While Christmas may inspire excitement and anticipation in children, it commonly triggers feelings of isolation, worry, anxiety or stress in adults.
It seems the calendar has barely turned past Father’s Day in September, when suddenly the shops are filled with Christmas decorations and gift ideas. There is often a sense of shock at how quickly the year has passed, and we may wonder what else has passed us by, or needs to be done urgently in preparation for the year’s closing.
The Meaning of Christmas for YOU
It may be useful amidst the rising chaos to ask the question:
“What does this time of year mean to you, personally, as a family or community?”
For some it is a religious occasion, celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that it signifies. Other faiths may respect the spiritual relevance for Christians, and while not sharing this belief, create their own celebration or meaning for the holiday period.
Sadly, for many, there may be no spiritual meaning at all, with the festivities adding to financial burdens and stress levels. Instead of being happy occasions, family get-togethers only grate on already strained relationship dynamics.
No matter what your perspectives or belief, the question remains:
How can the celebration of Christmas, a significant event in history which represents an individual’s sacrifice for the greater good, also be a time of grief, loneliness and stress for so many?
Christmas Stress & Loneliness
Loneliness and isolation are exacerbated for individuals during this time of year, particularly if they are part of our marginalized community. Here are just some of the reasons why:
- The ABS anticipates that by the year 2012; 1:8 people will be living alone compared to 1:12 of 1996.
- Single parent families are set to reach over one million, with 30% having a child aged between o-4.
- Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, 20% of the population living alone will be 75 or older, and one third of these will be women.
Social supports are intrinsic to maintaining good mental health but as these statistics show, there are many folk that are not well connected, whether through geographic distance, low socio-economic status, addictions or mental health conditions.
Isn’t it part of our human condition to need to belong, to be accepted? Community is part of our human story and to participate in community is the cry of our heart. Arts programs, street theatre, food festivals, council endorsed events, music, health and wellbeing programs and religious celebrations, are all ways of experiencing community.
Interestingly, suicide rates decrease at this time of year due to the protective factors such as family support. However, suicides peak in January as those supports withdraw. Our 15-25 year olds are at the greatest risk, with one suicide occurring in Australia every 4 hours.
If you are isolated and hurting, seek help from your own family or friend network. If you are emotionally distressed, professional help such as seeing a counsellor or psychologist may be useful. At M1 Psychology Loganholme, we offer a free emotional health check to new clients to help guide you to the right therapist for your situation – and your budget.
This, more than any other time of year, is an opportunity to reach out to someone near, someone in your community that you can positively influence by a gesture of support and kindness. It could be a neighbour, a young person who needs encouragement, an old person who needs company, a mum or dad who could do with a few groceries to get them through. Discover the truth of the old saying: It is more blessed to give than to receive!
It is encouraging to see some Christian church groups and other non-religious or not-for-profit organizations have outreach programs and extend offers of help through provision of shelters, Christmas lunches, food vans, and gift donations.
Statistics show that in addition to the isolation people suffer at this time of year, many families experience financial stress and hardship exacerbated by overspending.
Tips for Handling Christmas Stress
So what are the possibilities for handling Christmas stress?
- Decide what Christmas means to you – formulate a values statement and explore what is unique to you and your family. Make a list of things you believe in and stand for, that Christmas embodies to you.
- Create your own traditions and rituals that uphold your values, and help you celebrate in your own unique way.
- Set a budget (and stick to it!).
- Avoid using your credit card – if you have to use credit, reduce your credit card limit to one that is manageable.
- Plan ahead. Make small purchases, such as gift cards, through the year that are included in your weekly grocery bill rather than becoming a stand alone debt at the end of the year.
- Make or purchase a good quality Christmas tree and decorations that can be stored and reused.
- Plan your menu and activities within your budget.
- Purchase non-perishable food items earlier in the year in addition to weekly groceries so the cost is spread out (always check the expiry date!).
- Check out which churches/organizations are providing a free Christmas meal, and participate as a consumer – or go along and offer your time to serve others.
- If shopping is stressful, you are tempted to spend too much, and you have a willing teenager- get them to look online for specials, give them the budget and gift list and let them do the leg-work!
- You can choose to donate your gift to a good cause, either local or one that is significant to you.
- See an accountant or financial advisor about reducing existing debt.
- Limit alcohol intake, and make sure you keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Reduce your expectations – go for the ‘good enough’ rule.
- Attend to your physical health needs such as rest and exercise.
- Know your limits.
This list is certainly not exhaustive and is only a common sense guide. It is not designed to replace professional financial advice – but can certainly help you manage Christmas and the stress it brings!
Remember, if you can find the meaning of Christmas, maybe connect with the spiritual significance of “for the greater good”, you can set some goals close to your heart that don’t include blowing your budget or being alone.
If you dread the thought of Christmas and struggle to find the joy of the festive season, please consider making an appointment with me, so that we can explore ways to help you find meaning in the season!
Author: Julie Fickel, RN, PG Cert Health Science, PG Diploma Midwifery.
Julie Fickel is a midwife and counsellor with a passion for supporting women and their partners.
With over 20 years in family health, Julie has developed skills around communication and supporting individuals and their families to cope with change, grief and loss; fostering resilience during times of crisis or distress and more recently trauma therapy. She worked for Lifeline as a telephone counsellor, and group trainer for 3 years, as well as facilitated women’s recovery ministry groups while studying pastoral care.
Julie has extensive experience in counselling couples in pregnancy, parenting and partnering. She has a special interest in perinatal women’s issues with additional training at Griffith University to provide counselling for pregnancy, parenting support, perinatal mental health (depression and anxiety), and perinatal trauma.
Please note: Julie Fickel is currently not practising
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