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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.

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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