Wellbeing Wednesday Q&A - Christmas special

By Christine Morrison, Head of Product Management and clinical expert at Mental Health Innovations.

 

I feel worried about going home and putting on a ‘happy face’ with my family because it’s Christmas.

It can be normal to feel uneasy around the holidays especially when it comes to time spent with family. It can feel like a lot of pressure to come across a certain way to our families. Consider making sure you set a boundary beforehand. Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that you set out that enable you to prioritise your own needs and give at a sustainable rate.

Think of boundaries sort of like the rules to a board game. What guidelines are necessary for everything to operate smoothly, safely, and comfortably? Take some time to think about your needs before going home and consider your boundaries. If you feel drained can one of your boundaries be that you’ll go on a walk by yourself even if it doesn’t suit the rest of the family? Can it be excusing yourself to take a break and watch a TV show alone if a conversation topic is upsetting you?

Make a plan beforehand and remember that setting a boundary is a courageous act of putting ourselves first. It’s a great way to break the people-pleasing habit and practice the art of self-care. Boundaries are not unkind, instead they allow sustained healthy relationships.

 

I spent a lot of money on Christmas presents for friends and will have to ask my parents for money/help. I feel really anxious about it and think I might have overdone it slightly.

It sounds like you are a generous person who has made an attempt to give to others. Often when we get worried and overwhelmed we experience something called cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions make the anxious thoughts even stronger and leave us feeling stuck. A couple of cognitive distortions that could be going on here might be:

  • The Fortune Teller Error. We act as a fortune teller who predicts only the worst then treat the unrealistic prediction as if it is a proven fact.
  • Mind reading. We assume we know what someone else is thinking. We become convinced that other people (like our parents) will have a negative reaction to us even though we’ve never confirmed our guess.
  • Magnification. We magnify negative things blowing their importance out of proportion.  We may get to the point where the event feels catastrophic even if the evidence shows that we could handle it.

 

Sometimes when we experience anxiety it's a sign that our mind is running with one of these cognitive distortions. Consider if any of these things might be happening and challenge the cognitive distortion. Is there evidence behind the thoughts leading to the anxious feelings or are they just thoughts not based in present reality. Break the problem down into the present moment vs. getting pulled ten steps ahead.

 

Because of covid I’m spending Christmas and New Year at my iQ property. I haven’t made many friends, I’m so scared of having a horrible and lonely couple of weeks. Any tips to keep my mind busy and ward off the feelings of dread?

It's commendable that you have the self awareness and courage to check in with yourself about how you’re feeling during this difficult time of year. That takes a lot of maturity. Time alone with ourselves can be intimidating but also a gift. Time alone can offer a space to recharge that we wouldn’t normally have the chance to do.

Consider approaching this time with curiosity about how much you can grow. Allow yourself to relax and see what being with yourself feels like. View this time as an experiment to learn more about yourself. Remember that your emotions are useful information not something you need to run away from. If this ever feels like too much, consider exploring some coping strategies to keep yourself busy.  While covid doesn’t allow for all these, there are some good ones to get you started on this list: 99 Coping Skills. Remember you can always text Shout 85258 for someone to talk to if you feel lonely or need more ideas.

 

I have a strained relationship with my parents and I’m dreading going home… I want to lie and say I can’t come but think it will make matters worse.

It’s important to remember that you’re allowed to have desires that differ from your parents and family. Consider taking a moment to reflect on what this is bringing up for you. Sometimes we put automatic judgments onto ourselves that have no evidence. We may judge ourselves for having different needs and think this makes us selfish or unkind. What judgments are you placing on yourself? Sometimes accepting that these judgmental thoughts don’t hold so much power or mean anything so big can bring us some relief. It is normal and okay to have different needs and desires from our family or friends.

It may be helpful to spend some time thinking through the bits that strain you the most when spending time at home. Once you identify the triggers, it will be easier to create boundaries that protect you from the emotions that result from the triggers.

Consider coming up with a list of triggers that lead to distress and a plan to cope with each of them. For example, “when my mom asks me why I’m studying music not medicine I’m going to reply with 'Talking about this topic is hard for me. Can we change the conversation? I’d love to hear how you’ve made the garden look so good.” Another example might be, "my parents' fighting drains me. When my parents raise their voices I’m going to leave the situation and take at least 45 minutes alone on a walk or watching a show with headphones in.”

Once you come up with your list of triggers and coping strategies ask yourself if that will be enough to manage the situation in a safe and healthy way. If the answer is yes, going home might work out well.  If no, remember that you are not selfish or ungrateful for needing to meet your own needs first.

Got a question? Let us know on social with #WellbeingWednesday

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