I’ve been thinking about Christmas, and how triggering it can be for many. My youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer at Christmas time, and started chemo on Christmas Eve. It will never be the same again for me. But I’ve been thinking beyond our own personal family trauma too. With the cost-of-living crisis in the UK, on the back of Covid which is still fresh in most people’s minds, I’m mindful that Christmas could be a tricky time for many.
I was reading an article by Dr. Froma Walsh (2020) exploring loss and resilience. She was acknowledging the various losses – both obvious, indirect and subtle, and talking about how to support families to develop resilience. Walsh writes about resilience being more than just coping with and surviving adversity, but a positive adaptation that facilitates growth and develops meaning. She recommends three areas to consider:
- Making meaning out of crisis: This includes attempting to make sense of losses, putting things into perspective, and integrate the experience into our personal stories and family histories. Lots of people have made time capsules, kept diaries or forged new traditions during this time. This is all about making meaning.
- Gaining positive hopeful outlooks: Walsh stresses that this is not about some kind of twee relentless optimism. It is more stoical than that. It involves accepting what cannot be changed and what is outside our control, and only assuming responsibility for things we can control. At times when lots of hopes and dreams are dashed, what is realistic to hope for? What can we look forward to?
- Rising above hardship through beliefs and sense of purpose: This refers to some of the practices and beliefs that bring comfort, help us reorder priorities and develop deeper bonds. For many people their faith will carry them through. For others, they find meditation or mindfulness useful. Some people develop soothing bonds with animals, or spend time in nature. Other people get practical and start fundraising, thinking of others who are less fortunate, or put compassion into practice through volunteering or outreach in their community.
We must remember that Christmas can be a stressful time for many. So, as we enter the Christmas season, here are just a few ideas for how to be a mental-health-informed-human this Christmas:
- Can I issue a challenge to ask those you love how they are coping?
- Is there someone in your neighbourhood who is likely to be alone at Christmas?
- Is there a charity collecting donations of gifts to distribute to families on a very low income?
- Can you donate any more food to a food bank?
- Can you donate time to a charity supporting the homeless?
- Can you give to charities supporting women fleeing domestic abuse?
- Do you know the phone numbers of helplines you can give to those who are struggling, or are at risk of self-harm, mental health crisis or suicide?
- Do you know of charities and organisations that help with debt and financial crisis?
- Can you invite anyone into your home this Christmas?
- Be aware that this time of year can be lonely, devastating, triggering, or anxiety provoking.
- Remember your own self-care. Be kind to yourself
Snuggle small humans in your life close, and while you’re at it – snuggle the big humans you love too! Try to remember to get regular exercise if you’re able to, and remember – it’s ok to keep things simple. Life is complicated enough without getting sucked into a Christmas vortex of stress. So here are 10 ideas for gifts on a budget in case finances are stretched:
- If you have a little one under the age of about 2-3, honestly, don’t get them anything. Switch round their toys, or wrap up something they have forgotten about. Get them something they need if you really to wrap up something new.
- Look in charity shops – many items will be new or in excellent condition.
- Make a token for a special day out. It needn’t cost a lot of money. Go out for a hot chocolate and a nature walk, or plan a favourite activity.
- Make your child a scrap book full of things they are wonderful at, or that you love about them. Include some memories or little stories, their first words, or funny things they said…
- Give them something that belongs/belonged to you. It could be an heirloom, special piece of jewellery, or something meaningful.
- Give them a cardboard box and fill it with a glue stick, sellotape, stickers, tin foil, other recycling materials – cereal boxes, toilet roll tubes, and some pens, paints and scissors. One year we did this and it was our children’s favourite present by a long way…
- If you’re crafty, make them something – a pin board, bedspread, photo collage, treasure box, or a dolls house, farm, or rocket
- Draw or paint them a picture, or write out a verse or poem that they will love
- Upcycle something they already have. Paint a small piece of furniture with stripes, stars, or a wacky colour
- Make them a time capsule, start off a diary for them, or write them a letter telling them how proud you are of them and why.
I’m mindful that I cannot possibly know all your situations and circumstances. I don’t know if this year has been traumatic, peaceful, boring, fraught, stressful, or slow. But whatever your experience, I hope that you and the people you love are able to find some joy as we get to the end of this year.