The emotional cost of the holiday season. Christmas is considered to be one of the most stressful events in our lives – along with moving house, divorcing, losing a loved one and changing jobs. If any of these events have happened in isolation in your life, the atmosphere and events surrounding Christmas can trigger further pain and difficulty. Because mental health is such a unique and internally felt experience, it can cause us to become withdrawn, and cut off from those around us. This isolating behaviour is protective to some extent but it can also be harmful, with loneliness a common outcome. Each of us has our own experience of the human condition, but feelings of loneliness are universal at different times of the year and at different stages of our lives. In the working paper “Is Australia experiencing an epidemic of loneliness?” produced by Relationships Australia in 2018, results around the prevalence of loneliness and social isolation were startling. “Over the past sixteen years, around one in five, to one in six people reported they often felt lonely in any given year.” The results also showed that the rates of loneliness have remained stable (not increased or decreased) for the past 7 years. Lifeline Australia discovered similar results in an online survey that revealed 60% of its respondents reported feeling lonely often. In multiple online surveys by Relationships Australia, almost half of the respondents (43%) reported feeling isolated ‘sometimes’ while more than a third (34%) reported that they often felt lonely and isolated. These feelings can be compounded as we go through stressful life events – as many Ex-Servicemen and women do. Making the transition into life after service comes with its own challenges, but Christmas time can add extra pressure as the expectations of those around us increase beyond day to day and the stress of family dynamics comes into play. The most important thing to remember is that the holiday season is transient and will pass as quickly as it appeared. Engaging with what is most possible for you and managing the day to day events of Christmas is a good strategy as it not only gives you small, achievable goals to work with, it also keeps you busy! Self-Care at Christmas Each of us has our limits and knowing in advance what yours are can help you to not overcommit to things that will impact negatively on your health and wellbeing. If you can manage to engage in things with friends and family then do so, but factor in time away from the chaos for yourself, and outline some strategies to manage difficult interactions that may arise. Some find it useful to have a support person as their buddy – a close friend or relative who knows where you’re at and who can act as interference for you in awkward family situations. If the notion of being around people is unthinkable, why not reconnect with yourself? Plan time to indulge in whatever makes you happy. Create a list of activities that will promote a sense of calm and wellbeing and then start doing them! This could be anything from taking a hot bath or cooking your favourite food to planning a movie marathon to spending the day on an inspiring hike or bike ride. Engaging with the community If the thought of being around family is too much, why not engage in community activities around Christmas time? You can help with a local fundraising event, donate time to a homeless shelter to serve meals or get involved with a charity Christmas party. Volunteering during the holiday period is not only good for others in need, but it also has a positive effect on the mental and physical health of the volunteer. It can assist in combating stress and depression, while provides a sense of purpose and self-confidence. If you or anyone you know are going through difficulties, Lifeline is available all year round. Beyond Blue can also assist or you can contact the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs for assistance. You are also welcome and encouraged to contact us at Carry On Victoria and we can point you in the right direction.