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A Reflective Christmas: Mental health tips

December, 2020

December, 2020

The festive season can be an exciting time to connect with others and celebrate, it can also be the most stressful time of the year. Financial issues, family conflict and loneliness can increase stress for people especially in the lead up to Christmas and the new year.  

Mix this with the stresses and anxiety many people have faced this year to due to COVID-19, looking after our mental health is more important than ever.

We  sat down with HenderCare's Clinical Nurse Educator, Teresa Barter, who provided some useful steps that we can all follow to look after our mental health and prepare for the new year.

Here are some festive management strategies to help you deal with the coming season:

Plan ahead

As the end of the year fast approaches, it's OK to feel overwhelmed or a little burnt out. So be kind to yourself when you're planning what you will do.

If you're going to spend 25 December alone, or with a pet, take your mind off things by making sure you allow plenty of time for the things you enjoy.

Change your expectations

Being invited to social events and the pressure of living up to expectations can increase stress for people. We can easily start putting too much pressure on ourselves about what we should buy or do for others. Some of us might dread catching up with family because it may end in conflict.

You have a choice in how you spend your holiday season. It may be that you simply need to change your expectations or spend time with people who are supportive. It's OK to say no to things, or just the bits that you don't enjoy. It doesn't have to include a massive to-do list and be crammed with things you do out of obligation or tradition.

Manage conflict

This time of year can be stressful if there's tension between your family or friends. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, try to be as understanding as you can of other people's situations; most people are under stress to some degree too. Some other suggestions:

  • Break up celebrations; spread catch ups over several days rather than seeing everyone at once
  • Plan a group activity – such as backyard cricket – to keep people distracted
  • Try to avoid the silly season getting really silly; reduce the amount of alcohol that could contribute to arguments.

Be financially festive

The gifts, food and expectations can all start to add up. If you're not able to spend money comfortably, don't - this will only add to stress in the new year. Instead, do something meaningful for others and give gifts such as a handpicked care package, a babysitting voucher or offer to help with the huge pile of dishes after a family lunch.

Give back

Volunteering is a great way to boost self-esteem and support people who may be going through a difficult time and to make you feel less alone. You could serve a meal at a community centre, take gifts to a children's hospital or visit people at a nursing home (following COVID-19 guidelines, of course!). Some councils may also offer a community Christmas party you can join.

There are also other ways to give a gift that keeps on giving, donate to a charity, collect old nick-nacks, books or clothes and give them to an op shop, connect with a stranger or neighbour – it could be just the thing you both need to get in the holiday spirit.

Reflect and set goals

You can choose to take the opportunity to look back on your journey and celebrate your achievements – regardless how small they may seem.

As you plan for the year ahead, try to come up with positive and achievable goals that contribute to making you feel positive, healthy and fulfilled (and that give you a great sense of achievement). A good place to start is to jot down all the positive things you experienced and activities that made you feel good over the year. Focus on the things that build your confidence and bring you one step closer towards personal well-being.

By the way personal well-being is defined as:

  • Quality of everyday emotional experiences - joy, stress, sadness, anger, affection
  • The degree to which a person enjoys the possibilities of their life
  • Whether one achieves one's personal goals, hopes/aspirations

Stay in the present

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try to bring yourself back to where you are, slow your breathing down and try relaxing your muscles. Practising this can be a great coping strategy to manage emotions that may get stirred up around this time of year. These activities you can do almost anywhere and at no cost; or download the Smiling Mind app, and have strategies in your pocket for when you need to find a sense of peace and calm among the chaos.

Get support

If you're feeling alone or lonely, it's important to reach out and talk to someone. Sometimes it's difficult to talk about what's going on but it could be as simple as sending a text, a message on social media, inviting someone over for a cuppa or making a phone call.

The festive season can also bring up feelings of sadness and grief for people who have lost someone special. If you feel you can, talk about your loved one, share memories – and tears. You may also like to spend some time alone so you can think about your loved one. It's also OK to enjoy yourself, don't feel guilty, it doesn't mean you don't miss them.

If you’re looking for virtual companionship, Beyond Blue forums are available to seek support or information, join conversations, and share holiday coping strategies.

For HenderCare staff, we offer the services of Converge International (Employee Assistance Program) as well, which you can find through your Qintil account.

(adapted from SA Health well-being strategy, Beyond Blue, Smiling Minds, Psychology today by Teresa Barter)