Christmas in Australia: the shopping centres are filled with perfectly decorated Christmas trees, long lines for Santa photos and upbeat festive tunes from Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé humming from every speaker. At home, Christmas movies are on every TV and Netflix channel, the kids are finishing school for the year and the smell of mangoes and sound of cicadas fill the warm summer nights. For many, these associations mean happy times with family and friends and reflecting on a wonderful year of health, love and laughter. For others, Christmas time and the holiday season are tinged with sadness, heartbreak, loneliness and grief. Unmet goals or resolutions, the burden of ill health, the loss of loved ones and feelings of hardship can be magnified at this time of year, when it seems like everyone else around you is so happy and festive. If someone you care about might be struggling this holiday period, here are some ideas for reaching out to them and showing you care. And if that someone is you, we’ve got tips to look after yourself in a healthy and positive way this Christmas season.
How often do we ‘intend’ to send that text message or make that phone call to tell someone we’re thinking of them? And how often does that well-intentioned thought quickly pass and get replaced by the myriad to-do lists and extra burdens of the Christmas period? Take a few minutes each day before you go to sleep to send a quick message to the three people who were on your mind that day. A simple ‘thinking of you’ or ‘how are you this week?’ can mean the world to someone, and brighten their day. Plus, thinking about others can help to give us perspective on our own issues, help form social bonds and potentially reduce our own depression and anxiety due to less self-focused thinking.
Know someone who might be spending Christmas alone? Perhaps they just moved to the area and don’t have a big social circle; perhaps they’ve lost a loved one this year and no longer have the security of their usual traditions. Check in with the host of your event and ask if they wouldn’t mind setting an extra place at the table. Don’t take it personally if they decline – being social among strangers can be a hard task for someone going through an emotional time at Christmas, but they will likely appreciate the invitation and thought.
If you want to connect with others and make new friends to share your holidays with, search for meetups happening in your area (organised group and social events, often free or cheap in cost); use Facebook to search for events near you, ask at your local church or community group for their social schedule, or check your local council website for Carols by Candlelight or other community events.
Running around trying to find last-minute Christmas gifts, attend school concerts, flutter between social events and see every friend and family member before the end of year for ‘Christmas catch-ups’ can be overwhelming, stressful and expensive. A simple antidote is to take some time for yourself and head back to basics, in nature. Go camping for a night (even if it’s in your own backyard), head to a rainforest or the beach, go for a long hike, catch a sunset, take up bird watching or swim in your local pool. Nature can be a grounding force, can reset our energies and help us to keep perspective on what’s important at this time of year. If you know someone who is going through a rough time this Christmas, ask them to join you. Or better yet, ask them what their favourite nature pursuit is and offer to accompany them.
If you’re altruistically inclined and dedicated to helping others, not just for the festive season but beyond, consider enrolling in a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Course. One in five Australians will experience mental illness in their lives, and stigma and lack of knowledge about, or access to, treatment options can often exacerbate these conditions. MHFA courses can teach you how to listen and respond to someone with a mental health problem, even if they are experiencing a crisis. You’ll learn how to help someone to access the support they might need for the successful management of symptoms as part of their recovery. Courses are certified and can often be subsidised by your workplace or charitable organisations.
It can be easy to turn to alcohol or to drink more than usual during the festive season. Whether it’s the social pressure of Christmas events, a way to unwind from the extra stress, or to cope with feelings of loneliness and loss. While this may feel good in the short term, it can lead to negative coping patterns being established that are harder to break, down the track. If you’re considering quitting, cutting back or even maintaining the amount of alcohol you drink, type ‘Daybreak’ into your phone’s app download store and start connecting with others on a similar journey. It’s free for Australians and there’s also a desktop version if you prefer to use your computer.
If you feel like your problems are insurmountable and can’t be solved on your own, or if you’re seriously concerned about a loved one, it’s time to call in the professionals.
Lifeline is a free service for any Australian experiencing a personal crisis, and offers access to 24-hour support and suicide prevention services via phone and online chat.
Kids Helpline is a free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for Australian young people aged 5 to 25, and offers support anytime, for any reason.
Remember, you are not alone. It’s quite normal to feel different emotions at this time of year and it’s ok to admit it. If you’re not feeling yourself, reach out to someone you trust and let them know, or seek professional support.
We wish all our community a safe, happy and healthy Christmas season!