Hope for Christmas

In general, Christmas is my favourite time of year. And I don’t have any religiousness in my system. For me, Christmas is about connection with people and the opportunity to celebrate love and life with those we care about most. And there’s Christmas movies. Christmas movies are the best.

But I’ve also had holidays seasons that have been challenging and difficult. There’s been Christmas times when my mood has been particularly low and feelings of shame and guilt were strong. And other Christmas’s where shopping centres brought on mild to moderate to pretty severe anxiety and panic. Symptoms such as these can have pretty mammoth consequences. Even when surrounded by loved ones, there were times when I felt incredibly alone and lonely during ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. And that really sucks.

Research has shown that Christmas and the holiday season can be a challenging and stressful time for all of us. And for those who might be experiencing a mental illness they can be even more vulnerable to experiencing increased stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness during the festive period. Furthermore, for those who have lost loved ones during the previous year (or ever), Christmas can amplify feelings of grief, loss and sadness.

In an attempt to alleviate some of this stress, Hope Street Cards provided an advent calendar of sorts to our friends on social media (facebook and Instagram). Over 25 days we gave 25 tips and strategies in an attempt to help everyone get the most joy out of the holiday season.

And in case you missed it, I’ll share it for you now ….

XMAS1-5

1. Planning.
It is still not too late to plan ahead! Leaving things to the last minute can cause unnecessary stress. Planning ahead can save you time and money. Write some lists – jobs to do, presents to buy, groceries you need, people you’d like to see. Lists are excellent, because once they’re written it often feels like the jobs nearly done – winning!
2. Pace yourself.
Try not to get too caught up in the hustle and bustle of all things Christmas. It’s way anxiety-provoking. Christmas is not a race. Take it at your own pace.
3. Exercise.
Physical activity is pretty amazing. It releases the feel good chemicals – endorphins – into the brain which help you to relax, feel happy and boost your mood. Smart people have also found that exercise reduces anxiety and depression and increases self-esteem. Starting to stress? Maybe it’s time to go for a walk!
4. Do something you enjoy.
Just because it’s the holiday season and you and everyone else is very, very busy does not excuse not making time for the pleasant events in your life. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the Christmas, do something unrelated that makes you feel good. Go for a walk, to the cinema, read a book, have a bath, binge watch The Wire. These things are vital for caring for yourself.
5. Get high on oxytocin.
This season provides us with an ideal opportunity to talk to, visit, or engage with the people around us. Did you know that face to face communication increases as our mental and physical wellbeing by producing the chemical oxytocin? The very same chemical released when you use heroin! So make connections. Have shared experiences. Get high on the oxytocin – Yeah!

XMAS6-10

6. Shop online.
Does the busyness, chaos and noise of the shopping centres fill you with anxiety and dread? Maybe this is something best to avoid at Christmas time. Reduce your anxiety and beat the crowds by making your purchases online and have them delivered to your door!
7. When stress strikes – Strike back!
Social functions and events can be stressful, whether they’re with colleagues, family, friends, people you don’t yet know. Be aware of this and take with you a timeout and an exit strategy plan for when stress strikes. How are you going to safely and calmly leave the scene when something stressful enters? And don’t be afraid to be the ghost that no one saw leave the party. “That was one good exit strategy” they will remark.
8. Budgeting.
Whilst dull, it’s pretty important to keep track of your Christmas spending. No one wants to enter the New Year with a raging credit card hangover from the party you had at the shops in December. And it’d be a bit embarrassing if the scary men from the loan repayment company came to dispossess that massive, curved-screen tele you bought your partner. Probs best then to keep reviewing your spending and try not to go to over the top when it comes to the budget blowout.
9. Acknowledge your feelings.
If you lost someone close to you this year, or you can’t be with the people most important to you at this time, realise that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s more than okay to take time to cry and express your feelings. It’s going to best for you in the long run if you do. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season and some idiot once sung “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”. Because let’s face it, for a lot of people it’s not.
10. Do some good.
Helping others is really, really good for your own mental health and wellbeing. It can reduce stress, improve your mood, enhance your self-esteem and increase your happiness levels. And Christmas is a great opportunity to volunteer for a charity or local community organisation to provide essential support and encouragement to people in need.

