The Christmas holidays are usually synonymous with social gatherings, raucous office parties, and evenings of fun and laughter with friends and family.

However, the festive period isn't always so sparkly for everyone, and if you live alone or have tricky relationships with family members, it might be a time where you feel more isolated than usual.

Here are some simple ideas for staying happy, healthy and connected over Christmas…

1. Join a Zoom choir

Studies have found that group singing isn't just a fun way to pass the time, it can also actively improve our mental health, making us feel more confident and valued. If you can't find a group in your local area, fear not, virtual choirs are popping up all over the internet.

You could join a Zoom choir, learn a new song, and practise harmonies for a few joyous minutes. If you can’t find a choir that suits your personal music taste, you could even have a go at setting up your own with a group of pals. All you need is a laptop, some lyrics and a little bit of imagination.

2. Foster an animal

Some shelters and animal charities, such as Dogs Trust Ireland, rely on fosterers to provide temporary homes for dogs and cats in their care, especially over the Christmas period. Fostering a pet can be really rewarding and vital work, as it can help an animal’s rehabilitation, and improve their chances of finding a forever home.

Dogs and cats provide wonderful company during times of loneliness, and if you know you can’t commit to taking on a pet of your own long-term, having a furry friend stay with you over the festive period could really help to lift your spirits.

3. Join a virtual writing group

Writing can be a really fulfilling hobby, but it can often be a solitary endeavour. Joining an online writing group can help you to forge new friendships while flexing your creative muscles at the same time.

There are plenty of online groups welcoming writers from all walks of life where members get the chance to share their work – whether short stories, poems, essays.

4. Get a penpal

There’s something really special about building a snail mail friendship over time. Plus, putting together a thoughtful, handwritten letter can be a really soothing task.

Global Penfriends is an initiative that can help to match you up with a letter-writing pal from another corner of the globe. It’s a lovely way to meet new friends and learn about other cultures.

5. Stay busy by learning something new

Hobbies can help to relieve stress and loneliness by keeping you engaged in something you enjoy. Whether it’s painting, learning a new language or trying your hand at an instrument, spending time doing a fun activity will help increase your happiness and satisfaction with life.

Plus, once you’ve picked up some new skills, you could offer to help teach a friend everything you’ve learned over a coffee morning.

6. Volunteer to speak to the elderly

Spending time on your own over the festive period can be a really upsetting experience, but for some people, loneliness is a full-time reality. If you love to chat, you could volunteer with ALONE.

Their Telephone Support and Befriending is a free support and information telephone service for older people which provides daily or weekly contact to ensure that recipients are safe and well in their home.

Not only will you be making a difference to someone else’s life, but you’ll also be improving your own happiness and wellbeing in the process too.

7. Seek help

Most people feel lonely sometimes, but if loneliness is affecting your day-to-day life, it’s good to remember that there is support available to help you.

As well as talking about your feelings to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor, you could also contact The Samaritans (phone 116123), or Pieta House (1800247247) for further advice.