Looking after Yourself and Eachother This Holiday Season

As the festive season approaches, it’s easy to get carried away on a wave of cheer, good food, drink and gift-buying.

But for many people, Christmas is not a joyful time. Perhaps you or someone you know is dealing with losing a loved one. Or maybe you are battling alcohol or drug addiction, or suffering from loneliness, isolation, depression or anxiety.

Here are a few pointers on how to improve your ability to cope, and how to take care of yourself and others around you if you know someone who might be struggling.

1. Feeling Lonely, Homesick or Isolated

Lonely Homesick

If the media images are to be believed, Christmas is all about family togetherness – but this is not the reality for many people. A huge percentage of Perth’s population is made up of immigrants from all over the world – Ireland and the UK, Europe, Asia, India, Africa. So it’s not surprising if maybe you are feeling homesick or left out of the sense of closeness and comfort that Christmas tends to promote. Here are some ways to combat loneliness at Christmas:

  • Invite other people who are at a loose end around for a meal. Particularly look out for elderly neighbours
  • Spend the day volunteering
  • Find community, religious or other social events that you can join – a chance to make new friends
  • Embrace the solitude. If you are facing the day alone, turn it into an opportunity to really treat yourself. Plan a special day to nurture yourself, for example, having a movie marathon, eating your favourite foods, or taking a walk to a favourite spot in nature.

2. Dealing with Anxiety, Depression and Grief

Anxiety Depression Grief
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year, and Christmas can magnify anxiety and depression as you face additional pressure to feel ‘joyful and merry’. Financial stress can also increase anxiety as you try to buy presents on a tight budget.

If you have lost a loved one, Christmas can be a painful reminder of your bereavement, bringing your grief to the surface as you miss the time you would have spent with them. Or if some family relationships have broken down you may be confronted with stressful decisions about who to spend Christmas with and grieving how things used to be in the good times.

Here are some suggestions on how to cope with anxiety, depression and loss, as well as how to support others dealing with these issues:

Take Time Out

Even if it is just 15 minutes, regularly spend some time doing a stress-reducing activity such as:

  • Walking
  • Listening to music that makes you feel calm
  • Doing some breathing exercises
  • Using a simple meditation app like ‘Headspace‘, or a basic Progressive Relaxation technique.
  • Treating yourself to a massage to reduce muscle tension
  • Reading a book you enjoy

Know Your Limits and Plan Ahead

Have an exit strategy and a back-up plan for every potentially stressful or upsetting situation. Plan ahead so that you don’t have to come up with an excuse in an emotionally heightened state. If you know that shopping centres and crowds are trigger points for you, try to shop online and restrict shopping trips to off-peak times for short periods. Set a budget and stick to it, and try not to overschedule, leaving a day or two between each big activity.

Reach Out for Help

Rather than waiting until you have reached crunch point, be alert to your warning signs and reach out for help as soon as you need it. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional if you are struggling. If you are under treatment for any mental illness, make sure you have the emergency number for contacting your doctor or other health professional during this time.

If you are grieving and need some support, you can call the Griefline. You can find a full list of national helplines and websites for depression here.

Set Clear Boundaries

At Christmas, there can be a lot of pressure to say yes when you want to say no, which can lead to overwhelm and tip the scale when it comes to triggering any mental health issues. Unfortunately, Christmas time can highlight divisions and emotional tensions in families.

Maybe you want to simply spend a quiet Christmas without the big family dinner. If so, you might need to be firm with family members. If you feel unable to participate in every activity, choose those that are most important to you, and explain to others that you need to take care of your health at this time.

Accept and Allow Feelings

If you have experienced a bereavement or separation, take the time to acknowledge your feelings without trying to change them. Know that it is normal to not feel in the “holiday spirit” when you are dealing with a loss, and that Christmas heightens the memories and emotions. Don’t be afraid to reach out and allow yourself to keep Christmas as low-key as you need it to be, making sure to do nurturing things for yourself at this time.

If Someone You Know is Struggling

Allow them the space to feel their feelings. Provide a listening ear but don’t try to fix or save. Simply being accepting of someone as they are right now, and being open to hearing how they feel, goes a long way. You might feel helpless if someone you care about is struggling. Recommend some of the resources mentioned in this article.

3. Coping with Substance Issues at Christmas

Substance abuse at Christmas

Alcohol is a prominent guest at most festive season parties, adding to Australias already well-established drinking culture. And if you have substance abuse issues or are close to someone who does, this is a particularly challenging time to navigate.

Stress, anxiety, isolation or depression can all make you more susceptible to any addictions you suffer from. If alcohol issues are a problem, see Alcoholics Anonymous to find a meeting near you, or try Narcotics Anonymous for drug problems. Or see an addiction counsellor. Plan ahead to create safe and healthy alternatives to parties, such as going to a movie with a friend or going to the gym. If you are affected by someone elses drinking, you can go to an Al-Anon meeting. 
Christmas can really pile on the stress as well as highlight any existing issues, so it’s a good idea to be prepared and find some ways to minimise the impact. If you are struggling at this time, you are not alone – and there is help available. Get in touch with us to talk things through.