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How to cope when Christmas ISN’T a wonderful time of year

Christmas is a wonderful time of year – full of festive magic, loving family gatherings, warmth and happiness – except for when it isn’t, it’s a time of extreme anxiety, social exhaustion – depression and money woes.

Emily Chadbourne, 39, was first confronted with the dark side of the holiday season after the death of her mother three years ago.

For 36 years her family had celebrated in the typical Hallmark style – surrounded by cheer, her mum’s special salmon mousse and the sound of children ripping through wrapping paper as the family met beneath the tree on Christmas morning.

Emily Chadbourne, left, with her mum and sisters. The Melbourne-based life coach has revealed her tips for staving off negative emotions over the Christmas period

Emily Chadbourne, left, with her mum and sisters. The Melbourne-based life coach has revealed her tips for staving off negative emotions over the Christmas period

She was first confronted with the dark side of the holiday season after the death of her mother three years ago

She was first confronted with the dark side of the holiday season after the death of her mother three years ago

This year the 39-year-old won't be able to go to the UK for Christmas so will take part in an 'orphan's' Christmas with her friends in Melbourne

This year the 39-year-old won’t be able to go to the UK for Christmas so will take part in an ‘orphan’s’ Christmas with her friends in Melbourne

‘No one marketing the holidays is going to talk about how it can actually be a really tough time,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.

‘They show everyone showing love to each other – being connected – the one thing we all want.

‘And when you see this it can make you feel like everything has something you don’t. That’s how it felt my first Christmas after mum died, it felt like we were the only family who wasn’t complete because we had lost our anchor. We were the only broken family at Christmas time, which isn’t true.’

In fact the Melbourne-based life coach was ’15 or 16′ before she even realised the fairy-tale Christmas isn’t reality for many.

‘I remember being completely and genuinely shocked when I found out some people didn’t enjoy Christmas.

‘Because at that point in my life it was a time where we all felt safe, we were all together.’ 

Relationships Australia report that two in five people struggle with their mental health during the holiday season. 

Ms Chadbourne who is facing another potentially difficult Christmas this year, away from her family in the UK, has put together some tips and tricks to help people who are finding it difficult to cope as festivities begin to unfold throughout December.

''I remember being completely and genuinely shocked when I found out some people didn't enjoy Christmas,' she said - she is pictured with her nieces and nephews and admits she lived the 'Hallmark' Christmas for many years

”I remember being completely and genuinely shocked when I found out some people didn’t enjoy Christmas,’ she said – she is pictured with her nieces and nephews and admits she lived the ‘Hallmark’ Christmas for many years

This year – despite being 'stuck in Australia and not knowing when' she will see her family again the life coach will be using the skills she has developed since her first dull Christmas to make the most of the festive season

This year – despite being ‘stuck in Australia and not knowing when’ she will see her family again the life coach will be using the skills she has developed since her first dull Christmas to make the most of the festive season

‘People are lonely 365 days a year – but at Christmas there’s an extra bite to it,’ she said.

This year – despite being ‘stuck in Australia and not knowing when’ she will see her family again the life coach will be using the skills she has developed since her first dull Christmas to make the most of the festive season.

‘I am very blessed to have a chosen family over here – we are going to have an orphan’s Christmas – it is for the people who can’t get home.

‘It is so typical to see Brit’s here in Australia sweating over a turkey in a nod to their heritage.

WHAT NOT TO SAY TO SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY 

Zachery Dereniowski, 27, is a Canadian motivational speaker and medical student at the University of Sydney he has revealed the common phrases you should never say to someone battling anxiety.

 1 –  Everything happens for a reason

2 – Keep calm and carry on

3 – What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger   

4 – Time heals all wounds

5 –  Get over it

 

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‘Even when standing over a few shrimp on the barbecue is a much nicer experience – so this year I am going to remember how important it is not to recreate things like at home – because here it is summer – there are different circumstances.’

Routine is a huge part of her plan to keep grounded and mentally healthy this year. 

