Christmas. It's fast approaching.
For many Christmas is a wonderful day filled with family, friends, gifts, good food and good times. But for some people it can be a challenge.
Services close for the holiday break, health professionals go on vacation and there's a perceived social pressure that demands happiness and participation.
To help you through the coming days we asked people living with mental illness for their tips to survive the Christmas period.
Plan, walk and talk
Make sure all your medications are up to date. Use exercise, like walking, to help alleviate stress when you sense a trigger.
Talk to someone prior to Christmas Day, ask them to help you rehearse and revise your coping mechanisms.
Keep it simple
Easy does it and don't over think it. Write a list with the most important things at the top, then work your way down, one task at a time. It'll happen, you will get through the list.
Enjoy the company of those you love, and those who love you. And don't forget to smile! It's hard to be stressed while you're smiling.
Use the past to your advantage
Look back and learn from past Christmases. What worked and what didn't? Were there situations, people, or events that adversely affected you? How did you respond and can you see a pattern in these past experiences?
Use the past as a guide to help change your actions this year.
– SANE Help Centre
Find time for yourself
Make space for solitude and do what recharges you. This will stop you from burning the candle at both ends and trying to meet the heightened expectations of Christmas.
My husband and I take a year off from Christmas every couple of years. We just to do what makes us happy and we don't have to live up to expectations or maintain obligations.
Be honest to yourself, friends and family
If you can't do something or be somewhere, apologise and tell them early.
Explain that you're struggling mentally, burnt out, or that crowds, questions or people are too overwhelming at the moment. Say you're not in a good place right now and it's nothing personal and you wish them the best and appreciate their understanding.
Ask for their understanding and support. You'll be surprised how many people understand. If they don't that's ok too.
This honesty gives you space. Space to choose when to contact people and not feel pressured.
Choose who you celebrate with
Spend time with the people who really love and cherish you and limit or avoid spending time with those who don't. Remember that you are allowed to have a happy Christmas too.
Limit your exposure to people who are draining and plan something you really want to do after Christmas. This way you have something to look forward to. It could be as simple as shopping or reading a book. Good luck!
Manage your energy
Give only as much as you have to. Keep your interactions short and be open and honest about how you're feeling with at least one support person.
It can be hard to set boundaries. But sometimes you just have to say no. It can be very scary putting yourself first but those who really care will understand.
Try to spend time with people who energise you rather than those who drain you. In the lead-up to this Christmas I have surrounded myself with supportive people, minimised stressors, kept to my daily routines and made decisions about my involvement in Christmas, knowing that it's okay to not go beyond my capabilities.
I'm not feeling as much trepidation as I usually do, I feel hopeful that I'll have a peaceful day. I hope you do too!
Find a safe space
If you have to go to a family lunch or dinner, find a quiet spot to retreat to when you get overwhelmed.
Debrief with a trusted support
Talk to someone before and after you attend a stressful event. This can be a mental health professional, a helpline, or somebody close to you.
I also find it helps if I take time to do something fun. Seeing friends or gardening are just two strategies I use to keep myself stress-free.