While for many of us, Christmas is a time of joy to spend with loved ones, there are also many people for whom it is a time of stress and worry, hoping to provide the perfect day for family and friends, or adjusting to a major change and feeling reflective around the holidays.

A recent study in Sweden found that people are 37% more likely to have a heart attack on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, and with the pressures to deliver perfection, it’s not surprising. Psychological Therapist AJ Whittaker and Welfare Services Lead Carrie Donohue are here to explain why it’s okay to settle for okay.

“There’s a lot of judgement around providing a perfect Christmas that everyone will enjoy,” says AJ , who is based at our Harcombe House Recovery Centre in Devon. “Maybe it’s okay to just have it good enough, to just be with the people you love, to have things that you enjoy. Ask for help; not one person can manage everything, so think about who you could include in the process. And learn to say no. It’s a very small but powerful word if you’re able to say it, especially to all those commitments you’ve agreed to when you just want to stop.”

“Consider what you really need to do, what you’d like to do, and what you should do. Get the basics right, and then worry about the other stuff afterwards”

AJ Whittaker

The temptation to overspend at this time of year is huge and can lead to further anxiety. It’s estimated that post-Christmas debt will reach £3 million, with as many as 1.5 million people seeking debt support in the new year. So what can you do to help relieve some of the financial worries?

“There’s still time to reassess your budget and cut back on non-essentials,” says Carrie. “Don’t ignore your bills – just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you don’t still have to pay rent, council tax, electricity etc. Be sensible in what you’re spending, setting reasonable expectations among your family and friends with how much money to spend on gifts. Especially if you’re a parent wanting to provide the best for your children, be sensible.

“And when it comes to Father Christmas, stick to smaller gifts from him, and save bigger ones for family, if you can afford them. That way, your child won’t go to school and say Santa brought them an iPad, possibly upsetting the child of another family who can’t afford such a luxury.”

The Welfare Team can also help you ensure you’re receiving any statutory benefits you’re entitled to, like the Winter Fuel Allowance: “It becomes a big pressure, worrying about how to heat and feed yourself,” says Carrie. “Don’t suffer in silence, and don’t just make do. Pick up the phone and call us to see how we can help. Every case is treated individually, so don’t hesitate to come to us.”

If you are worrying about your finances, you can find guidance online via a number of resources, including National Debt Line, Step Change and Citizens Advice.

Other people find Christmas tough for different reasons, such as changes in living conditions, family dynamics or feeling socially isolated.

“Christmas can often make us feel reflective on the year and how different things are, which can be very difficult if you’ve been living with issues relating to health issues, family tensions, separation and divorce, or bereavement, ” says Carrie. “It’s understandable that any of these things can lead to a lack of festive spirit. There are practical steps you can take to address these feelings, including making a list of the positive things that have happened, start making plans for the New Year, and, most importantly, acknowledge that your feelings will pass. They may be a combination of factors, so take the time to work out exactly what it is that’s making you feel this way and what steps you can take to combat this.”

Should you need it, there are a number of organisations providing a listening ear and someone to talk to during the holidays. The Samaritans, The Silver Line, Cruse and Mind all have support lines you can call if you need to seek help.

“Just think about what you want from Christmas,” says AJ. “Consider what you really need to do, what you’d like to do, and what you should do. Get the basics right, and then worry about the other stuff afterwards. I sincerely hope you have a really happy, relaxed, stress-free Christmas and New Year.”

The Fire Fighters Charity helpline will reopen on Tuesday 2 January, at which point we will be able to signpost you in the right direction for advice and help you however we can.

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