve happiness, it tends to enhance our confidence to actively pursue it as a goal in our lives. But how do we build our happiness and worthiness skill set when we feel like our thoughts are not good ones?

The first thing we can do is recognise that our brain is our superpower and that it can be trained to give us more of what we want like any other muscle in our body.

Modern neuroscience tells us our brains are ever-evolving and the article below provides an overview of all the ways we can help ourselves to re-train our brain and up-level our thinking.

Yet, another effective way is to commit to a daily habit that grounds us in the present and assists with fostering mindfulness such as journaling. In good news, journaling doesn’t have to be a time-consuming or over-complicated undertaking and it can be a 2-5 minute daily exercise if that’s all we have time for.

Journaling and expressive writing has also been evidenced to have a surprising number of health benefits, including: Stress reduction, improved immune function; improved mood and well-being; boosted memory capacity; and strengthened emotional functions.

Journals with prompts can be much more enjoyable for those starting out with this practice, so there is no time like the present to pick up a journal and give it a try. Noting 2022 is around the corner, two very affordable options include The Self-Care Journal or Joy Journal pictured below (both of which can be purchased for under $10 from your local Kmart).

Credit: Alex Wright-Moore.

We can recognise the value of seeking professional support if needed

For many, the time of Christmas and New Year is a really hard time of the year—and it is important to be honest about this reality. If we aren’t feeling the Christmas spirit, THIS IS OKAY. But it is critical for us to listen to our emotions and consider if we could benefit from professional support to understand the why and how of them.

Our feelings are our safeguard for our one precious life – and they are the barometer of our mental health and emotional well-being. This being the case, the value of having help to understand and unpack them is not something we should easily discount. It could save our life.

So if you are worried about how you are feeling these holidays, reach out to your GP for tailored support services or call one of the appropriate numbers below to speak to a professional for assistance.

Together, let’s take steps to normalise and be real about the complete spectrum of human emotions during the festive season – the good, the challenging and everything in between.

Wishing you a safe holiday. Take care of your precious self.

Australian telephone support services*

LONELINESS

Friendline: 1800 424 287

ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, STRESS OR SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

Lifeline: 13 11 14
BeyondBlue: 1300 224 636
MindSpot: 1800 61 44 34
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

RELATIONSHIP SUPPORT SERVICES

Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277

DOMESTIC & FAMILY VIOLENCE, ASSAULT OR ABUSE

1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732

COMPLEX MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS

SANE Australia: 1800 187 263

OTHER SUPPORTS

Mensline: 1300 789 978
KidsHelpline: 1800 551 800
Open Arms for Veterans: 1800 011 046
QLIFE (LGBTIQA+): 1800 184 527
Griefline: 1300 845 745

Butterfly Foundation (Eating Disorders): 1800 33 4673
PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression): 1300 726 306
Sands Pregnancy Loss: 1300 308 307

*This list does not comprise of all available support services. If you are looking for tailored and personalised support, it is advisable to speak to your General Practitioner.

The content in this article represents the individual ideas of the writer alone and outlines general advice only. It does not replace individual, independent or personal advice, mental health treatment and/or crisis support.

Coaching does not prevent, cure, or treat any mental health disorder and does not substitute for therapy from a licensed professional if necessary.

Should you require emergency crisis support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or see your GP to discuss a mental health care plan which can help you access the support you need.

Want to ask your own question?

Neither Alex Wright-Moore, nor HerCanberra receive any kickbacks, commissions, gifts or fees for mentioning anything contained within.

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