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‘Tis the season to be jolly but for some people Christmas can be a stressful, or even depressing time of year.

While the festive season is meant to be a joyous time of parties, presents and spending time with loved ones, for those of us with financial difficulties, grief or family troubles, feelings of stress, loneliness and isolation can be exacerbated.

So if you are finding Christmas less merry than it should be, here are some tips to put the fun back into the silly season.

do it your own way  

Don’t try and keep up with the Jones’s – plan a Christmas that suits your circumstances, budget and mood. For example, if planning a big feast at home stresses you out or puts pressure on your budget, make it more casual this year by asking everyone to bring a plate. Or better yet, consider going outdoors for a picnic or beach barbeque.

Similarly, don’t put pressure on yourself to follow every tradition. If you don’t want to put-up a Christmas tree, don’t have time to decorate your house, or don’t fancy having certain friends around for Christmas drinks this year, don’t. And if you’re family doesn’t get along very well, it’s perfectly ok to go out to a restaurant to limit the time you have to spend together. It’s your celebration, so feel free to do it your way.

limit expectations

Just because it’s Christmas, doesn’t mean you’re suddenly transformed into Martha Stewart. So if your home doesn’t look like it comes out of an interior design magazine, or you burn the turkey, try not to worry about it.

Similarly, don’t expect too much of everyone else. Remember others may be under stress too so try to be as understanding as possible.

If you’re family has been feuding for some time, don’t expect it stop just because it’s Christmas. Instead try to stay calm, limit your alcohol intake and choose both who you talk to and your topics of conversation wisely. Another good idea to ease tension is to plan an activity like a board game or outdoor cricket.

look after yourself

It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed, lonely or depressed at this time of year but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.

Some good coping mechanisms are to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, eat healthily, get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly and take time out to do things you enjoy. Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs to get you through.

If you’re feeling isolated or alone, consider getting more involved in your community. Volunteering can be a great way to help you feel more connected, while embracing the spirit of good will.

But if you’re finding it hard to cope with day-to-day things, seek professional help. You can find details of a counsellor in your local area in the beyondblue Directory of Medical and Allied Health Practitioners or your local doctor should also be able to suggest someone.

take care of loved ones

Be aware that Christmas can be a difficult time for some people and not everyone may be feeling quite as merry as you are. For example, they may feel overextended, miss love ones that have passed away, or be stressed out by rising debt. Those with family difficulties or who have just gone through a relationship break-may feel incredibly lonely and isolated.

Be sensitive to the people you care about and if someone isn’t coping, encourage them to seek help.

If you or someone you love needs some emotional support, Lifeline has counsellors available 24 hours a day, and the call does not show up on your phone bill. Call 13 11 14.

[tweetmeme only_single=false two million Australians aged seventy and over and that number due to double in twenty years,* more and more people are being forced to make complex financial aged care decisions on behalf of their parents.

This morning Brendan Burwood, managing director of ipac financial care talked to Today‘s Karl Stefanovic about making the right aged care decisions during this emotional time.

Click here to see what he had to say.

*Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Annual Report 2008-2009

by ipac chairman Arun Abey

[tweetmeme only_single =false Developing financial literacy and basic commercial skills is an important part of family life. But it needs to be done in the correct way so as not to undermine the value of family relationships in their own right.

I was recently directed to a great post on Yvette Vignando’s Happy Child blog, where she argues against the notion of paying children to do chores. Her basic premise is that children should be contributing to family life in order to gain a sense of responsibility and contribution to the household, not for commercial benefit. And I agree whole-heartedly.

Research shows families work best when everyone is motivated by a common set of goals and values. When you try to commercialise aspects of family life, you undermine the sense of pride and satisfaction your children get from contributing to these goals and values.

That said, it is important to teach our children a sense of financial responsibility. But rather than introducing a ‘work for reward’ program, where we try rather poorly to emulate the workforce, a better way is to demonstrate how money is used inside the household to enable common goals.

Here are some basic tips to get you started:

make money visible – Working-class families during the Great Depression routinely set jars out in full view of the family marked ‘rent’, ‘food’, ‘clothes’ and so on, showing everyone where the money went. Today money comes from a hole in the wall or a checkout. Make it real. Use cash sometimes, tell your kids how long you worked to earn it, and explain how banks and credit cards work.  It’s also a good idea to refrain from buying your child everything they want while providing an explanation.

talk to your kids about the role of money in your life – Most parents would prefer to talk to their kids about sex than money. In fact studies show that the majority of parents lie to their kids when asked how much they earn. This is one of the last taboo topics because how much we earn has important emotional and social implications. But we must learn to help our kids develop a framework for understanding the role of money in their life.

get the kids involved in houesehold budgeting Explain to kids the expenses involved in running a household and show them the bills for electricity, mortgages, petrol and groceries. And when times are hard, explain and ask them for their suggestions on how to cut back on expenses. Not only will you teach kids about budgeting and probably lower household costs, but you’ll also bring your family together in a common goal.

give kids responsibility for spending One way to teach kids about money fast is to place them in charge of their discretionary spending. And if you give kids an allowance, have them track the money coming in and going out. This will help kids build healthy financial habits for life including learning how to defer gratification.

teach kids the power of investment – Opening a savings account is a good start but you also need to demonstrate the magic of compound interest. For example, if you and your high-school child save $1,000 a year over six years, and get an interest rate of 5% pa (the long-term norm), then in addition to the $6,000 they’ve saved when they finish school, they’ve earned over another $1,000 of ‘free interest’. This will teach them a valuable lesson in investing.

