Tim Talks: How To Support One Another This Holiday Season

A note from Tine: Welcome to another edition of Tim Talks! For those who are new to Beautyholics Anonymous, Tim Talks is a new series on the blog where my husband, Tim, will be sharing his knowledge to help raise mental health awareness. Tim is a psychiatrist who works in metro Melbourne. His area of interest is child, adolescent and youth.

The holiday season, while a cheerful and festive one for many, can also be a dark one for others. Today, Tim talks about the importance of supporting one another this holiday season.

Tim Talks

The festive season is just around the corner, and for a lot of readers this will be a time of connecting with loved ones, feasting (the word turducken comes to mind, such indulgence), and of course the booze to accompany the hearty meals. Although most will remember and ponder on such fond memories associated with this period, it can equally be a trying period in the domain of relationships. Thinking about the latter, I recount scenes from the film August Osage County, where each verbal exchange at the dinner table felt like daggers that pierced so deep into each family members’ soul, that they stirred resentment and rejection towards each other.

Relationships with our closed ones can be such a blessing, but because of their significance and importance to us, we also tend to have very strong and ambivalent feelings toward them. Unresolved and festering conflicts can resurface, clashing principles and perceptions can drive a wedge further into already volatile relationships. It is no wonder that sometimes we can feel so drained and down after family and special gatherings.

In my experience in public mental health, anecdotally this coincides with an increased rate of admission surrounding and after the festive seasons such as Christmas. Another contributing factor to this trend is the heightened awareness of being alone, the lack of supportive people that one that confide in, sometimes due to the rupture in their relationships. The memories of losing loved ones and the emotions of grief can also be more unbearable at these moments.

I have come up with several general principles that I feel will be helpful to focus on during the festive season. These are not in any particular order of importance.

Be aware of your expectations for others

My Dad used to tell me that ‘you should always give people the benefit of the doubt’. We may not have a lot of knowledge on why someone was particularly rude or annoyed with us, but we should try to put ourselves in others’ shoes to gain a better understanding. Recently I was shocked to see an uploaded video on Facebook where someone had smashed a car’s side panel over a parking spot in a shopping centre. I wondered if that level of aggression was only partly related to the squabble over the parking space, and that the act of smashing into another’s car was an accumulation of frustration which then ‘tipped over’.

It is a more courageous decision to step away from a heated disagreement or conflict to prevent further escalation, and to revisit that issue when the fumes have settled. An analogy I find helpful in practising mindfulness is to imagine the thoughts you are experiencing as akin to leaves on a stream of water. We may try to hold onto grudges or have those angry thoughts fester, but you can slowly train yourself to acknowledge those thoughts in the moment and then let it drift onwards down the stream, which in turn will reduce the significance you place on such negative thoughts.

Moderation is the key word

Although there is always a temptation to indulge ourselves during this time, we need to be still maintaining one’s sense of control over what we are consuming as well as how we are interacting with others. I don’t want to sound like a party pooper, but an excess of alcohol does make one more disinhibited, and this can lead to unhealthy and hurtful interactions with closed ones. The damage that is done can sometimes be very hard to undo, if this is possible. Know where your upper limits are and avoid crossing that threshold. One strategy to consider is alternating one alcoholic beverage with a non-alcoholic one, preferably water which will aid with hydration (alcohol does dehydrate you, which is also why you feel like crap when hungover).

Just like food, sometimes it is also important to moderate the contact and interactions with family and friends. It is ok to give yourself a breather in amongst the festivities, to allow yourself time for your own space. Retreat to a hotel or head home for a nice warm shower, break up the day with either a quick work out or having a nice cup of coffee or tea. You will find that this will help you feel more contained after a reluctant conversation with an annoying aunt where the topic would not veer off your current body weight.