‘People underestimate how important routine is – but the moment we take away our sense of certainty we freak out.

‘And in December we do everything different, kids breakup from school, there are late nights and parties – even the way we handle our finances are different.’

For 36 years her family had celebrated in the typical Hallmark style – surrounded by cheer, her mum's special salmon mousse and the sound of children ripping through wrapping paper as the family met beneath the tree on Christmas morning

For 36 years her family had celebrated in the typical Hallmark style – surrounded by cheer, her mum’s special salmon mousse and the sound of children ripping through wrapping paper as the family met beneath the tree on Christmas morning

Pictured here as a child Ms Chadbourne says there are many reasons why the holiday period is so hard for people - including financial stress - but there are ways to cut costs

Pictured here as a child Ms Chadbourne says there are many reasons why the holiday period is so hard for people – including financial stress – but there are ways to cut costs

REAL REASONS PEOPLE STRUGGLE OVER CHRISTMAS 

Ms Chadbourne shares the top reasons people struggle over the Christmas period, and tips to make it through.

 1. Social isolation and loneliness

With travel bans and restrictions still in place due to COVID, we can expect to see many people spending Christmas away from their loved ones this year. I’ll make the most of my Aussie Christmas, and thanks to technology, I will be Zooming in when my nieces and nephews open their presents. But I know that not everyone is as lucky as I am, and some will find themselves feeling lonely on Christmas day. It’s so important to plan ahead if you know that you will be spending Christmas alone. Making plans to volunteer or attend a local community event can be a great focus and help you through the day. And if you are lucky enough to have plans with loved ones over Christmas but know that a neighbour or colleague will be alone, reach out; set an extra place at the table or arrange to meet for a walk.

2. Grief

The year my Mum died, I wanted nothing more than to pretend Christmas wasn’t happening. The lights and the joy and the merriment was too much to bear. In that first year, I wanted to curl up and ignore the whole day and that is exactly what I’d planned to do. But my Dad called and made me promise I wouldn’t spend the day alone and you don’t mess with my Dad. So, I got up and honoured her in lots of little ways throughout the day. It was still sad, but it was better than being alone. I can’t think of one Christmas since my Mum died when I haven’t had a good old sob into the arms of a family member or friend. Once the tears stop, I share a happy memory of her and serve up that delicious Salmon Mousse, as is tradition.

3. Finances

A poll of more than 1,000 adults by the Principal Financial Group — a global investment company — found that 53 percent of people experience financial stress due to holiday spending, even though they have budgeted for it.  It’s also important to remember that not everyone needs a stocking full of presents. For years now my family (adults, not kids) have pulled a Secret Santa with a price limit. It gets hilariously creative and personal and is much more fun than buying Aunt Clare a cookbook she’ll never use. When it comes to nights out, don’t be afraid to say no or to meet for a drink after dinner to keep the cost down and if you have friends who wear the same dress size ladies, outfit swap so you always step out wearing something you’ve never worn before! If you are hosting, don’t be afraid to ask visitors to bring a dish or bring their own booze.

4. Family rifts

We don’t choose our family and yet somehow every year, we find ourselves spending concentrated time with them, even the ones we don’t like.Group activities – such as backyard cricket – are a great way to keep people distracted and entertained. And lastly remember, as an adult you get to choose who you spend Christmas with and the conditions under which that happens. 

 5. Social anxiety

There are so many social gatherings happening in December that it can get very overwhelming. Choose your social occasions carefully (you don’t have to RSVP yes to all of them) and schedule in alone time to decompress and rest. I remember my Mum giving me some solid advice one year as I set off to a Christmas networking function where I knew one person – she said ‘Em, you can always go home.’ And she was right. I went, had two drinks and 56 canopies and connected with no one and came home after an hour.