The ideas from this post have been taken from Arun Abey and Andrew Ford’s  book How Much Is Enough: Money Time Happiness, A practical guide to making the right choices. Click here for more details or to download a chapter.

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Far from absolute decline, it is more useful to think about what is happening in America as an era of a Great Reinvention, says ipac chairman Arun Abey. Here is an extract from his notes on his recent trip to the US.

“America in the era of the Great Reinvention has a quite different mood.  Landing in Los Angeles with my younger son last month, I recalled it was 25 years since my first visit. Compared to my previous visit a year ago when the mood was dire, the economy was now clearly in recovery mode.

But the mood was one of cautious pessimism, rather than the cautious optimism that I’ve found in the first phase of a recovery of the five previous US downturns. Yes the Americans feel that they have dodged the economic holocaust that the GFC could have become and they are relieved that the downturn was much shallower and shorter than expected. But there is an uneasy sense that around the corner lurks hidden dangers that will plunge the economy back into the depths of recession, or worse.

So consumer sentiment remains muted and businesses, despite having balance sheets that are awash with cash, have gone on an investment strike.  The main driver of the recovery therefore has been government stimulus spending. But the resulting deficits  are clearly not sustainable, at least to the extent that the spending has been consumption oriented. Even where the spending has been oriented towards infrastructure, the efficiency of this spending has been mixed.

To the average American, the dangers of the situation are obvious while the upside at best seems limited. My son and I visited Los Angeles, Yellowstone National Park in northern Wyoming and then meandered down the length of Wyoming to Denver Colorado.  Wherever we went people reported that business was OK, but was far from booming. Yes people are eating out, but the average spend had fallen. Holidays are shorter. Cheaper options in most things were being  pursued.”

To read the rest of the extract click here

It's important to stay connected to friends in times of crisis, Photo: Lifeline Australia

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Often when your friend is in crisis, it’s hard to know what to say or do. And sometimes it seems easier just to let them be. But according to experts staying away or avoiding a friend or family member during a crisis is one of the worst things you can do. 

“It’s about fear and not feeling able to help” says Chris Wagner, National Media Manager for Lifeline Australia. 

“So we have a task to up-skill the community, like we do with basic first aid.” 

But how do we support friends or family members when they are going through a rough patch? Here are some tips from Lifeline Australia and beyondblue on how to help friend in crisis: 

Be receptive 

It’s important to let your friend know you are there for them. Lifeline Australia advise: 

  • Take the lead, show initiative and ask “Are you OK?”
  • Put the invitation out there: “I’ve got time to talk”
  • Spend time with the person to let them know you care and help you understand what they’re going through.
Encourage your friend to seek help

You may need to encourage someone you know to seek help

Initiate conversation 

 Sometimes initiating the conversation can be the hardest part.  beyondblue give the following advice: “It’s important to choose a time when you are both free to talk and a place where you are both comfortable. You might want to start by saying something like “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down lately…” and take it from there.” 

Be a good listener 

Listening is the key to being a supportive friend. beyondblue suggests: “Once the conversation starts, your job is to listen. Your friend may not want advice, but just want to talk things through. Listen as much as you can, and try and work out how they are feeling. You can help your friend by maintaining eye contact, sitting in a relaxed position and asking open-ended questions that can’t be answered with just ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Save your suggestions or advice for later but let him or her know you are there for them.” 

 Be encouraging 

According to Lifeline Australia it’s important to encourage your friend to look after themselves. This includes maintaining regular exercise, eating a nutritious diet and getting regular sleep. It also might mean encouraging the person to seek professional help from their family doctor, a support service or counsellor, or a mental health worker. 

Take your friend seriously 

Although you may have the best intentions, according to Lifeline Australia it’s best to avoid the following cheer-up tactics: 

  • Pressuring your friend to “snap out of it’, “get their act together” or “cheer-up”
  • Stay away or avoid them
  • Tell them they just need to “stay busy” or “get out more”
  • Suggest alcohol or drugs
  • Assume the problem will just go away

 Look after yourself 

According to beyondblue it’s also important to take care of yourself during this time: “Sometimes when you’re worried about someone, it feels like you’re all alone. Try to take time out to relax and enjoy things like sport, friends, music or going for a walk to keep yourself feeling okay. You may also want to speak to someone you trust, such as a family member, friend or counsellor.” 

Seek help together 

If you think someone may be experiencing depression or an anxiety disorder, it’s important to encourage them to seek help from a counsellor or doctor. According to beyondblue: “The person may not have the energy to get the help they need themselves –  which is where you come in. You might offer to go with them if they do decide to speak to someone about how they are feeling.” 

If you or someone you know needs emotional support call Lifeline: 13 11 14

Or for more information visit their website or that of beyondblue.

*Lifeline Australia, RUOK? A conversation can change a life 

**youthbeyondblue Fact Sheet 6 – Helping a friend with depression or anxiety

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