Connection is key in December

It snowed on the weekend and my Instagram feed was filled with wonderment - pictures of snow and children with ruddy cheeks. Looking ahead, I am sure my Instagram will soon be filled with Christmas jumpers, wine and images of togetherness.  

Whilst this may be a truthful reflection of reality for some, Christmas can also feel meaningless or lonely  -  even for those who don't celebrate the event.  So, what can you do to manage the December blues? Remember, human connection is key, solitude can be wonderful and mobile devices and social media needs some thought.  Let me explain. 

1. Keep connected

In my counselling practice, I see people from a huge variety of social and family settings.  I know that people in large families can feel isolated and alone while people with a handful of friends can feel enormously supported.  It's the depth of human connections that matter - that we have opportunities to be heard, understood and valued.  Think about how you can help create, shape and support quality connections. 

2. Value solitude and recognise loneliness

Try to understand the difference between 'loneliness' and 'being alone' so that you can look after yourself and others at Christmas. If you know someone who may be lonely, then call them. The human voice is rare in a world of electronic communication but it remains a powerful way to lift spirits. If you feel lonely, reach out. Some of the most significant interactions in life can happen with people we don't know that well. 

3. Don't believe social media

We all know that social media is a wonderful tool for engagement and it helps people keep connected. Be cautious of its tendency to serve up curated and filtered content-  most people share only images they regard as upbeat or positive.  How many times have you seen people force a smile for the Instagram camera, only to collapse into a very different emotional state?   As you enjoy your Instagram stream over December, remember to see it for what it is.  Acknowledge its limitations and don't use it as a tool to compare or judge the worth of your own life. 

For those who don't celebrate Christmas, I wish you a happy December and I hope you enjoy the festive lights. Happy Christmas to those who do celebrate the event and may you be snug and warm! 

How to help someone who is bereaved.

Bereavement is something that we will all face and I often get asked by friends, colleagues and organisations how they should support someone who is bereaved. While there are no hard and fast rules, the following suggestions may be helpful. 

  1. Careful and patient listening is a great way to support your friend or colleague.  Listening enables you to really understand what the loss means to the bereaved, and how they feel about it.  
  2. Recognise that grief is unique.  It is very easy to make assumptions about the impact of the death based on projections of your own experience.  However, every person's experience is different and you can't judge the grief of others based on your own losses. While you may like to share your own experiences of death with friends or colleagues, always give them the space to explore and acknowledge their own reality.
  3. Be patient. A common problem I hear in my counselling practice relates to the few opportunities for bereaved people to talk about their feelings.  As time passes beyond the moment of the death and the funeral, bereaved people experience fewer and fewer opportunities to express their emotions.  Grief is not time bound and your friend may need support for some time.  I hear many bereaved clients lament the pressure to "move on" and "get over it". 
  4. Learn about death and grief. Don't judge yourself too harshly and forgive yourself for making mistakes. As a society, we are not always comfortable in speaking about death but you can access some great forums and services online if you do need support.  Learning about grief will equip you to support your colleagues and loved ones.  Developing a language around death can be helpful in all sorts of ways.  

If you are experiencing bereavement yourself, you may like to research bereavement counselling services in your area to get the best support.  Hopefully, your GP can refer you to a local bereavement service where you can access specialised counselling.  There are also terrific online services for those people who prefer telephone or online counselling. 

Counselling for well-being

Timing is everything. 

You've probably heard this expression before, and perhaps in reference to comic timing and jokes, but it also resonates in the counselling field as well.  

Along with such things as a good diet, exercise and mindfulness, counselling is one of the many positive measures that you can take in order to maintain good mental health. As a busy counsellor who often sees people in periods of emotional distress, unhappiness or anxiety,  a small but increasing number of people are seeking my services as part of an ongoing process of building resilience and self-awareness. 

Counselling offers a chance to do something you cannot do anywhere else. It presents an opportunity to talk about yourself in depth with someone who offers a genuine regard for your well-being and, for this reason, its quite different from talking to friends, lovers or family members. Free from judgment, you can understand and examine what is going on for you and through dialogue,  explore your emotions, values and underlying beliefs.  The resulting self-awareness helps you shed light on your behaviour and responses. While there is no guarantee that counselling will prevent depression or anxiety there is good evidence that it helps with resilience.  

One client described her experience of counselling as a bit like going to the gym but for the pursuit of mental rather than physical health. The analogy made me smile and it is true... paying attention to one's emotions and reactions is fundamental to well-being.