Support, guidance & advice for todays primary carers
Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy, excitement, and love with family or friends.
However, for some Christmas may be met with some apprehension and challenges, particularly for those living with mental health challenges or for those who are supporting a loved one living with mental health challenges. Amid all the flurry of Christmas, taking time out to remember a few simple ways to protect your wellbeing could make all the difference.
Mental Health Organisation Helping Minds originally published this helpful Christmas countdown to ignite the joy of Christmas, specifically for carers.
12 days till Christmas: Be good, do good
It is important to realise that Christmas and the time leading up to it can be a difficult time for some. Not everyone has a family. Not everyone has a good relationship with their family. Not everyone has close friends. And many people don’t know what to do with themselves when Christmas comes around. If you know of someone who may not have family or friends to celebrate Christmas with, invite them over, offer them some company, this might be the biggest gift you will ever give.
11 days till Christmas: Create a ‘lift me up’ playlist
Feeling down, stressed, upset, angry, frustrated? With Christmas around the corner it’s easy to get overwhelmed. A great way to shift your mood is by playing happy tunes. Music has an incredible power; Create a playlist of music that lifts you up and play it when the Christmas stress is getting to you.
10 days till Christmas: Simplify life
Often, when Christmas comes around, we become incredibly busy, putting huge expectations on ourselves and on Christmas itself. On Christmas Day everything ‘has’ to be perfect, everyone ‘has’ to be together and everybody ‘should’ get along. However, this isn’t always the case. Be realistic and plan your celebrations with these facts in mind.
Some handy tips to simplify Christmas:
- If it works for you, have an open house and give your family permission to arrive whenever they want instead of a fixed time
- Instead of the traditional sit-down lunch, host a buffet or picnic, to create a more relaxed environment
- Ask your family to bring a plate to take the stress out of cooking
- Drop the gift-giving if it makes you feel stressed or try a Kris-Kringle instead, where everyone in the family buys one present for one person
9 days till Christmas: Find a way to relax
As Christmas approaches, many of us feel stressed by all the things we ‘think’ we ‘have to’ do, but it’s just as important to switch off and relax. Don’t wait until after Christmas, you hear me!
Some handy tips from the team:
- Exercise: walk, run, swim, cycle, roller-skate, dance
- Attend a yoga or meditation class
- Download a free relaxation app
- Listen to calming music
- Go to bed early
- Get a massage
- Go to the movies or watch your favourite movie at home
8 days till Christmas: Get some perspective
Although it’s known as the silly season, and lots of people are enjoying social drinks and events, there are just as many people dreading Christmas Day and wishing it to be over for another year.
For people with happy family relations it’s not always easy to understand how difficult Christmas can be for you if one or more family members are living with mental health challenges, or if you are struggling yourself.
Be kind to yourself and know that it’s okay not to be a Christmas fan and that you are not alone in feeling this way. Things to focus on:
- It’s an opportunity for reconnection – but only if you choose to
- You don’t ‘have to’ like Christmas or enjoy it
- It’s just another day – that’s all
- It only has meaning if you give it meaning
- You don’t ‘have to’ do Christmas gifts – there are many countries around the world where they don’t celebrate Christmas with gift giving
- You don’t ‘have to’ send Christmas cards – it’s a choice
- Focus on the good things, such as having time off work or school to relax
7 days till Christmas: Make a safety plan
If you are supporting a family member or a friend with mental health challenges or mental ill-health, you may have had unpleasant experiences during the Christmas period. Perhaps your loved one was hospitalised. Perhaps they had an episode. Or perhaps they were triggered by the alcohol served or the people around them.
Having a safety plan in place can bring ease of mind, to feel confident about what to do when things aren’t going as smoothly as you had hoped.
Sit down and write out the possible scenarios and what you will do in response. What is your plan B if they don’t turn up or when something unexpected happens? Who will you call? Check what services are open over Christmas and make sure you have another option if your go-to service is closed. Plan ahead for the worst-case scenario to ensure you won’t be alone.
6 days till Christmas: Start a new tradition
Often, we get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. Even if we don’t enjoy the annual Christmas celebration, we keep repeating the old way of celebrating; perhaps this was the way your parents celebrated and you’re repeating their tradition. If Christmas in its current form is a stressful event for you mix it up and start a new tradition.
Try a family outing, with a trip to the beach or a bushwalk. Get out of the house and enjoy a picnic or BBQ outdoors. Perhaps you could craft something together or make music. Is there a local event you could join or find some free music in the park?
Think outside the box and see if this year you and your family can start a new tradition that brings you joy.
5 days till Christmas: Write it down
Our mind is a tricky place and when we put too many thoughts, feelings, experiences and words inside, we can easily feel overwhelmed. Get your notebook out in the days leading up to Christmas, and just write. Write down everything (you think) you ‘have to’ do and everything you worry about. Don’t write it for anyone to read. Just write it to get it out.
This simple practice can help you through the lead up to Christmas. With a clear head, it’s much easier to decide what is a priority and what needs to be done.
4 days till Christmas: Stop comparing yourself to others
You are unique – your story is unique – your personality is unique – your family is unique. Don’t compare yourself to others and the Christmas they are having. Family situations can be complicated, especially when someone in your family is living with mental health challenges or you are struggling yourself. Accept YOU as you are. Accept your family as they are. Set boundaries and take action towards creating the Christmas you would like to have by communicating this to the people around you. Then, let it go and take Christmas as it comes. Without expectations. Without judgement. With acceptance.
3 days till Christmas: Set your differences aside for the day
Christmas is also known as the international day of peace. How about trying to put your differences with your family aside for a day?
Make a commitment to yourself to not get thrown off your balance and keep positive. It can be tough, we know, but it’s always worth a try. Everything starts with an intention, followed with commitment and then action. Try to keep the peace this Christmas and see what happens.
2 days till Christmas: Dealing with “difficulty” at Christmas
During Christmas time, we might have to spend time with family members that we experience as ‘difficult’, and this can be a challenge to deal with. Time to have your game plan ready, so you know how to respond in a healthy manner and keep the Christmas vibe alive.
- Set boundaries: What are you willing to accept and what not? Communicate your boundaries clearly. It’s okay to say no!
- Drink and eat in moderation, to help keep your emotions under control.
- If someone is acting out or feeling emotional, take them aside for a chat in private. Practise compassion and accept them for who they are. With some genuine care and support, their mood might lift and they may be able to participate in the festivities.
- We always have a choice in how much energy we give to a negative person. Shift your focus to the family members you enjoy interacting with. Give less time and energy to the difficult family member.
1 day till Christmas: What matters most?
One day to go before Christmas Eve. Have a think about what matters most this Christmas? We’ll give you a hint… it’s not the turkey.
Although Christmas means different things to different people, for most people it’s an opportunity to connect with their family. It is a time to be together, a time to relax and celebrate the start of Summer. It may also be a time to honour your religion and faith. Have a think about what it means to you and what your intention is and keep that in mind. It will also help you to stay centred if things don’t go to plan.
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