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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 23 October, 2019
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'It’s the most wonderful time of the year… is it?'

Many look forward to Christmas and New Year as it is a time to reconnect with family, however, for others, it’s not so easy.

Dil Wickremasinghe

CHRISTMAS TIME IS a very special time of year for people in Ireland and indeed across the world. A season which at its heart has religious significance and is observed by people of all and no faiths because of its message of goodwill.

The season has become synonymous with exchanging cards and gifts and more recently the bizarre tradition of wearing embarrassingly cheesy jumpers!

Christmas is meant to be a time for celebration as we wish each other a “merry” or “happy” Christmas and even the carols herald the season as being the most wonderful time of the year.

However, for many, this time of year is bittersweet for so many reasons – for some it’s a painful reminder of a loved one that has passed on or can’t be with the family because they are unwell and have to spend Christmas in hospital or a nursing home.

Missing family members 

For thousands of families across Ireland there are empty seats at the dinner table because many had to emigrate to find work and the closest they are going to get to them is a Skype call.

Spare a thought for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees who will undoubtedly feel homesick during the festivities. Think of the estimated 30,000 undocumented migrants here in Ireland who can’t travel to see their loved ones at this time of year.

These are just some of the stories of people who can’t be with loved ones for physical, immigration and financial barriers.

Then there are many other stories of people who have plenty of family, but are just not welcome in the family home such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Some are even rejected by their own children because when they came out it resulted in the breakup of the family unit.

Speaking of breakups, this is a particularly tough time for those who came out of relationships as this season can feel so empty compared to those of years gone by. Consider all those who are in prison and can’t come home for all the will in the world.

Last but not least are people who are struggling to make ends meet or are completely down on their luck – the thousands who are homeless and will sleep rough.

Not an easy time for some 

Many look forward to Christmas and New Year as it is a time to reconnect with family, however, for some the very prospect of time at home can trigger existing or new mental health problems due to unresolved issues.

The pressure to be happy, merry and joyful can often exacerbate this.

So what can you do to look after your mental health during this challenging period?

  • If you find being with family difficult, don’t over commit your time and take it in small measures.
  • Schedule regular five minute time outs during a long day – go for a walk, call a friend, read a book of choice. Knowing these are planned will alleviate some of the anxiety associated with a long day in company.
  • Visit yourmentalhealth.ie here, to access community supports in your area open during the holiday period.
  • If you are away from family and loved ones and feel isolated, consider volunteering your time with a charity which has meaning for you.
  • Spend time with friends and people who support you, who make you feel at ease and who you enjoy a sense of freedom and fun with.
  • Access wellnessworkshop.ie – a mental health self-management tool, which allows you to self-reflect and learn self-care tools, accessible from your home free of charge.
  • Consider others in the same position – ask yourself what you would do to support them – and then do the same for yourself.
  • If you’re alone and unable to reach out to anyone, contact the Samaritans on 116 123
  • If the Christmas period is a continuously stressful trigger for you, consider speaking to a counsellor/psychotherapist in the New Year.

Above all, remind yourself that Christmas Day is just that – a one day event and it too will pass! Ask yourself what helped you last year or how you would have liked to spend the holiday period and use this to steer your choices this time round.

Wishing you peace of mind this Christmas, however and wherever you choose to find it.

This article was written by Dil Wickremasinghe, a social justice and mental health broadcaster of Global Village, Newstalk 106-108 FM, Saturday 7-8pm and Training Director with Insight Matters – Inspiring change in self and society through personal development, psychotherapy and counselling and Anne Marie Toole – Clinical Director of Insight Matters, who is qualified from the University Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy with PCI College. 

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Dil Wickremasinghe

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