Ways to gently navigate Christmas 2019
A Festive Wellbeing Message from SA Mental Health Commissioner Chris Burns CSC & the SAMHC team
Whether you celebrate Christmas, have other festive traditions, or none at all, this time of year can feel stressful.
There may be end-of-year deadlines to meet, kids home on school holidays, the juggle of invitations, present buying or event preparations, or just being surrounded by Christmas marketing (and carols!) that can add to a sense of being overwhelmed.
The pressure to be something we might not feel like being can amplify sensations of loneliness and disconnection. Even the pressure to being joyful and celebratory can magnify feelings of anxiety, alone-ness or grief for some of us.
Please know that if this time of year is tough for you, you are not alone and there are many things we can all do to navigate the season gently.
Set compassionate expectations
Often we have a strong sense or vision of what our festive season ‘should’ be like and this can set us up for disappointment if it doesn’t turn out quite as we would like it to.
Being realistic and kind about what’s possible at this time of year can help us stay grounded, take good care of ourselves and respond to request from others kindly.
- Acknowledge the reality that sometimes things might not go to plan and/or people don’t always behave the way we want them to. This can help us to use our energy to choose how we deal with what is possible rather than waste it on getting frustrated at what isn’t.
- Write a list of what’s necessary for you to stay grounded (such as sleep, exercise, good food, time out – see more ideas in the next section) alongside other commitments such as work or family events, and then finally list the things you would like to do over the festive season.
- Check your list with someone you trust and if there’s too much on it, decide together what things can go, but the things that keep you grounded must stay on the list.
Take good care
At the end of the year, our energy levels can be low and our stress levels high, and calendars can be busy which can add a lot more to our task lists.
Being aware of – and meeting – our own needs (as best we can), helps us negotiate our way through these demands more kindly and realistically.
- Prioritise time every day to do the things that keep you well and happy and soothe your nervous system; such as time alone, cuddling a pet, going for a walk in nature, having a bath, getting to bed early, listening to favourite music, calling a friend, or having a cup of tea in the sunshine – you’ve probably already listed many in your expectation list above.
- On days we are likely to need a bit more care, like Christmas Day, it may help to build in time to do two or three extra nourishing activities. This can be as simple as pausing to take three deep breaths: inhale, exhale, repeat.
- Take a moment here and there to slow down. We can mindfully slow down our breathing, our talking, and even how fast we walk if we notice feeling rushed or stressed. With this being a frantic time of year for many people, engaging in simple steps to slow down will help give us moments of pause and rest.
The demands that are made of us at this time of year can often be unrealistic and may expect us to give more time, energy and money than is possible or comfortable for us.
Financial strain can play a big part in experiencing stress around Christmas time. The chaos of shopping centres, crowds and trying to find the right gift for people can be exhausting.
- Practise sitting with the discomfort of saying “no” and offer only what you can.
- Consider giving a more meaningful present that does not necessarily involve spending a lot of money. For example, baking some treats, potting a plant, printing some photos of special memories, or gifting an experience can be lovely ways to give without needing to set foot into the shops!
- Resist the temptation to be generous beyond your means.
- Offer your presence with people in our community who may be lonely or in need over the festive season. Check in with your council or other community organisations in your local area about how you might be able to help.
Have a plan for Christmas Day
Relationships within families can be messy and complicated and these tensions can sometimes be amplified during the festive season.
A day of family gatherings can sometimes be tough to negotiate! Focusing on qualities that we do enjoy and appreciate about our families can help us defuse family conflict. Planned time out can also help.
- Consider giving yourself permission to shorten your stay at events, limit contact with people who you don’t feel emotionally safe around, or avoid attending these gatherings all together if that is what is best for you.
- If you find the socialising gets too much (but you aren’t able to leave) take a break and head outside if you can to find a quiet spot to relax and breathe slowly*.
- If you’re on your own, celebrate your wonderfulness and do something special in your own fine company – perhaps filling your day with all the things you love to do.
- If you’d rather not be alone, organise a time to catch up with a friend or on the phone, or consider volunteering and find out if there is a local organisation or charity that you could help out at.
- Negotiate beforehand a time to check-in with a friend for a chat if you need. If it turns out you don’t need to chat about the day, you can still send a text of well wishes to your friend and thank them for being willing to be there for you.
*Know that it can take on average between 20–60 minutes for our bodies to calm down after challenging situations like an argument, disagreement or unpleasant experience and that this time extends the longer the situation continues. A simple way to calm and regroup is to get away from the situation: leave the room, go outside (then you get the double wellbeing benefit of being in nature) and pay close attention to your feet and sensing into how they feel on the ground. Another way is to check in with your senses by naming 5 things you can feel, see, smell or touch. Give yourself permission not to return to the function until you feel calm again.
This time of the year can be really difficult for those of us who have lost a loved one.
If there is someone missing from our tables, we can take time to feel sad and remember the person we loved. Taking time to acknowledge both how tough it can be to miss someone and how special it can be to remember and appreciate their presence in our lives, even if they are no longer with us, we can
- share memories of them with others,
- visit their resting or another special place
- write them a letter.
If things get really tough
Even with the best planning and intentions, this time of year can get the better of us. If you find you are needing some extra support over the Festive Season and someone to talk to, the following services might be of help:
- Lifeline – you can call 13 11 64 (24 hours), text or webchat (6pm -12am) or access resources online at 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
- Lived Experience Telephone Support Service – you can call 1800 013 755 or webcat (5pm – 11.30pm) letss.org.au
We wish you a safe, happy and restful Festive Season and a kind and self-compassionate transition into 2020.
By SA Mental Health Commissioner Chris Burns CSC and the SAMHC Team. With special thanks to SAMHC Principal Project Officer, Community Engagement, Emma Willoughby for her thoughtful words and wisdom.
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