We have spent this year continuing our commitment to making our carers more visible, and shining a light on the challenges our carer community face, whether that is because of the coronavirus pandemic or not. We know Christmas brings with it its own set of challenges for our carers. While many of us will enjoy putting our feet up and relaxing, the challenge of caring for another person on top of the extra pressures of Christmas can mean many of you will not get a break during the festive season.

Now we know what the latest Government restrictions are to enable us to spend Christmas with our loved ones, many of us are busy working out the logistics of how to create a bubble of three households while keeping everyone as safe as possible.

For the country’s carers, this creates an even more complicated dilemma.

Do you risk putting someone into a vulnerable position if it means you can see other members o your families? Are you planning on bracing the cold and spending socially-distanced time together outdoors? Or have you decided regardless of what the Government says, you’ll be sticking within your immediate household in order to keep everyone safe?

While caring for a loved one can be an incredible positive and rewarding experience and something you wouldn’t give up for the world, it also brings with it a huge impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of carers and their families. Carers are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety or stress, with nearly two thirds of carers living with a long-standing health condition of their own.

This year has been incredibly difficult for carers, with restricted access to family and friends who would normally represent a much-needed support network and lifeline. Whether these people take on some of the responsibilities of care or are just there for a friendly face over a cuppa, the pandemic has restricted much of these interactions, and Christmas may simply mean more of the same.

We wanted to share with you ten things you could do to look after yourselves during the festive period, and some alternative means of seeking support should you need it.

Plan ahead. As much as possible, try to plan ahead for the days leading up to Christmas, the day itself, and the days following it. The Government restrictions say we can choose to form a Christmas bubble from Wednesday 23 to Sunday 27 December with three households, so plan how they can support you as well, if you choose to do so.

Take the pressure off. Christmas is stressful, without the extra pressures of a global pandemic. So accept things will be different this year and that’s okay. Chances are we’ll all look back at this year and marvel at how much we adapted to the changing circumstances we found ourselves in, so embrace the fact you might not be able to do what you would normally do.

Find time to relax. Remember to take time out for yourself during the next few weeks (and at all times!). Self care is so important in helping us to learn the resilience to adapt to situations, so make time for some ‘me time’. Settle down with your favourite festive film or TV episodes. Try some mindfulness, enjoy one of our guided relaxations or join in with our introduction to yoga.

Keep talking. Make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to your Christmas plans and what your expectations are in terms of your care responsibilities, to alleviate as much stress as possible. Talk about your worries or concerns, share different suggestions for what the best possible fit is for your family and try to be empathetic to how other people might respond to different circumstances this year.

Virtual socialising. With Christmas parties and get-togethers pretty much out of the picture regardless of what your plans are for the day itself, make time to speak to your social networks online or over the phone during December. You could come up with a Christmas quiz or hold a best fancy dress competition.

Be kind to yourself when it comes to gifts. The last thing you want on top of caring responsibilities at Christmas is to have last-minute stresses because you’re trying to do your gift shopping while avoiding over-crowded shops or online deliveries. So have a conversation about your approach to gifts, maybe set a budget or limit on number of gifts this year. If you’ve got time to get them wrapped earlier than usual, maybe deliver them well in advance of Christmas. Not only will that mean you won’t be rushing around, but also they can be sitting in quarantine to guarantee they’re safe to handle on the day. Just be kind to yourself and remember, it’s the thought that counts.

Go online. If you can’t spend the day together, why not set up a laptop or tablet at your table so you can virtually sit down together. If you don’t already have one, create a family or social WhatsApp group to share photos, videos and anecdotes through the day, and maybe plan to do things at the same time, like watch the Queen’s Speech. Set up a camera so you can watch each other open your presents.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If this year has shown us anything, it’s that people rally together to help each other. And caring is stressful at the best of times, without worrying about getting your online shopping ordered. Ask if anyone could support you in placing an order or picking up some bits for you. Or if you want to get out and do it yourself, see if someone has a few hours to spare to support you with your caring responsibilities.

Enjoy the great outdoors. The days may be shorter and the temperatures are plummeting, but that doesn’t stop the fact that fresh air and spending time outdoors is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall wellbeing. Walking is so good for you, mentally and physically, so even if it’s just half an hour each day, try to find time to go for a stroll. And mix up who you go with, enjoy some time with your thoughts one day and then the next maybe you could arrange for some socially-distanced company with a friend.

Don’t neglect yourself. It’s so important to stay warm and well during the winter. If something is affecting your everyday wellbeing, whether that’s a physical condition or something that needs doing around your home, don’t neglect it. Our Welfare Caseworkers are available for support throughout December, so if you need to have a chat with them about ways they could support you, get in touch with us.

You can browse more resources we have created to support our carer network via our health and wellbeing library or you might like to join our Care for Carers Facebook group. Also we are recently holding opportunities for a virtual cuppa and a catch up, so you can email Kath at ksavage@firefighterscharity.org.uk if you’d like to get involved.