As Christmas hurtles towards us, many of us are planning a special day with a family and friends. However, what is often seen as a joyful time by many can be difficult and can even trigger or reinforce feelings of loneliness and isolation for some.
On the weekend I was chatting to a friend who has recently separated and is facing his first solo Christmas. Luckily he has some adult children to share the day with but it got me thinking about those who don’t.
The divorce rate has increased since the pandemic, leaving many with new circumstances. Some will be at a loose end this Christmas. To make matters worse some won’t wake up to their children and perhaps won’t even see them on Christmas Day. Imagine what a difference we can make to the friends or family who are on their own by extending an invitation to join our Christmas celebrations.
Many years ago a friend of mine from overseas, let’s call him Frank, was facing his first Christmas on his own after his marriage ended. He and his ex-wife didn’t have children and his family were all back in his native country. Although he had friends to reach out to he thought he’d do Christmas differently that year.
Frank decided to donate his time to serve Christmas lunch to homeless people in his city. Frank found this to be an amazing experience. It filled him with joy, gratitude and perspective. He met some interesting people and loved being able to serve them.
Frank loved the experience so much that he signed up again the following Christmas and later when he re-partnered, he and his new wife both donated their time at the soup kitchen on Christmas Day.
What Frank discovered is that when we give we often receive even more in return. One of the best things we can ever do when we’re in a funk is to do something for someone else.
Research has confirmed a phenomenon called “Helper’s High” which results from an injection of happy chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin into our brain after we do something for someone else. These chemicals boost our mood and also counter the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone. I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to find volunteering opportunities for this Christmas Day if you’re inspired by Frank’s story but I suspect there’ll be some around.
This website has taken a lot of the work out finding Christmas volunteer opportunities but if nothing comes up there, you could reach out to services in your area that support the homeless and others in need.
There are other ways that we can tap into the Helper’s High in the lead up to Christmas including doing random acts of kindness, donating a present at the local shopping centre, taking the neighbours a home baked Christmas treat or organising a food or gift drive for a charity such as Salvation Army.
Let’s all get into the true giving spirit of Christmas this year and help to create safer and happier communities.
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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.