Survival kit for the less-than-festive

18 December 2012 - 02:00 By KATHARINE CHILD
Christmas Stocking. File photo
Christmas Stocking. File photo
Image: Business Times

IF THE Christmas song and Hollywood movies are to be believed, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

But psychologists warn that the festive season can be challenging for many who struggle without the supportive structure of a job or are lonely.

Johannesburg psychologist Amber Malone said her clients are most in need of help in December.

"It is such a paradox. People expect the holiday to bring them relief and reprieve."

But many people are not aware of the challenges that this "empty time" brings, she said.

"They don't realise that the routine and rhythm of school or work contributes to psychological wellbeing.

"[During the holidays] there is nothing to blame your feelings on - not your irritating work colleagues, not the traffic. Many people are taken by surprise. People spend the whole year anticipating a fantastic holiday."

People also feel discouraged when another year has "come and gone" and they are still stuck in a rut or have not lost weight or changed jobs, said Malone.

Instead of condemning themself, people should celebrate the small things or simply surviving the year, she said.

The SA Anxiety and Depression Group's guidelines for enjoying the festive season suggest that people put the "ideal Christmas" out of their mind.

One of the group's counsellors, Dessy Tzoneva, said: "Too many people have an idealised version of what the holidays should be like instead of what they really are. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has a picture-perfect holiday."

Family arguments should be seen as normal.

"In an ideal world, we'd be friends with everyone and everyone would be friends with us. But in the real world we get into disagreements or sometimes fully fledged arguments with others we care about," said Tzoneva.

Other tips from psychologists for the festive season:

  • Don't overindulge or self-medicate with food and alcohol: they can make you feel sluggish and worse; keep making healthy choices;
  • Allow yourself to recharge;
  • Don't condemn yourself for not having achieved planned goals during the year;
  • Don't be alarmed by difficulties in a relationship; they are highlighted when you spend more time together. During the year, work moderates relationships and creates forced absences. Use the extra time together to reconnect with loved ones;
  • Immerse yourself in the present. Dig your feet in the beach sand or go for a walk. The reality of now surpasses fantasy; and
  • Ask for help. Be direct and get children or other loved ones to help give a hand at busy times.

The SA Anxiety and Depression Group helpline is open even on Christmas Day. Call: 011-262-6396 or 0800-567-567.