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Christmas is the best time of year – isn’t it?

Dr Anita Rose, director of clinical development and consultant clinical neuropsychologist at Renovo Care Group, offers advice on how to cope 

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Christmas is the time of year that evokes the whole range of emotions. For some it is a sense of happiness, joy and excitement, yet for other sadness, grief, anxiety and loneliness.

Within our hospitals and care homes, staff try to create an environment of celebration with service users; trees are decorated, Christmas cards made, carol singers visit, and festive menus created.  Yet what about those families who maybe for the first Christmas will not be with their loved ones, or those who may have not been with their loved ones for many years? 

For many of these families, Christmas is challenging and given the current pandemic and appearance of new variant Omicron, means changes in visiting their loved ones, anxiety over themselves getting COVID, and also now the possibility of changes in rules for society as a whole.  

Dr Anita Rose

Many of the families I work with have really struggled with their own mental health this past year and Christmas was to be a time of family fun, a time of hope of celebration – but now they are fearful and anxious. 

It is to these families I write this blog. To provide them with some tips in coping over Christmas and to say to them we are here to support as well.

Take time off from information

I know it is tempting, can be almost obsessional, to listen to every news broadcast about COVID and in particular Omicron. To follow every post on social media. To listen to all the stories of who has tested positive, negative or is showing symptoms.

But this can increase anxiety and stress and with so many opinions and everyone having their thoughts on what is happening, should be happening, isn’t happening, it is very easy to get overloaded. 

So, give yourself permission to “take a break”.  Many people I know are having a social media sabbatical and that doesn’t mean they are being unfriendly, but they are protecting their mental health.  If you want to keep up to date with the news, set a time in the day when you will check the news on a reputable news station or website.  Taking a break, or controlling the information overload, will reduce your anxiety and stress and help you feel less overwhelmed.

Be realistic

Christmas movies, Christmas adverts and TV Christmas specials all paint a picture of the perfect Christmas. You need to eat certain foods, have certain drinks, buy the most up to date presents. 

But actually Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect, or be a Hollywood Christmas. Christmas can be as you make it. Maybe this Christmas is a time to create new memories, new rituals, eat new foods. Maybe you will visit your loved one in hospital and be able to join in with the celebrations there, maybe this year it will be a virtual celebrations with your family members, singing silly songs together, opening presents together. 

Christmas may be a different experience this year but be brave and find new ways of celebrating it that work for you.

Acknowledge how you are feeling

Most of the families I work with tell me they feel guilty if they are angry, sad, upset or even feeling grief. All these emotions are normal, and it is normal to feel sad if you cannot be with your loved one at Christmas. It is ok to feel grief or anger at COVID taking away the time you can spend with your loved one.

You cannot force yourself to be happy just because it is Christmas so know it is OK to take time to express your feelings, to cry, scream, shout.  Give yourself time to acknowledge how you are feeling – let it out.  

Look after you

It is OK to put yourself first. When we have loved ones who need our support, we all too often spend much of our time making sure they are OK at the expense of ourselves.

For many of the families I work with, they are travelling long distances to visit their loved ones and this can be exhausting. Maybe think about dropping one journey and using FaceTime to visit. I know this is not the same as being with your loved one in person, but being with them with energy rather than exhausted from all the travelling will mean a more meaningful visit for you and them. 

Make sure you are eating well (no excuse with all the wonderful food at Christmas – in fact you can eat too well!). Get out in the fresh air, do some exercise, have a nice bath, read, watch movies, and create times of relaxation in the day.  All these activities will have a positive effect on mood, but also biologically and psychologically. YOU MATTER TOO. 

Seek professional help

If you are finding persistently sad or anxious, not sleeping or eating or find yourself not coping with daily life and Christmas seems to be the tipping point, do not try to continue to manage alone. Speak to your GP or contact MIND or other mental health services. Reach out.

Finally, Christmas in 2021 maybe not what you expected but by looking after yourself you can take control. Decide what matters to you and plan what you know is possible, create new memories and remember you can find peace and joy at this time by recognising it will not be perfect it will be what it will be. 

  • Dr Anita Rose is director of clinical development and consultant clinical neuropsychologist at Renovo Care Group

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