Be kind and care for yourself this Christmas

Christmas is a time for hope, joy, family gatherings, renewing connections and catching up on friendships. At least, this is our idealised picture of how Christmas should be – Christmas cards and TV adverts portray and support this picture.

And, thankfully for many people, this is their reality – time spent with loved ones, time to relax, meet up with friends, entertain, have fun.

However, this year living with Covid-19 is casting a long shadow over most people’s hopes and dreams to gather family and friends around. They are living with this uncertainty, unable to plan or maybe book a flight either in or out of Ireland. To be with people who are important to us can be extremely stressful and provokes anxiety.

Most people, while thankful for social media providing the opportunity to connect through Zoom and other online platforms, have grown weary and yearn for live face-to-face contact. Many people have struggled with mental health issues through this pandemic.

Covid-19 has presented unique challenges to all of us. We’ve seen families bereaved – the death of a loved one due to the virus or other illnesses. Many relationships have faced massive strain due to continuous 24-hour contact and a lack of physical space. There was also the pressure of working from home while balancing our parenting duties. People are experiencing financial strain due to loss of income and many pre-existing difficulties that were also exacerbated.

Facade of a smile

We must recognise the reality of Christmas for many can be very different. Behind the facade of a smile, there can be a deep feeling of sadness and loneliness, anxiety and overwhelming negative emotions.

People can be self-critical for feeling like this. They think “I should be happy, I don’t want to spoil others’ happiness.” Hence, they hide these feelings and even at times may feel ashamed for feeling this way, believing the myth that everyone should be happy at Christmas. When all they want is for this time to pass when they no longer must pretend. These feelings are indicators of their reality. And many would share similar sentiments.

We can assume that a significant number of adults, both young and old, are likely to have experienced continuous low mood and depleted physical energy. These emotions and feelings often develop into mild, moderate or severe symptoms of depression with a corresponding increase in anxiety levels.

However, practising self-care can be extremely helpful to manage these difficult emotions. We can cultivate strategies that work for the individual to manage the difficulties of living with Covid-19. We must recognise that while our physical health is essential, we must not neglect our emotional and psychological health. Both strands of health contribute to our overall wellbeing. We are body, mind and spirit – these three aspects of our being cannot be separated. We must nurture these aspects of ourselves if we are to live a balanced and healthy existence.

Self-care suggestions

The importance of self-care should be a priority at all stages of our lives but especially so right now. I would offer the following suggestions:

– Exercise daily if possible, preferably outside.

– Link in with online workouts suitable for your age, capacity, etc.

– Learn about mindfulness and how to practise meditation.

– Develop a manageable project/hobby.

– Have compassion and be kind to yourself.

Not everyone will require therapeutic support. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your emotions, consider confiding your feelings to a trusted friend. Or seek a referral to a counsellor either through your GP or self-refer by accessing the online register of trained and skilled counsellors.

Many people’s dilemma this Christmas will be celebrating while keeping ourselves and loved ones safe. We should also recognise that some elderly parents or relatives are perhaps reluctant to join a family gathering and would prefer to stay safely at home. It is important not to pressure them but respect their wishes.

Yes, it will be a different Christmas. Still, we can also make it memorable in our unique Irish way. We can trust that there are brighter days ahead, knowing that we are resilient, creative and courageous people.

I’m reminded of a poem by Maryanne Radmacher: “Courage does not always roar, sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow’.”

This Christmas, please don’t feel that you need to roar. Listen to your quiet voice and if you think you falter, try again tomorrow.

Bernie Hackett is an accredited member and vice-chair of the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP)