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Monday 11 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
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Opinion Staying well at Christmas - some tips from a therapist to help you mind yourself

Therapist Liz O’Driscoll says it’s important to remember that Christmas is only a couple of days and that we shouldn’t put too much pressure on ourselves.

THIS IS NOT just any old Christmas; this is a holiday season during a pandemic. As well as the usual pressures that come with Christmas we are also at the end of a very turbulent year, a year that was fully out of our control.

As well as the usual pressures of Christmas and the onset of winter we are also at the end of a year of unexpectedness. Unknowing, a sense of not being in control, are all factors that affect our health.

We have had to be adaptable in a way that we may have never experienced before. Homeschooling, working from home, all in the same environment at the same time, lack of choice and some would say lack of liberty.

This is a time for us to practice being gentle with ourselves and others. Have a chat with that inner critic and ask it to be gentle with you and yours!

In my experience of working as a psychotherapist I have seen a marked increase in anxiety and what one might come to call “Covid Fatigue” and “Covid Guilt” – “What if I give this virus to anyone?”. People have also had to find many ways to deal with bereavement, loss, lockdowns, isolation and loneliness.

It’s quite normal to feel a level of disconnect in these challenging times, perhaps you have been working from home and not feeling part of the team, no socialising, missing friends and families or if dealing with isolation in your normal life, this time may have intensified it.  

Change is possible

Now is maybe the time to look for new and more creative ways to connect. Some of us have been challenged by the virtual world however there are ways to develop hobbies and connections online.

Do some research and look into finding a counsellor or a group/class that you feel you could engage with. As this pandemic passes these resources will eventually return to face to face so that there will be a time when you can have that human contact again.

In terms of getting back to spending a little time with the wider family, this can be challenging. Be aware that our close ones can bring up past experiences and trigger us. It’s ok to set your boundaries.

It’s ok to decide what is acceptable to you and what is not. Have a think about general family triggers (alcohol, certain family members or conversations) and have a plan in terms of your reactions.

Quite often, our interactions and communication with family are automatic and we don’t even think about it until we are in the middle of another drama. Change the pattern. Often when we change how we act others have to change how they react!

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving. These gifts don’t have to be wrapped up in Christmas paper! Give of oneself, notice who around you might need your support. Notice who may be feeling isolated or in an abusive situation and gently just let them know that you are there for them.

With this as our background coming into Christmas this year, how do we maintain our already valiant attempts at being mindful of our mental health and “up the ante” in terms of minding ourselves over the break?

1.Manage your expectations: At the best of times, we have somewhat romantic expectations of Christmas and “family time”, in particular this Christmas where we have all come through a tough year, we may have even bigger expectations of the holidays. Just be aware of this and if things don’t go to plan, be as gentle and accepting as you can be with yourself and your loved ones.

2.Plan: If you find that you may be spending time alone over Christmas maybe look for others in your circle who may be in the same situation, do some research in your area for events that might be coming up for people who would like to join up for company. Try not to be nervous to open up about your situation, sometimes others are delighted to respond.

3.Fun: Fun can be seriously underrated as a way to help maintain our mental health. Seek out laughter (funny movies, funny stuff that has happened) encourage laughter and silliness as much as you can.

4.Exercise: Moving our bodies is so intrinsically connected to our mental health. Try to get out and walk. Wrap up well and grab the dog and off you go.

5.Talk: We all know how important it is to talk. If you have a sense of being overwhelmed or you are affected by what’s going on around you, make sure to keep in touch with confidantes or if that’s not a reality for you, seek out listening services who are there for you, such as an accredited therapist or a counsellor.

6.Boundaries: Boundaries can protect your own mental health. They are not “selfish”, so try to be aware of certain situations or irritations that might be triggering to you. Have a think about what you have to do, and the time you will be spending with others (or not) and decide on what you will and won’t accept. What you will not react to at this time, what you will not “bring up” at that moment.

7.Eat well: As Christmas is often a time of indulgence, try to look at eating as many fruit and vegetables as well, to ensure you’re still getting adequate nutrients in your diet and maybe consider supplements aimed at winter months and mood.

8.Watch the booze: If you’re not in a great place or are feeling isolated alcohol will again tend to intensify these feelings, so be mindful of how much you are consuming.

9.Social media: Be mindful of social media. It’s a terrific medium to help you feel more connected however like most things in life, social media also has its shady side. Most of the posts on social media present “perfect lives” that don’t necessarily exist but it’s hard not to go into “comparing” when you are feeling isolated so it makes sense that you might limit your time spent on them.

10.Don’t sweat the small stuff: Again, being mindful of your circumstances try to remember that Christmas, like pandemics, will pass. Bring yourself back to the moment and BREATHE.

If we consider the five main components of health and wellness being, physical, emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual it makes sense that we try to pay attention to all of these aspects of ourselves.

If nothing else, whatever our circumstances this year 2020 has taught us that our priorities may be nearer to home than we think. Our mental and physical health is of vital importance to us all year round.

Christmas is just a couple of days. We are now in a position to somewhat get off the road of frantic planning and enforced “happiness” and truly consider what we need from our lives, our religious holidays and traditions.

Never have we been more aware of the connection between our mental and physical health. We have resources now to support ourselves, not least counselling and psychotherapy. Slow down the pace!

Liz O’Driscoll is a member of the IACP Board of Directors. She is an accredited therapist and supervisor. She has developed RSE (relationship & sexual education) and PIPS (personal and interpersonal skills) in schools. She also has over ten years’ experience in the field of addiction in project leadership and group facilitation. She currently works in private practice.

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