Blue Christmas?

It’s now only a couple of weeks before the festive season really hits us, and the chances are that you are looking forward to a Christmas to remember. But maybe not. 

If you have suffered a loss or bereavement, Christmas can be a gruelling time. Traditional family rituals, the familiar sounds of carols, even the smells of Christmas can all evoke powerful memories of Christmas’s past, and leave an overwhelming sense of sadness. What’s more, feeling that you are ‘supposed’ to be happy at this time of year, can have the effect of compounding yyour grief and increasing existing stresses.

Here are some practical pointers to help you get through Christmas, if you are bereaved or separated from loved ones.

1) Be Kind to Yourself

You might receive lots of offers, suggestions, advice and ideas about how you “should” spend Christmas. But think about where and how you would like to spend the holiday. Are you perhaps facing a Christmas without children or without one particular child for the first time? If so, would you prefer to spend the day completely alone with your partner or other children? Or surround yourself with family and friends? Talk through your plans with those that are close to you, but whatever you decide, do everything you can to make sure Christmas is as you would like it.

2) Allow Yourself to Feel

Those suffering loss or bereavement often feel under pressure to hide their feelings from others at Christmas, worried that their grief might ‘hijack’ the festivities. But it is important that feelings are honoured and expressed. So if you feel sad, allow yourself to cry; if you’re angry, find a way to let off steam. Talk to those you will be spending Christmas with about this beforehand. Think about how you might express your emotions to your children, using age-appropriate language, and how to help them express their feelings too.

3) Look After Your Body

Get plenty of sleep and rest. Tiredness can magnify emotions, so try to take a nap whenever you can, even if this is at the expense of Christmas preparations. It’s much more important to rest than to whip up an extra batch of mince pies or bake a Christmas cake!

Stay moderately active over Christmas. Even gentle exercise can help stimulate the natural chemicals that improve your mood, and will encourage better sleeping patterns.

As tempting as it might be to try to lift your mood or drown your sorrows with chocolates and alcohol, try not to overdo either! Both can cause a dip in mood, and mess up your sleeping patterns, once the initial effect has worn off.

4) Get Support

It’s important to get practical and emotional support at Christmas. Whether it’s family, friends or colleagues, you need a variety of people around who are able to give you the kind of support you need. This could be just listening to you talk, sitting quietly with you, helping you around the house, or looking after the kids while you look after yourself. Remember though that family and friends are often able to offer support and love, but sometimes their own can grief can get in the way. If this is the case, you may find it particularly helpful to discuss your feelings with someone impartial, such as your GP or a counsellor and/or join a support group.

5) Honouring the Absent Person

Establishing some rituals that honour the person who is no longer there may help you express your grief and also that of the rest of your family.  Perhaps young children might want to make a card for the absent person or watch their favourite film? Or make a charitable donation in their name?  Or you may want to light a candle or launch a Chinese lantern?  As you make Christmas preparations, don’t be afraid to talk about the absent person, using age-appropriate language for children, and share memories with those around you.

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Under Pressure? 5 Tips To Staying Calm

Hi.

I was recently asked to be a panellist on a live online Q&A about workplace stress.  The Q&A was hosted by The Guardian’s Small Business Network, and I was really pleased to participate.  You can read the full discussion here.

I was especially pleased that one of the other particpant’s seemed to like my 5 Top Tips for managing your own stress levels.  i.e. “what steps can I take that will help me better manage the pressure I am under?”.  The contributor called them a “template for managers to raise awareness and promote wellbeing in their teams”.  And who am I to argue with that?   So…here they are:

1) Firstly, and I know I’m going to sound like your doctor now, but try to get some EXERCISE. Even if it’s just a little. You don’t have to run marathons.  How about a relaxing swim?  Or if, like me, you don’t like the ‘faff’ of getting undressed, wet, dry, and then dressed again – why not try some (very gentle) jogging?  There are loads of training plans out there that start you off running for a minute at a time, but gradually build up to ten or even tweny minutes of jogging before you’ve even noticed!  Not only does exercise release those feel-good endorphins, etc, it helps regulate sleep. Which brings me on to….

2) Aim to get the SLEEP that you need (whether that’s 3 hours or 9).  Try to create a bedtime routine.  Make sure your bedroom is not too warm – leave a window open.  You’ll know what effect caffeine has on you (if any) – so take that into account.  Try to limit ‘screen time’ in the hour or so before bed.  The light from a TV, laptop or phone will only confuse your brain into thinking that it’s not actually night time!  Leave your smart phone downstairs!

3) Watch your DIET – particularly sugar and alcohol intake, which can have a negative impact on your mood and make bad things seem terrible.  If you find yourself waking at 3 or 4am, it may be that your body is experiencing a sugar ‘crash’ from a late-night snack.  And I think we all know the effects of too much alcohol on long-term health and short-term dignity! (Or is that just me?!)

4) Learn some RELAXATION techniques. Some of these only take 1 minute and can dramatically improve the physiological symptoms of stress.  Breathing exercises, simple meditations, visualisations – these can all have the discernible effect of overcoming the “fight, flight or freeze” reactions our bodies have developed in response to danger.   Google is your friend, here.

5) Do something to FEED YOUR SOUL, and do it often. This is a phrase I nicked from my friend and colleague Sarah Edwards.  Feeding your soul is a very personal thing. For you it might be listening to a great symphony. Watching your favourite football team. Volunteering in your spare time. If you don’t know what it is that feeds your soul, experiment until you do. It will be a lifesaver.

If you’ve done all of the above, the chances are that you will feel physically refreshed, will be likely to process setbacks more positively, and will be more able to make helpful decisions.

To find out more about my counselling and coaching work in the corporate sector, take a look at my corporate website.

Here’s my personal counselling website, for indiduals who would like some support.

Want to find out more for yourself?  Here are two books to check out:

“The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook” – Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman et al

“The Chimp Paradox” – Steve Peters