A time for rest: 7 tips to give yourself a break this Christmas

While many of us are looking forward to Christmas and New Year holidays, for others the festive season can be overwhelming whether you’re busy with social engagements, or feeling the sting of loneliness or loss.

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For most people, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges. The fires and floods early in the year left many people emotionally, financially or physically devastated, and the coronavirus caused changes to virtually every facet of our way of life and sense of the world. The turbulence of 2020 has challenged our collective sense of safety and wellbeing.

Now, as most states come gradually out of lockdown, it is possible to see a mixture of emotions among our friends and co-workers — relief and joy are mixed with ongoing nervousness about resuming many of the activities that sustained us previously. Our new ‘normal’ is always feeling a little off balance, like trying to stand in a dinghy on rough seas, and not knowing when the storm will pass.

In the early months of 2020, people used what psychologist Ann Masten calls “surge capacity.” This is a “collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short term survival in stressful situations. But the Covid disaster has stretched all year, will continue for some time and has shown us the limits of our personal ‘surge capacity’. When it is depleted it needs to be renewed.

If you feel a bit ‘grinchy’ and want to skip out on the fuss of Christmas this year — don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of people are feeling that way. It’s okay to keep things low key. Don’t punish or denigrate yourself for not feeling as festive as you usually might.

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1. Expect less from yourself.
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1. Expect less from yourself

Take some time to reflect on what you need in your life right now. This is (hopefully) a once in a lifetime experience, so it is unrealistic to expect that we would be managing it perfectly — that we are managing at all is an achievement.

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2. Recognise that you are dealing with multiple aspect of grief.
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2. Recognise that you are dealing with multiple aspects of grief

Many of the systems that support us have faltered or broken down. Recognise that you have experienced a major loss and that managing it requires a bit of patience and creativity.

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3. Accept that life is different right now.
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3. Accept that life is different right now

Acceptance does not mean giving up, but it does mean not resisting or fighting reality so that you can spend your energy more wisely. Remember that when you cannot change a situation, the only thing you can do is change the way you think about or approach it.

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4. Look for activities, new and old, that continue to fulfil you.
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4. Look for activities, new and old, that continue to fulfil you

With many of the activities we previously used to care for ourselves not readily available — or only available in forms you may find stressful — it is time to get creative about how we manage self-care. Perhaps focusing on plans for the future and what provides meaning in your life is a good place to begin. Seek inspiration through reading or online. The book The Molecule of More, or the related video featuring authors Dr Daniel Liberman and Michael Long, explores how dopamine influences our experiences and happiness, and describes the types of activities most likely to bring us joy. Check it out and brainstorm what kinds of activities might work for you.

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5. Focus on maintaining and strengthening important relationships.
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5. Focus on maintaining and strengthening important relationships

Social support and remaining connected to people will help you face adversity and build your resilience. It can also be nourishing to help others, even when we’re feeling depleted ourselves.

Offering generosity to others can make us feel really good, and often there are small ways we can help out the people around us that we don’t even notice:

  • Babysit your friends’ children for a couple of hours.
  • Thank your co-workers for helping you through this crazy year.
  • Help the old man down the street in his garden.
  • Invite the widow next door to dinner.

You are capable of bringing small joys to other people, and that will help you see the good in you. You’ll also help build or solidify the relationships that may help you through difficult times.

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6. Begin slowly building your resilience bank account
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6. Begin slowly building your resilience bank account

Build into your life regular practices that promote resilience and provide a fallback when life gets tough. The areas to focus on are sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation, self-compassion, gratitude, connection, and saying no. Remember to begin small and gradually build your momentum — and you don’t need to do any of this perfectly! Give yourself credit just for trying.

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7. Reach out
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7. Reach out

Stop and say hello to your neighbour, just five minutes of tongue wagging over the fence can cheer your day and make a connection. Say hi to that person you have been meaning to contact for some time. If you want to do something that also contributes to others, maybe volunteer at a shelter or kitchen you will always be welcome and giving is often more rewarding than receiving.

If you need to talk things out with another person, we’re here 24/7, 365 days a year. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas morning or just after midnight on New Year’s Day, our trained counsellors are here to chat. Get in touch online or give us a call, or join the members of our peer-support forum to share feelings of celebration, frustration or support.

Note: This blog has been modified from our sister site Gambling Help Online.

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What can I do next?
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What can I do next?

  • Have a chat to us about what’s going on with you.
  • Not feeling rested? Find out more about how alcohol effects sleep.
  • Connect with your peers on the Counselling Online forums.