Managing Christmas in 2020

By Aileen Manahan, Credentialed Mental Health Nurse and Nursing Unit Manager

Christmas can be a time when you hate being asked ‘How are you?’

We may love our families, however, some of us may have had a falling out with a parent, child, in-laws or sibling – and at Christmas time this can bring difficult relationships to the forefront.

Hark! ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’

Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ but warm in my heart!

Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognise your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place especially if the Christmas season has taken an emotional toll on you in the past. Remember that when stress is at its peak, it is hard to stop and regain control.

I will share tips on how to face and cope with the challenges of this festive season. I have practised all of these tips personally and have shared these with my family and friends as well as patients and clients as a Mental Health Nurse.

Acknowledge your feelings. Know that what you are feeling is valid. It is normal to feel sadness and grief if you cannot be with someone for any reasons such as death, relationship falling apart or lockdown and border closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. Don’t force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.

Learn to reach out. Try seeking out community, religious or other social events or communities if you feel isolated. Online support groups, social media sites or virtual events are now becoming the norm. They can offer support and companionship.

If you're feeling stress during the holidays, it also may help to talk to a friend or family member about your concerns. Try reaching out with a text, a call or a video chat.

Volunteering your time or doing something to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. For example, consider babysitting for your friend or dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend's home during the holidays.

Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect. Be open to changes and adapt new ways to celebrate this year. For example, if your adult children or other relatives can't come to your home, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Or meet virtually on a video call. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can still celebrate and have fun.

Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are. Set aside grievances this season and find the right time to discuss them. Be understanding of the feelings of others and behaviour as they may be feeling the stress of Christmas, just like you.

Stick to a budget. Don’t break your wallet by buying more and splurging on Christmas gifts. Make sure you have planned your budget before going shopping and stick to your plan. Give homemade cookies or pastries.

Learn to say No.  It is ok to say no to a party or a gathering if it means giving you more time to relax. Only say yes because you want to say yes and not because you felt you need to. People who love and know you will understand, if you cannot participate in every activity.

Plan ahead. Nothing beats planning ahead this festive season. If you plan ahead for your shopping, cooking and parties you will be avoiding traffic and chaotic shops, forgetting something for someone and missing ingredients for your favourite dish.

Keep your healthy habits. Christmas season is not a reason to overindulge with food, missing gym or exercise and not getting plenty of sleep. Don’t abandon your health habits and make this holiday season ‘a free for all’.

Have a healthy snack before holiday meals so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Eat healthy meals. Get plenty of sleep. Include regular physical activity in your daily routine.

Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga. Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

Be aware of how social media can produce undue stress. Avoid if necessary.

Make some time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. Take a break by yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

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