 6. Expectation vs Reality

It is so easy to buy into the commercialised representation of what Christmas should be. Good looking (but not too good looking) family buying a tree, wrapping presents, laughing and oh no, what’s happened? The turkey looks dry! Never fear, Dad bought a Turkey baster from this nationwide supermarket and together, they saved Christmas. That is not an accurate representation. In real life, Dad got sent out to buy chutney for the cheese board and came back with a six pack of beer and there was an argument. Life is not Love, Actually. Your average Christmas is normal, I promise.

7. End of Year Blues

Not only do we need to contend with Christmas, we also have the new year looming and naturally as a year ends, we reflect. For many of us, this is a great way to berate ourselves for what we haven’t achieved this year. If you resonate with this (puts both hands up) try shifting focus to planning next year instead. 

8. Lack of Routine

Public holidays, school holidays, concerts, parties and extended shopping hours can feel like the world has turned on its head. Even if the external world is out of routine, you can keep routine in your own life. Having a simple morning routine which you stick to will make a world of difference to your sense of groundedness.

9. Over consumption

With more parties comes more food and more booze and often, less time for the gym. As we eat more calorie rich, processed foods and drink more alcohol, we feel the effects on our mental health. Keep yourself on track, even use an app to help.

10. General Overwhelm

If, like me, you actually enjoy Christmas but still find the whole season a little overwhelming, then make sure you have time to rest and recuperate. With the over stimulation of colour and twinkling lights and consumerism, I need time away from my TV, phone and the hustle and bustle. Meditation is key for me – have a bath and then pop your earphones in and let those guided meditations relax and calm you.

Ms Chadbourne shares the top reasons people struggle over the Christmas period, and tips to make it through

Ms Chadbourne shares the top reasons people struggle over the Christmas period, and tips to make it through

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She says the simplest way to stay sane is to ‘keep a morning routine’.

‘Wake up, have your coffee and go for your walk, meditate. Complete your morning routine but try to stay away from social media as much as possible – because you can find yourself comparing yourself to other people.’

‘After that you can let chaos reign.’

While almost half of all Australian struggle with Christmas and the New Year – there are many reasons why that may be the case. 

Social isolation, lack of routine, grief and expectation Vs reality have all been contributors to Ms Chadbourne’s experience with the dark side of the festive season, but they are not the only issues people face. 

Financial stress is a key concern – with more than half of all Australians experiencing some stress to their budgets throughout December. 

But there are ways to limit the pressure, including asking friends and family to bring a plate or their own alcohol to events and putting price limits on gifts.

Social isolation, lack of routine, grief and expectation Vs reality have all been contributors to Ms Chadbourne's experience with the dark side of the festive season, but they are not the only issues people face

Social isolation, lack of routine, grief and expectation Vs reality have all been contributors to Ms Chadbourne’s experience with the dark side of the festive season, but they are not the only issues people face

This year, even though it will be different I fully intend on having a lovely time with all of my friends.'

This year, even though it will be different I fully intend on having a lovely time with all of my friends.’

'Acknowledging things are different is important, the season is different as an adult, it is different after losing a loved one,' she said - pictured with her sister

‘Acknowledging things are different is important, the season is different as an adult, it is different after losing a loved one,’ she said – pictured with her sister

‘Look around for discounts and offers online and don’t be afraid to gift experiences for loved ones. When my bestie and her partner were saving for a house, he gifted her a bike tour of the city. She said it was the most romantic day of her life and all it cost him was the picnic they had in the Botanical Gardens.’

Family rifts can also make the holidays uncomfortable.

‘Instead of staying with your in-laws, think about splurging for a BnB or staying one night instead of seven. Break up the celebrations if you need to, catching up with one group of relatives in the morning and another in the afternoon.’

Social anxiety, general overwhelm and the end of year blues can also cause stress in the season. A key to reducing overall stress is to ‘stop comparing’ your Christmas with other people’s festivities, or with magical previous years.

‘Acknowledging things are different is important, the season is different as an adult, it is different after losing a loved one.

‘This year, even though it will be different I fully intend on having a lovely time with all of my friends.’

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