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When we can't share this time with the people who are the most important to us, we can feel isolated, anxious and depressed
The end of the year "festive" season often brings about some personal reflection as we look back at the year's events, as well as anticipating what the new year might bring. But for many people, the Christmas period is a time of stress, sadness and loneliness.
When we can't share this time with the people who are the most important to us, we can feel isolated, anxious and depressed. During these times, it's important that we treat ourselves gently, remind ourselves that these emotions are normal and there are things we can do to reduce the amount of unpleasant feelings we experience.
Getting back to nature is often a remarkably simple and effective remedy – activities like walking on the beach or visiting parks and gardens. Social media can also be an effective tool for combatting loneliness. For instance, chatting with people on Facebook and talking about what others are doing (and perhaps arranging a shared activity) can foster a sense of inclusion and connectedness. Enquiring about volunteering opportunities with local charities in the lead-up to Christmas is another good idea as it can place you in the company of others and helps you feel good by serving others who are less fortunate.
There are also many easy, inexpensive options to combat loneliness and/or boredom such as reading a new book or magazine, having a DVD marathon, trying a new creative pursuit like painting or drawing, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen.
However, there are other sources of "festive stress" besides loneliness and isolation. Chiefly among these is financial pressure regarding gift purchases and the mounting costs of food and entertainment. A good start here is to be honest with yourself about how much money you can afford to spend. Then draw up a budget. And stick to it. If there still doesn't seem to be enough money you can try being creative with your gift ideas. Give people gift vouchers for services you can offer like babysitting or gardening.
There's also time pressure. It can often be very difficult trying to be in multiple places at once to make everyone happy. Decide for yourself whom you will share your time with. This might require some negotiation, but celebrating with some family and friends on Boxing Day and then others on New Year's Day might be the answer to less stress and more quality time with everyone. And as an aside, if there are certain topics of conversation that are contentious (eg. politics or religion), practice your diplomatic skills and manoeuvre the discussion to safer territories.
Throughout all of this, remember to get enough sleep, maintain your exercise routine and try to eat healthily (with a few treats of course). These are basic, effective methods for managing stress. If you find you're not coping, talk to someone you can trust or call Lifeline on 131 114. This is 24-hour number.
For more information and ideas on how to manage loneliness and stress during the Festive Season, see this 10 Tips to Stress Less fact sheet from the Mental Health Association of NSW.