The ‘festive’ season can be one of the most difficult times of the year for some people, especially if they’re struggling with difficult voices, visions or the impact of social adversity and trauma. Inspired by the excellent HVN Western Australia Guide to the Festive Season, this post shares some ideas for getting through Christmas and New Years if you – or someone you care about – are finding it tough.
Please note: This information has been put together with the help of Hearing Voices Network Western Australia and a discussion on Intervoice’s facebook group. Thanks to everyone for their ideas and support.
Be kind to yourself
Stop worrying about making others happy and do whatever it takes to be kind to yourself
The festive season can be a time when we put everyone else’s needs above our own. Whether it’s family or friends, we can spend a lot of time worrying about what is expected of us – sometimes feeling trapped in situations that aren’t good for our own emotional wellbeing. This could be spending time in busy shopping centres, when it makes our voices harder to cope with – or feeling that we need to be out visiting people all day when we really just need a bit of time on our own.
[Think about] how much your stress and unhappiness comes from the expectations placed on you by others (or yourself) during this time of year. If it feels worth it, try to see which of those can be minimised or discarded all together.
It’s not always easy to let go of obligations during Christmas/new years, especially if you have children or family, but – if you can – try and make sure you have a bit of time to yourself. Plan in things that help you feel comforted, safe or relaxed – whether it’s hiding under the duvet for half and hour or going for a walk.
My first plan is not to let myself worry too much about all the expectations – getting the right gifts, organising perfect meals, being in lots of different places to make everyone happy. So my first tip is to keep things simple.
Next one is – if you do have busy or stressful things happening – be prepared to pull the plug if you need to even if it’s at the last minute & people are waiting on you. Make a self care decision to put whatever you need first – even if that means hiding under the covers for half the day. I did this one year – it was better than spending Boxing Day in the hospital. It is ok to let people down a little
Some members of the facebook group pointed out how important it is to resist the urge to be a ‘perfect voice-hearer’ and feel like you need to employ the perfect array of coping strategies to manage the festive season. Instead, they suggest:
Don’t feel pressured or shamed into being the ‘recovered voice hearer’ doing the hip interventions, just be who you are whatever level of coping or brilliance that is
Far from the festive family fun time Christmas is often billed as, many people are spending the holiday season alone. For those who’s family was/is abusive and crazy-making, the words of ‘E’ from our facebook group may be helpful:
This time of year can be very difficult and emotionally painful for many people. It is supposed to be a fantastic festive friends and family period, when you are happy, get together, have fun and a generally wonderful time. There is a lot of hype, many expectations and pressure to be “happy and having fun”. If you are not having a good time, you can start to feel as though you are the only one and there is something wrong with you.
However, you are by no means alone. Many people are struggling with different issues at this time. They might be sad, alone, lonely, depressed, distressed, unwell, with little or no social support. Many people come from families which were dysfunctional, abusive and toxic and struggle with the after-effects of abuse. There is no “happy family” to go home to … This is the opposite of the festive family hype, but it is the reality for many people.
Be extra kind to yourself at this time of year. Remember that you are not alone. Reach out to supportive friends and groups if possible. If you are well enough, try to find a way to be of service and support to others, but don’t feel guilty if you are not able to do this. Make your happiness and well-being a priority. Do what you need to do to look after yourself and get through what can be a difficult and distressing time for many people.
In short – anything goes. If you need/want to spend the day alone in bed until it’s boxing day, do. If you want to spend all your time in others’ company – that’s OK too.
I’ve also found it helpful, sometimes, to ditch the idea of xmas altogether
Some people find it helpful to change their idea of what 25 & 31 December ‘should’ be altogether. This ranges from doing something drastically different on the day itself, changing one aspect of it or cancelling Christmas altogether and clinging on to the fact that it’s just another day.
Remember it’s just another Wednesday. That we have 52 of them a year and they are all worth celebrating. This day will pass and there will be heaps more that follow that can have as much meaning as we expect Christmas to have. Do something you love doing just because you can, find 3 things you are grateful for & look for something to celebrate everyday
We found taking pressure off of Xmas by not being Xmas has worked. We even had a non-ceremony where we welcomed the new sun as a family by having the small close loved ones ceremony on Solstice making it easier to tolerate the demands of others on the actual day as we had already done our own thing. For the record the ceremony involved eating pheasant and holding hands and reading from Little Nose [A Children’s Book – ed]
All of the things we associate with Christmas and New Years Ever are simply traditions, actions passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes it’s helpful to find a way of reclaiming these days from other people’s traditions and create our own.
This is always a tough time of the year for me and my voices. This year I have put a plan in to place and am with people who love and care for me and away from home where there are lots of reminders of all my loss
Finding the small things that help (a little)
Whilst there is no ‘one size fits all’ method to get through Christmas, it can help to become aware of the things that you find help you get through difficult times. For some, it’s useful to think of these strategies as things that help pass the time until things feel better (as the idea of ‘coping’ with such distress can feel unrealistic or overwhelming). For others, these are strategies that deal with specific situations that they – or their voices – struggle to deal with.
Here are some ideas from the Facebook group:
For some, the voices give them a helping hand …
If you’re expecting the same-old, same-old: a loved one that always says something so ignorant you could scream, the bossy sister, whomever … try our trick … my girls (2 of my voices) sing little sing-sing ditties and tell me jokes to remind me to keep my mood light.
For others, it’s about finding a way of limiting time spent with family/friends …
It can help to have an escape route or safe space planned in advance for christmas social/family occasions. This could be thinking about where you can go if it gets too much, how you can leave without worrying about offending others and something you can take with you that helps you feel safe (an item with some good vibes attached to it). E.g. if my voices get a bit hectic, I can go and walk the dog and sort it out en route.
When visiting relatives a long way away agree in advance how long you stay so you don’t over do it.
But allowing themselves the flexibility to stay longer if they find themselves enjoying it …
When times are hard I tell people that I will come and stay but I say I am not sure how long it will be for. That way i can leave whenever it gets too much without disappointing them. Sometimes I surprise myself and end up staying longer than I expected.
Or reaching out to others when needed …
If you have someone you can call for support & to share what u are experiencing with (if the people you are with don’t get it). Check in with them as often as you need, and warn them in advance that you’ll be in contact so they are looking for your call and will check their phone often.
If you feel stuck that there’s not enough happening for u at Christmas or u feel lonely (one Christmas with just me & the voices was not fun) then connect with others somehow. Post messages to FB friends or in groups, go for a walk & wish strangers a merry Christmas.
A sense of humour can be invaluable …
I found sarcasm useful.
As can being around children and animals. Many members shared experiences of dogs and cats that had helped them through difficult times.
Children and/or animals can help. Unconditional love and fun. They don’t judge
Finally, at a time with religious overtones and the idea that only ‘nice’ people get presents … one members suggests:
Remember that you are good inside and your intentions are good. All the rest that does not agree with your soul is from the outside and it is not required that you act on it or believe it. Defy the autocritic. Be calm. seek peace.
A Final Word
No matter what you do this holiday, take really good care of yourself. Everyone here at Intervoice wishes you the very best and we look forward to 2014. Lets work together to make it a better year for people who hear voices, see visions or have other unusual sensory perceptions.
If you would like t
o join Intervoice, please see: www.intervoiceonline.org/about-intervoice/join-us
Join the discussion on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/intervoice/
For extra ideas, read: Coping strategies and other useful resources