XMAS11-15

11. Sleep.
Are you getting enough? Just because it’s the holiday season, is not a sufficient enough reason for one of the most rejuvenating, restorative and ridiculously amazing bodily functions to not be a priority. Try and get the sleep you need and feel all the better for it.
12. Ask for some assistance.
As always, if things are feeling as if they are too much, it’s really, really, really important to talk to someone about it. Try not to be afraid of asking for help, or accepting the assistance. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. If you feel there’s no one you can talk to, pick up the phone and you’ll find some lovely people to talk it out with on this number: Lifeline – 13 11 14
13. Sing.
Did you know that singing releases endorphins? The hormone associated with feelings of pleasure. Or that singing sets off the chemical oxytocin? The chemical which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress and lessen feelings of depression and loneliness. Study after study has found that singing relieves anxiety and contributes to quality of life. So let’s not become irritated by the repetitive onslaught of Christmas jingles – let’s all sing along! It’s good for us.
14. Alcohol.
The Christmas and New Year period often involves social drinking and consuming alcohol in moderate amounts might make you feel relaxed and comforted. It’s important to remember though that alcohol in large or excessive amounts becomes a depressant and can lead to a low mood, irritability and can have some potentially potent effects when mixed with some psychiatric medications. Try and be aware of your alcohol intake to keep things as fun and festive as possible.
15. Identify what YOU want to do.
What Christmas traditions important to you? Which activities are significant? Try and prioritise these activities and decline the activities which may cause additional stress or are insignificant for you. Furthermore, once you recognise that what you are doing is a choice, you may find it easier to relax into the occasion.

XMAS16-20

16. Manage relationships.
Now I don’t want to generalise here, but it has been reported (reasonably often) that family tensions can boil over at Christmas as relatives come together in an environment that can often be stressful where alcohol flows freely. If you’re feeling worried about this, it is a good idea to be aware of triggers in advance and try and avoid these at the time. If you’re at risk of drinking a lot, it might be a good idea to try and raise any issues you may have with family members before or after the event. It’s usually best to have these conversations in private and with minimal amounts of alcohol involved.
17. Look for the good.
Lots of really, really nice stuff does happen at Christmas time. Research shows that people give more to charity during this time, there is an increase in community support and enhanced goodwill felt from others. Take the time to notice this stuff. This stuff can make you feel nice.
18. Don’t discriminate.
Christmas events can see people of different gender identities, religions, ethnic backgrounds and ages, who might not otherwise gather together. Research shows discrimination can damage people’s mental health and it’s never acceptable, so don’t ruin someone else’s holiday by being a bigot.
19. Kick loneliness to the curb.
Feeling lonely is one of the most awfulest of the emotions to feel. And for many people this awful feeling can be really amplified at Christmas time. If you can’t be near family and friends, really try and connect with them however you can. Try and attend some of the community events on at this time of year (singing carols with candles anyone?), volunteer for a local charity. Most importantly make sure you have something planned for Christmas Day. A lot of communities get together and put on Christmas feasts to ensure that no one is alone on the day. Do what you can to find out where this event is and get involved.
20. Reflecting on 2015
If reflecting back on the year that is almost at it’s end, causes you distress, keep it close in mind that you have nearly survived it! Congratulations on completing 2015! For many people out there this is a massive achievement and it needs to be celebrated. And maybe it’s more about looking forward to 2016. If the universe deserted you in 2015, how are you going to take it on in 2016?

XMAS20-25

21. Use the ‘N’ word.
Are you like me and do you say “Yes” when you really want to say “No”? It’s not a good place to be and it can often leave me feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Try and tune into your feelings and be honest. I’m learning to say No when I don’t really want to do something and it feels wonderful! I’m finding that friends, family and colleagues really do understand that I can’t participate in every activity and it means when I do get involved I’m so much less stressed and more fun! Give it a go.
22. Be flexible.
We’re getting to the pointy end now. The big day is nearly here. You’ve done all the planning, the prep and you’re feeling organised and relaxed. Good on you! Despite all that excellent work, it’s important to remember that probably not everything will go to plan. It never really does. Particularly when other people get involved. Remember that this is okay and try and be flexible when the plan goes pear shaped.
23. Relax
Keep in tune with your feelings and recognise any signs of stress that might be appearing. If you notice that you’re becoming a little irritated or upset try some simple relaxation exercises – take a break, do some deep breathing exercises or go for a walk. It’ll do wonders for you.
24. Laugh. A Lot.
We should always try and do this as much as we possibly can. Research has shown that individuals who laugh easily and frequently have better self-esteem and a much more positive outlook on life in general. Laughter reduces mental tension and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more. Both sides of the brain are stimulated during laughing encouraging clarity, humour and creativity and better problem solving ability. So if things are starting to feel a bit stressful, try and find a funny side. And then laugh about it.
25. Have fun!
Eat, drink and be merry! Today is your day. Be mindful of yourself and others and from our family to yours, we wish you a peaceful, safe and hopeful holiday!



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