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Blue Christmas? You're not alone!
Culture & Life

Blue Christmas? You're not alone!

3 min. 20.12.2013 From our online archive
It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year but often, Christmas can end up being the hardest time, particularly for expatriates. Counsellor Sharon Mills shares coping strategies for people experiencing stress, loneliness or relationship issues over the holiday period.

Having worked as a counsellor in Luxembourg for the last four years, Sharon Mills knows only too well that Christmas is one of the hardest times of the year for her clients.

“The general themes this time of year are often work pressures but also relationships is a huge one and depression,” she told wort.lu/en, adding “Being away from families is part of this issue. When you're away from your family you don't have the strong depth of support network.”

Stress

The counsellor said that work stress is a recurring theme as people try to meet impossible deadlines in order to begin the holidays.

In these instances, Sharon suggests that people prioritise their work and speak to colleagues when they feel overwhelmed. She also recommends finding ways to relax and use mental distraction techniques when not at work to take their mind off things.

With dinner to prepare, gifts to buy and family to visit, stress may also manifest itself outside of the workplace.

In such instances, Sharon tells clients to ask themselves: “Is it having everything perfect that is most important or having a good time? Focus on the positives of the time of the year.” Furthermore, she asks people to look at things realistically. “Have goals to achieve but manageable goals,” she said.

Rewiring the brain

When dealing with anxiety and depression, the counsellor uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a technique which helps people to identify unhelpful brain messages and rectify them.

“One of the first things I get them to do is to identify the unhelpful negative thoughts because they produce negative feelings and this comes out in our behaviour, quickly ending up in a vicious cycle.”

One particular exercise she works on is asking clients to remember a time when everything was at its best. “As you remember, the chemistry in the brain changes. You see the possibility that if I was like that once, then it's possible to be like that again.”

The counsellor loans out books and recommends useful websites helping people to do their own research. Sharon suggests, however, that people should also seek professional help as CBT is more effective when carried out collaboratively.

Relationships

Relationships can also be placed under pressure at Christmas, particularly if one partner has moved to the country for their job and the other has given up work, friends and family to support them.

The situation can become particularly acute in the holidays when couples are forced to spend time together for the first time in a while, leading to arguments.

“At Christmas time and after the summer holidays a lot of couples come in because they've spent lots of close time together,” Sharon explained.

The counsellor always tells clients to think before lashing out at their other half. “People can ask themselves, 'is it worth it?' If it is someone they love, is it worth seeing that person suffer? We soon realise we don't want to hurt the other person. This is a strategy to help us to stay compassionate with ourselves and want good for them.”

Another strategy she recommends is pressing the pause button. When clients see they are about to react badly, they should step away and distract themselves for 15 to 20 minutes. “Come back and it won't seem so bad,” she said.

Solitude

While there are more than half a million people living in Luxembourg, around December 25 the streets are deserted and everything is closed. If you live alone and have no-one with which to spend the holiday, it can be an extremely lonely time of the year.

In such instances, Sharon urges clients to accept the situation they are in. “That's not saying 'it's OK' but accepting that 'this is the situation I'm in right now'.”

She suggests that people plan ahead to organise a time at which they can phone friends or family to give them something to look forward to and plan things to fill their time. “We encourage them to be with others, not to withdraw - that's one of the most unhelpful things,” she said.

Again, mental distractions can take a person's mind off feelings of loneliness, things such as music, games, TV, radio. If anyone is experiencing depression, anxiety, relationship issues or suicidal thoughts, they should seek professional help.

The hospital in Kirchberg offers an emergency psychological drop-in service to people with acute problem. Alternatively, ask for a referral from your GP.