By Julie Wales, Family & Special Needs Counsellor 
Christmas can be wonderful, but it can be a real struggle for lots of people and one of the loneliest times of the year for many, especially so with the current cost of living doom and gloom. 
I know how it feels to have days where you don’t really want to go out or being with other people, and Christmas is just like every other day. While everyone may be getting excited in the lead-up, remember to keep it in perspective. Christmas is another day of the year, and you might not know how you’re going to feel. And that’s okay. 

1. Look after yourself 

Set your boundaries. Say no to things that are not helpful for you. 
Let yourself experience your own feelings. Even if they do not match what is going on around you, they are still real and valid. 
Take time out. Do something to forget that it's Christmas or distract yourself. For example, you could watch a film or read a book that is set in the summer. Or you could try learning a new hobby or doing something different. 
Let yourself have the things you need. For example, if you need to take time out instead of doing an activity feel ok about doing that. 
2. Plan ahead 
• Set a 'start' and 'finish' time for what you count as Christmas. Remind yourself that it won't last forever. 
• If you can't avoid something difficult, plan something for yourself afterwards to help reduce the stress or distress you might feel. 
Think about what might be difficult about Christmas for you, and if there's anything that might help you cope. It might be useful to write this down. For example: 
If you sometimes experience flashbacks, or panic attacks, make a note of what helps during these moments. Create your own coping cards to keep with you. 
Another communication idea is to use coloured feeling cards, e.g., Red card may mean “I feel anxious/angry…I can’t talk right now. 
Green or Yellow card may mean “I am happy to chat…” I need your help with something..” Agree with the person who is using the cards what they mean before using them so if you are with lots of people they can simply show you the card and go to their ‘safe’ place in the house. 
If you're going to be somewhere unfamiliar for Christmas, think about what you need to help you cope. Are there things you can bring to make you feel more comfortable? Or is there somewhere you can go to take a break? This is particularly relevant for someone with special needs who may struggle with changes. Can you create a visual schedule of activities or each day as a lot of people with special needs struggle with ‘what’s next ‘? 
Certain places may feel uncomfortable for you, for example if they bring back difficult memories. Could you plan to spend less time in difficult places, or not go at all? Are there any reasonable excuses for you to stay away? 
Think about whether you really need to do things if you are not looking forward to them. Can you do them differently or for less time? 
If your child/teen is struggling with sensory overwhelm can they have some time in a quiet area to self-soothe and reduce noise and fuss? Can they take a special item with them if you are visiting family? 
If you're worried about feeling lonely or isolated this Christmas, think about some activities to help pass the time. For example, this might be doing something creative or spending time in nature. Try gentle relaxation exercises e.g., breathing or stretches, walking in the fresh air in daylight. 
Try to plan something nice to do after Christmas. Having something to look forward to next year could make a real difference. 
"My advice is to take your time. Christmas can be a busy time of year, if you need a break don't feel bad about taking one." 
3. Manage relationships 
If other people's questions are difficult, you could plan some answers in advance, so you are not caught off guard. For example, about your plans or how you are doing. 
Think about how to end difficult conversations. It's ok to tell someone you don't want to talk about something, or to change the subject. It might help to practise what you will say. 
Suggest an activity or an effortless way to move on if you want to help end an unwanted conversation. For example, this could be playing a game, or taking a screen break if you are on a video call. 
If other people do not seem to understand how you're feeling, you could share this information with them. You could also think about writing down how you are feeling and sharing this with them if conversations are difficult. 
"I've found the way of having a happiest Christmas is doing what's right for me. Making careful choices who I spend my time with and keeping in mind that it is just one day. The interactions I have with people throughout the year are just as important." 
4. Talk to other people 
Let people know you're struggling. It can often feel like it's just you when it's not. Get in touch and I can offer some tips on opening about your feelings. 
It doesn't have to be people who are already in your life. You could join an online community to talk to others who have similar experiences to yours. Mind’s online community Side by Side is a safe place to connect with others who understand what you’re going through. 
Tell people what they can stop, start, or continue doing to help you. For example, you could let them know any activities you would like to be involved in, and what they can do to support you during Christmas. Or you could tell them any questions or topics that you find hard to discuss, so they can avoid asking about them. 
You don't have to justify yourself to others. But you might feel pressured to, especially if someone asks a lot of questions. It could help to let them know that certain situations are difficult for you and tell them what they can do to help. It might also help to tell them that you understand they may see things in a unique way. 
You might not be able to make others understand. That's OK. It is not your responsibility to convince other people or get their permission to look after yourself. 
Think about your own self-care and your child’s if they struggle with sensory overwhelm. 

5. Get support 

If you are struggling this Christmas, you may want to find support for your mental health. There are a few ways that you can do this: 
Childline: Online help and advice telephone and text chat support · Phone: 0800 1111 
Young Minds: mental health advice and info for young people • Young Minds CRISIS MESSENGER: 24/7 service, providing free, mental health crisis support for young people across the UK. Text YM to 85258 
Samaritans: National Freephone: 116 123 (24-hours). 
Text SHOUT to 85258. This is a free 24/7 crisis text service run by Shout. 
Self-Harm Helpline Rethink Gloucestershire: Everyday 5pm-10pm · Webchat Phone: 0808 8010606 Text: 075374 10022 
PAPYRUS: confidential help and advice to prevent suicide. · Helpline: 0800 0684141 Text: 07786 209 697 Email: 
Feeling suicidal at Christmas: If you feel unable to keep yourself safe, it is a mental health emergency. Go to your local A & E department or ring your local Crisis Team. The Gloucestershire Crisis Team are on 0800 169 0398 is the UK charity for the prevention of young suicide (under 35). HOPELINE UK call 0800 068 4141. Text: 07860 039 967, Email: 
Papyrus suggests making yourself a hope box, filling it with things that will help you feel better. You could carry a mini version of this to travel with to reduce anxiety and fear. You could put anything in it that soothes, e.g., small soft toy, fiddle toy, something scented, hand cream, warm gloves or fluffy socks, colouring book/pens, stress ball, etc. It must be personal to you. 
They also have a guide for parents on how to support your child. 

And Finally: Do Christmas how you want to 

Take time for yourself to do what you like. You could organise something else for the day, like volunteer work or helping at a local event. First and foremost, you need to look after yourself, and you need to do that every day of the year. Have a think about some alternative things you could do this Christmas to make the day more enjoyable for yourself. There is a lot of pressure at this time of year to feel ‘happy’ because everyone else is. Christmas looks different for everyone, and you should spend it in a way that makes you feel as relaxed as possible. That might be spending time with your friends and family, or it might be going for a walk, or watching your favourite film or reading a book. It could be anything that you enjoy doing daily, but it should be down to you and where you feel most comfortable rather than feeling forced into situations. You don’t need to people please! 
If you need support in January, please contact Julie Wales via the contact form or call 07412651894
Tagged as: Christmas, Family life
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