The end of year holiday season is traditionally a time when families make plans to get together. The emphasis is on reunions – relatives arrive, spare rooms get made up and more people are squashed around the dining room table.

Amid all this family celebration time, we seldom stop to think of those who may not be joining loved ones. Some people don’t have family with whom to get together. Others don’t have the means to travel to far-away relatives, and some may be estranged from families and no longer welcome at the dinner table.

It’s no coincidence that the suicide rate increases sharply during the year-end holiday period – when surrounded by people celebrating with loved ones, being alone can seem unbearable.

If you are going to be on your own this festive season, there are lots of things you can do to make yourself – and others – feel better.


Give the gift of you

You are not the only person spending the festive season on your own. There will be many people in hospices and homes for the aged, for example, who won’t have a single visitor. Pop in and see someone. Take a small gift, or some flowers, and you’ll be amazed at the happiness this simple gesture brings – for both you and the person you visit. Or volunteer at a shelter or hospital. Seeing others in situations worse than yours will help to put a solo silly season into perspective.


Own your alone time

If you usually work long hours in a stressful job, a couple of days that you can dedicate completely to yourself – guilt-free – is a wonderful present.

Spend the day in your pyjamas, have a long bubble bath with scented candles, catch up on reading, write overdue letters and e-mails, snooze in the afternoon, get rid of clutter in your home… the possibilities are endless.


Make the connection

Even if you physically can’t be with family or friends, you can, thanks to the wonders of technology, do the next best thing. Spending 15 uninterrupted minutes catching up with a loved one on Skype or over the phone will boost your mood for a long time afterwards. Research shows that spending time connecting with friends lowers stress levels and helps decrease symptoms associated with depression.

Just talking to loved ones can help us feel happier, have more patience and increase our tolerance for stress.


Get out and about

If you live in an area where it is possible, and safe, to go for a walk or run, do it. It is a great way to get rid of the blues – and the roads will be virtually empty. Even a brief walk at low intensity can improve mood and increase energy. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a positive effect.


Go on holiday – with yourself!

If you know in advance that you’re going to be alone over the holidays, book yourself a getaway at a spa, game reserve, chalet in the mountains, cottage at the beach… anywhere you want to go. Spend time getting to know a new place, or revisiting a favourite spot. And if you haven’t planned beforehand, there are always great last-minute deals to be had. Airlines vastly reduce the price of tickets if you fly on Christmas day, for example. Take the opportunity to explore somewhere new! - Daily News

* Newton is a counselling psychologist in Durban. For more tips on surviving the festive season, see