This is the Rusty Siren guide to keeping your spirits up in the build up to Christmas with some mental health tips. I don’t personally like to think about Christmas before the middle of December but these days I’ve found it is in our faces as soon as Halloween is over. Evidence suggests that mental illness may increase at Christmas, this is my personal guide to dealing with the whole Christmas thing with minimal stress.
The challenges of this time of year are obvious and well known:
Money. This has become an expensive festival and the pressure is on to spend more and more. When we feel obliged to spend more than we have this is a huge source of stress. Several years ago I had a chat with my family. We decided to cut back on presents. We all know we love each other so we don’t unconsciously try to measure love by present monetary value. Family policy now is children get bigger presents adults get a token present. Homemade presents are very welcome. We’re all relieved and happy with this.
Time. Lots of us find ourselves working extra hours to get the extra money we need which then obviously leaves us less time to do the Christmas shopping. My answer is to start the planning and organising early (hence why I’m writing this now). I know this will annoy some people; I used to get irritated by the organised types who had Christmas all sewn up when I was just starting to panic around the 20th of December! I’ve now joined their ranks. I’ve also caught up with the rest of you in the 21st century and do some of my shopping on-line. The earlier start leaves longer for the gifts to arrive. For the shopping I can’t get on-line I plan shopping expeditions in the local towns. I start early and generally have a loose plan of what I will get and where I will get it. When it goes well I reward myself with a gift too! There have been times when I’ve not managed to get a single present but still got myself a gift.
Also, about now is when I start to think about posting any cards which need to go overseas.
Perfect-family-syndrome. The television is full of adverts for Christmas now. Often a perfect family is shown; the beautiful couple with the happy children whose life is made even happier by the perfect Christmas they are having. If that’s you then you have my best wishes and I am truly glad for you and hope you have a fantastic time. Most of us at some point fall short of that ideal scene. As a divorced dad my Christmases have been a little different. When my children were younger I used to feel guilty that I had deprived them of this perfect Christmas. Often my shift pattern has meant that I have been working on Christmas day or Christmas night. The way we got round this was to plan a day near Christmas when we had our own Christmas. I came to love our alternative Christmas days. The kids are adult now but we still enjoy our custom.
Through working the Christmas period I know that a lot of people feel increasingly lonely and depressed at this time – I think this is made worse by the Perfect-family-syndrome pushed by the advertisers. It’s important to remember that a lot of people also feel lonely and low at this time of year and that it isn’t unusual. Times when I’ve been alone on the day itself I’ve still planned treats for myself – nice food and tried to have a relaxing day and included a nice walk in the fresh air.
The years where Tony and I are working Christmas day we each bring a microwave Christmas dinner so when we get our 30 minutes on station we can still feel quite festive. I generally eat all the mince pies, Tony doesn’t really like them!
Extended time with family. During the holiday period we tend to spend more time than we are used to with our families. Much as we love them, this may also cause increased stress. Then as the anxiety rises and patience levels drop we feel guilty for feeling like this when we’ve probably been looking forward to spending this time with our loved ones and feel that we shouldn’t feel like this. It’s good to take a realistic view at times like this. It’s natural that there will be tension when spending more time than we usually do with our families, especially if staying at their house and adapting to their routines. This is part of being a human. When this has happened to me I just accept that this is natural and I rely on my go-to remedy for everything: I go for a walk and practice my relaxation techniques.
Despite what it might look like from above I do love Christmas. I’m a big kid at heart and love all the shiny lights and decorations. I do think people are kinder and more loving to each other for a brief period of the year. Regardless of spiritual or religious views I think we all think more about loving and giving at this time of year.
I hope you all have a relaxed and stress free build up to Christmas (It’s way too early to wish Merry Christmas yet!).