Self-care during the festive season

The Christmas and New Year period is traditionally a time to get together and for celebration, however this may feel a bit different this year due to Covid-19.   If you’ve experienced a crime and are affected by trauma, it is also not uncommon for the effects of this emotional event to become more intense or magnified at this time of year. This leaflet has been prepared to support you in managing this difficult time by prioritising your self-care.

It can be easy to dismiss self-care as self-indulgence or unnecessary. However, self-care is essential following the experience of a traumatic event as it will help you to manage some of the symptoms you may be experiencing and reduce distress.

Self-care at this time might involve the following:

Planning ahead

  • Think about what might be difficult about Christmas for you and if there is anything that might help you cope. It might be useful to generate a list of helpful coping strategies.
  • It may be useful to set a start and finish time for what you count as Christmas and/or New Year and remind yourself that it won’t last forever.
  • Set your boundaries and say no to things that aren’t helpful for you.
  • Take time out. Plan something to forget that it’s Christmas if this helps you or distract yourself. For example, plan practical jobs that will give you a sense of achievement, organise your wardrobe, de-clutter or sort out admin tasks that you have put aside.
  • Find out which activities lift you, such as things that you enjoy doing and allow you to feel recharged, and plan these into your day. Reduce activities such as zoning out in front of the TV. This might feel like self-care but could be depleting in the long run. Ideally, you want to feel refreshed after a nourishing activity.
  • Make a list of any important telephone numbers for services that you might need for extra support so that you can access them easily.

 Taking time for yourself

  • Give yourself permission to attend to your needs. For example, if you need to take time out instead of doing an activity, then say No.  Don’t feel that you have to over-commit to things.
  • Mindfulness and breathing practice each day can make a big difference in bringing calm and relaxation to a busy mind. The physiological impact of these exercises can be watched here at TEDx Talks – The Importance of Breathing www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_fFattg8N0  (from 08:00).
  • Be mindful of your inner critic pushing you to do things or feeling guilty if you don’t. You could try the Soothing Rhythm Breathing exercise to relieve some of this critical internal dialogue-www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsGek_AEDJI
  • There are many apps that you can download with guided mindfulness and breathing exercises. There are many resources online that are free to access. Some of these are at the end of this leaflet.
  • You don’t have to be “ON” all over the Christmas period. Take time out away from others, sit in an unoccupied room for 10-15 minutes at a time and do a quick breathing and grounding exercise. Then reconnect with others when you are ready.

 Managing your feelings

  • Remember that “it’s ok not to feel ok”- there can be a lot of pressure to look or act a certain way over the Christmas period.
  • Let yourself grieve for what you have experienced.  It is more helpful to feel sad and angry, these feelings will be less intense as time goes on.
  • Allow yourself to experience positive emotions too and do not feel guilty about this. Recognise the things that improve your mood and plan to do more of these during this time.

Asking for help

  • It can be difficult to reach out to friends and family and it is a common worry that we can be seen as a burden or that it might affect the relationship. Ask for help from trusted others. Often they are not aware that you might need it and feel uncomfortable to ask you if you do.
  • When you decide to speak to a trusted other, find a suitable time and place. Plan an appropriate amount of time, so it’s not rushed. It might be helpful to practice what you want to say. You could make a mental note or write down some notes. It can feel uncomfortable sharing something personal or emotive but explaining how your feelings are affecting your life may help others understand.
  • Remember that you do not have to share everything in one go, share however much or little you feel comfortable and able with.
  • Suggest things they could do to help. This is often just listening and offering emotional support – or there may be practical help that you need.

Don't forget the basics

  • It sounds simple, but it is so easy to forget. Take your medications. Eat well. Stay hydrated. Try hard to rest your body and mind even if you cannot sleep. Don’t neglect your physical health. Forgetting any of these basic needs can make you more vulnerable to distress and stress.
  • Try to see any time off work at this time as a constructive way to re-energise and recalibrate.
  • Prioritise your physical and emotional needs during this period of time as otherwise it is easy to focus on others instead. Remember the principle of “putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others”.  

 Get out and about

  • Ensure that you get some time outdoors as staying inside for long periods of time is not conducive to positive mental wellbeing. 
  • Being out in daylight and particularly in nature can help your sleep.
  • Any form of exercise will also increase feel good hormones

Have a Christmas digital detox

  • A digital detox might be helpful for you at this time. The constant Facebook updates, Instagram alerts and worrying world news means we end up with information overloaded or comparing ourselves to others.
  • Try leaving your phone on airplane mode for periods during the day.
  • Turn if off an hour before getting into bed to help you unwind and sleep.

 Managing loneliness

  • At the present time, during the current pandemic or for other reasons, you may be spending Christmas on your own. Plan your own holiday time for you. Make the day a day to treat yourself. Engage in activities that you enjoy. For example, watch films, take a bath, read a book, turn on the music that you love…anything that feels reinvigorating to you.
  • Make a plan and structure your day if this helps.
  • Connecting with others is also essential. Think of connection in terms of being with people who you find supportive, caring, uplifting and inspiring. You can speak to friends and family over skype if you are unable to get to see them in person.
  • Mind has launched an online support network at sidebyside.mind.org.uk which will be available over the Christmas period. Also, the Samaritans will offer support on the freephone number 116123. 

 Limit alcohol/substance use

  • When we are managing emotional distress, we can tend to overuse alcohol as a way of coping. At Christmas this can become more of a problem and ultimately will cause distress to worsen.
  • Try to plan other self-care activities instead, perhaps recruit friends or family as a support and access professional local support if needed as this can be very hard to do alone.
  • There is no stigma to requiring help and it is a sign of self-care and courage to access this help if needed.

Be kind to yourself

  • You are likely going to have bad days, you might be a little short with someone you care about, you may come across an emotional stumbling block or even feel like you are falling apart.
  • Whilst we hope this doesn’t happen, it’s okay if it does.
  • The best thing to do is practice some self-kindness. Be kind to yourself as this will help you get through this difficult time and will be invaluable moving forward.

 

Helpful Apps

  • Calm- App for sleep and meditation with relaxing nature scenes- calm.com
  • MyLife Meditation- short mindfulness activities for stress relief, getting more sleep or finding calm- my.life
  • Insight timer- Guided meditation practice, music tracks and ambient sounds-insighttimer.com
  • Breathing Zone- guided breathing with ambient sounds and visual imagery- breathing.zone
  • Breath Ball- Four easy breathing exercises- breathball.com
  • Breather+ Simple Breath Trainer- Helps you visualise your breathing with daily relaxation, meditation or breath training (Only available on the Apple App Store for iPhone or iPad) apps.apple.com/us/app/breathe-simple-breath-trainer/ id1106998959
  • PTSD Coach – Get help to learn about and cope with symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder www.ptsd.va.gov/appvid/mobile/ptsdcoach_app.asp
  • PTSD Family Coach – Support for family members of those living with PTSD www.ptsd.va.gov/appvid/mobile/familycoach_app.asp
  • CBT-i Coach – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia www.ptsd.va.gov/appvid/mobile/cbticoach_app_public.asp

If you are still feeling affected by recent events and would like to talk to someone about how you feel, please contact Victims First for free emotional and therapeutic support

You can also discuss this with

  • your GP
  • Talking Therapies on 0300 365 2000
  • Emergency Services- call 999 if you think there is a significant and immediate risk of harm to you or someone else

 

Self-care information provided by Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust Traumatic Stress Service