Self care and keeping yourself safe at Christmas.

Christmas can be a difficult time.  There are high expectations for us to spend time with family and ‘eat, drink and be merry’.  Yet this is not always the case for many people, particularly for people who are struggling with mental health issues or for people who are in abusive relationships.

Emotional triggers are everywhere at Christmas.  There are the many parties to navigate, where family and people that we don’t get along with may be invited.  Some of these people may be emotional triggers for you.  There are the huge amounts of alcohol and food.  And of course, for people with depression getting an invite to social events can put more pressure on them.  Not to mention the financial worries that Christmas can bring to us; the pressure to deliver the gifts and the kind of Christmas that our kids want plus the endless invites to celebrations, all cost money.

For people who are in abusive relationships Christmas can be a time of isolation.  It may mean being in close proximity with your frightening partner, walking on eggshells and wishing the holiday period to be over.  Women, in particular, are at risk as their partners monitor their behaviour closely and things become more fraught. There may be an increase in alcohol consumption which can lead to violence as well as the increase from financial pressure and family conflict.  All serve to be a bubbling pot that threatens to boil over.  To keep yourself safe there are a number of things that you can do.  Have a ‘safe’ word that has been shared with a close friend on speed dial who can help if things become unsafe.  Keep your phone fully charged and cash to hand if you need to leave a situation quickly.  Put numbers of refuges and helplines in your phone on speed dial.

For people who are struggling with alcohol abuse Christmas can feel like a minefield.  Everywhere that you look you are encouraged to drink and celebrate.  You may be invited to parties throughout the whole of December where alcohol is free flowing.  The main thing to remember here is that you don’t have to go to all of them, or even any of them.  Be honest with yourself and know where your triggers are.  If you feel that you are able to go to a party, then think about taking your own non-alcoholic drinks with you and being the designated driver.  Have an ‘escape plan’ for if the triggers are too much so that you can leave early if needed.  And make sure that you have a supportive person with you.

For people who are struggling with eating disorders there are food triggers everywhere as well as guests who just don’t understand what you are going through.  There is so much emotion associated with food and this can be a period of guilt, fear, panic and worry.  Having a support network around you is vital at this time.  This is about knowing yourself and knowing your triggers and explaining this to family.  If the idea of a buffet increases your anxiety then explain this to family.

If you have a meal plan with set times then this will decrease your anxiety.  It’s ok to stick to the food and the amount that you may have been set by professionals.  It may also help if you sit apart from the main table if this feels right for you or eat before the main event.  If you can sit at the table with guests then a pre-rehearsed chat about food may help you to navigate any questions from other people. 

Again, an ‘escape plan’ can help you, for when, and if, things become overwhelming.  Keeping yourself as stress free as possible is crucial.  This might mean that you go to a room where you listen to music and relax, or take 10 minutes out to meditate and practice relaxation.  Taking time to read a book or other pleasurable activities can be important to help you to relax.

Depression is hard at any time of the year but when you have the added pressure of putting a smile on your face and socialising it can feel even worse.  Or you may isolate yourself and berate yourself that you ’should’ be happy and enjoying this time of year. The numb feeling that can accompany depression may make you feel like you are isolated even when surrounded by friends and family.  However depression looks for you, it is a tough time.  How can you help yourself?  By looking after yourself and knowing what will trigger you.  If going to a party feels like something that you can’t physically face, then don’t.  And don’t beat yourself up about it.  You are doing a great job in taking care of your needs.  Instead, stay home, take a bath, watch your favourite film and relax.  Do whatever you have to do to help alleviate any pressure; this might mean reaching out and asking for help at this busy time of year or talking to a close friend about how you feel.  Remember that it is ok to feel how you feel.

Whatever the trigger for you, the take away message is to provide yourself with as much self care and compassion as you can give to yourself.  Write a list of ways that you can take time out to relax and a list of things that you can enjoy.  This may include a walk, a bath, listening to music or drawing.  Keep your lists to hand to remind you at times when things become difficult.  Being kind to yourself is essential.  Notice that internal critical voice that berates you for not being or doing enough and stop it in it’s tracks.  Instead, tell yourself how amazing you are and how you are doing a fantastic job at keeping yourself well.

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