It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

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Everyone says how the Christmas season starts earlier each year. For 2017 we seem to have gone straight from the Summer Bank Holiday into the festive buying frenzy, bypassing Autumn completely! Poor Autumn, her glorious displays of colour knocked off the shelf by some plastic glitter balls…(sigh).

All those television commercials encouraging us to spend, spend, spend! And in return you’ll have the picture-perfect family around the groaning table full of food, piles of perfectly-wrapped gifts under a (real, of course) tree festooned with twinkle and shine. And of course, enough room left to enjoy a few chocolates and your favourite tipple with James Bond in the evening. There will be no arguments or squabbling children, no worries, no illness, no sadness and when all is said and done, no debts. What a heady cocktail of emotions we go through to achieve the ‘perfect’ Christmas. It’s little wonder the actual day itself can leave us feeling spent and empty.

Of course, most of us realise that the dream we’re sold isn’t attainable for most. But it still isn’t without its stresses, and for those living with mental illness this can be the most difficult time of the year. Similarly for those who are alone, looking at empty chairs and mourning the loss of loved ones who, for whatever reason, cannot be with them, the festivities can be by far one of the hardest times to bear.

Getting things into perspective is easier said than done. The Mental Health Foundation has produced some excellent guidelines on coping throughout the Festive Season and beyond at www.mentalhealth.org.uk/christmas, as has Mind www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/about-minds-membership/membership-pages/christmas-and-mental-health. Both sites provide a wealth of information for anyone dealing with mental health issues generally, and Mind also provides links to local groups for anyone needing to speak to someone.

If you just need a time out, why not try mindfulness? It could be just the breathing space you need and can be practised just about anywhere. Headspace has a great app (www.headspace.com) that you can try as well as a good description how mindfulness works and how it can help.

Whatever your belief, churches are wonderful sanctuaries of calm and even more so at Christmas. Chelmsford Cathedral is open from 0745am – 0600pm, Monday – Saturday (with services of course on Sunday) and worth a visit. Or just pop into your local church, light a candle and enjoy the peace. No commitment, no questions.

What about volunteering?

Sometimes turning our focus outwards can be both rewarding for ourselves and valuable to others. If you can, please think about volunteering over the Christmas period. A good place to start is www.volunteeressex.org where there are a variety of opportunities from bag-packing in Chelmsford to delivering Christmas trees to local Hospices. Or maybe help out at a Night Shelter? The Basildon Night Shelter has expanded its remit this year and will be operating five shelters for the homeless across the Borough providing hot meals and a bed three nights per week throughout the worst of the Winter. Other night shelters can be found across the region in Braintree, Brentwood, Chelmsford, Colchester, Southend, Thurrock and Uttlesford.   All contact information is on the Volunteer Essex website. Further afield www.crisis.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/crisis-at-christmas is looking for volunteers to support its work with the homeless in London and other major cities.

However you decide to spend your Christmas Holiday, be it a celebration like no other or just another roast dinner, remember: whatever you do, enjoy it. Take time to relax, be alone if you choose, or seek out the company of others. Above all stay safe, stay mindful and stay healthy. But most of all please be kind to yourself.

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