In a similar vein, keep the food comas to a minimum and you will thank me for not having to do a drastic resolution in the new year for weight loss. You can always have a piece of that favourite chocolate cake, but perhaps not the entire cake. 🙂

A simple phone call or text message can go a long way

For friends or people you may have lost touch with for a while, sometimes a gesture like a phone call or message can serve as the spark to ignite the process of reconnecting again. Some may be going through a tough trot, and may have become more withdrawn from their usual social network. People who are depressed tend to lose their support networks as they doubt whether friends or family would wish to associate with them. By communicating to them that you are still keeping them in mind, this also serves as a reminder to them that they are not alone in their difficult ordeals, and that they have supports nearby they could rely on.

A myth that some people hold is the belief that if you discuss negative thoughts such as suicidal thoughts to someone who is depressed, they will become more suicidal. There has not been any evidence to support such a statement, and in my experience it is quite a relief for those going through depression to know that their loved ones and family know the extent to which they are struggling. It is also helpful to go into further discussing about a safety plan with them. A safety plan is likened to a plan when you have a designated driver for friends who are likely to be intoxicated with alcohol, where you establish who are the people they could speak with, and what helpful contact numbers and resources can be accessed when they are feeling particularly vulnerable.

On that note, I really wish all you readers a good mental health and best wishes over Christmas and upcoming New Year.

Some useful Australian numbers to consider:
Kids Helpline – 1800551800, they also have a web-based service at www.kidshelp.com.au
Lifeline – 131114, www.lifeline.org.au
Psychiatric Triage Service – each region has its own 1300 number (this is also accessible 24/7), you can refer to various Victorian triage services through www.health.vic.gov.au/mentalhealth/services/index.htm.

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6 comments… add one
  1. Anna

    What a great article. As a social worker who works with high risk youth, Christmas is a particularly difficult time for them. These pointers are basic but really quite powerful things that we can all be mindful of at what can be a vulnerable time for lots of people.

    1. Tine

      Tim: Hi Anna, thanks for your comment. I think alot of us underestimate the power of staying connected and keeping people in mind over such difficult times. As you will know, better outcomes with vulnerable youth seems centred on the quality of their engagement either with health workers or social networks. Keep up the great work and passion with the youth cohort :)(challenging yet rewarding in my view)

  2. Kay

    I kept nodding my head in agreement as I read on the post. Often I felt extremely overwhelmed with negative vibes after family gatherings and I realized it’s due to conversations that end in bad notes or someone getting drunk and making trouble. So I suggested to reduce the amount of alcohol provided for guests and it helped to improve the quality of gatherings tremendously. And therefore making people enjoying gatherings more instead of dreading them all the time.

    Thank you Tim, for the advice! And I’ll look forward to the next post of yours and Tine! Enjoy the holidays and have a happy new year in advance!

    1. Tine

      Tim: Hi Kay, I’m glad you found the article helpful. As you have experienced first-hand, our social ‘filters’ don’t work as well after one too many a drink, and most of the time you can’t ‘retract that statement’ after it has parted from our mouths. It’s great that you were able to stand firm on reducing the alcohol provided for guests, and that has made a positive impact on the interactions in the gatherings.
      Thanks for your well wishes and I will see you in the New Year! Warmest regards to you and your family from me and Tine.

  3. Carole

    Such a good read! I’ve been meaning to tell you… Do you know Coronation Street, the English soap opera? They are touching on the subject of depression with one of their long-serving actor. It’s only the beginning (his gp has started diagnosing him but he’s not letting on to his family and friends). So far I find it a good portrayal. I hope it’ll help people who need it identify with the character.
    Carole recently posted..La Photo du Mois – Décembre 2015My Profile

    1. Tine

      Tim: Carole, apologies for the late reply, I am not as quick in responses as Tine 🙂
      I have not watched Coronation Street although I have heard it is a very long-standing soap opera that has a strong following. I think even cancer has better awareness and acceptance than mental illnesses as depression. I hope Coronation Street will help create positive awareness for depression for its viewers.

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