December can be a difficult time for many Londoners. If you live alone or a long way from relatives, you might feel particularly isolated. With the cost of living spiralling, you might be worried about spending money on gifts and going out. Or perhaps you’re feeling burned out after a busy year at work or anxious about dealing with difficult family issues over the holidays.
According to research by Age UK, around one in four older people expect this to be one of their hardest Christmases yet. As the charity’s director Caroline Abrahams says, “After all the fear and anxiety of the pandemic, many of us had been looking forward to a jollier, more sociable Christmas this year – but sadly it seems that the cost of living crisis has put paid to that for millions of older people, because they simply can’t afford it.”
Loneliness, money worries and other stresses won’t only affect older people this Christmas. A recent YouGov survey found that many adults across the UK are planning to cut back on social gatherings and Eden Project Communities noted recently that socialising is now regarded by many as a ‘luxury’ expense.
At this challenging time, it’s important that you take care of yourself and take small steps to boost your mental wellbeing. Here, the Good Thinking team suggests 12 ways to do this, including creating small moments of connection and being kind to others.
1. Connect with others
Christmas is a great opportunity to reach out to people you haven’t spoken to for a while. Call them or arrange a video chat rather than just texting or emailing – and make sure you ask them how they really are. If someone you know is struggling, you could encourage them to take one of Good Thinking’s quick quizzes so we can recommend the best resources to help them.
2. Get enough sleep
When you’re stressed or anxious, one of the things that helps the most is having a good night’s sleep. And when your normal daily routine changes during the holidays, it’s even more important to focus on getting enough sleep. Check out Good Thinking’s sleep self-assessment and Sleep Workbook to help improve your sleep habits.
3. Learn something new
Read a book or work on a DIY project. Try out a new recipe on Christmas Day or sign up to start an online course in the new year. Learning isn’t just a good way to stop you getting bored, it can also increase your confidence and self-esteem. YouTube is packed with tutorials or visit the FutureLearn website for lots of study options.
4. Stay active
Whether you go for a short walk, a family bike ride or a 5k Parkrun, or do some online workouts or yoga at home, regular exercise is good for both your physical and mental health. Aim for at least 150 minutes of activity each week. You can get tools to kickstart your health on the NHS Better Health website.
5. Set some goals
Whether it’s ‘Have a family dinner together at least twice a week’ or ‘Go for a 30 minute walk every day’, write down some achievable goals for 2023. Start small and build from there. If you’d like help with setting goals and sticking to them read Good Thinking’s article about how to develop a healthy new habit.
6. Arrange a get-together
Try to get a date in the diary to see your friends and family in person this month. Even if money is tight, there are lots of free and cheap activities you can do – how about touring the Christmas lights in central London or going to a carol concert at St Paul’s Cathedral? Visit the Time Out website for other wallet-friendly suggestions.
7. Be kind to yourself
Set aside some ‘me time’ to do the things you enjoy (e.g. listening to a podcast or going for a run). You might also like to create a self-care box containing things that make you feel good, such as a cosy blanket or your favourite magazine. If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, low or you’re having trouble sleeping, use Good Thinking’s free self-assessment tool to give yourself a check-up and get recommended resources.
8. Pay attention to the present
Take a break from your devices and really notice what’s going on in your thoughts, your feelings, your body and the world around you. Often called ‘mindfulness’, this can help you to understand yourself better and enjoy life more. Download the NHS-approved mindfulness app Be Mindful for free on Good Thinking.
9. Give to others
Could you volunteer for a local charity or donate to a food bank this Christmas? Acts of kindness like this are not only good for the people you support, they can also give you a feeling of achievement and help to improve your mental wellbeing. Find your local volunteer centre on the NCVO website.
10. Spend time in nature
Nature is known to be a powerful mood booster so why not go for a Boxing Day walk or plant some bulbs in your garden? If you’d like to get the whole family involved, how about a bike ride along the Thames or a visit to one of London’s city farms? For more ideas, read Good Thinking’s article about how to connect with nature to boost your wellbeing.
11. Reach out to your neighbours
Say hello when you see your neighbours in the street, send them a Christmas card or ask if they need help with anything. Or, if you’d like to do something bigger, how about hosting a Big Lunch? Find out more about raising community spirit this winter on the Eden Project Communities website.
12. Support someone who may be struggling
If one of your friends, relatives or neighbours finds Christmas particularly difficult, let them know they are not alone. Have a chat with them about their concerns and ask them if you can do anything to help. You can find advice about supporting someone else in Good Thinking’s Mental Health and Me guide (p16-17) and learn how to get urgent support from the NHS and other organisations.