Christmas time can be really special for some, really tough for others and many other dynamics in between. At Umbrella, we know from our wellbeing assessments with New Zealand organisations that family and personal relationships can be associated with a significant amount of stress for many individuals. 

Due to the global pandemic, it is likely that a number of people may not be able to connect in-person with family and friends who reside outside of New Zealand this year. We also know that loneliness is a real issue in our modern world. Social isolation and low levels of social support have been linked to shorter life expectancy just as much as the effects of obesity, cigarette smoking and hypertension (Sapolsky, 2004). Clinically we hear stories of people experiencing high levels of interpersonal conflict, feeling detached, isolated and alone. Feeling connected and supported is important at this time of year, especially after the year that it has been. Mounting research indicates that high social support helps fuel active coping strategies in response to stressful times.

Social support can be defined as “support accessible to an individual through social ties to other individuals, groups and the larger community” (Lin, Ensel, Simeone, & Kuo, 1979). Feeling connected and having social support is essential for good health and wellbeing. Studies suggest that high social support is associated with reduced heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol. With this in mind, what can we do to connect this Christmas? 

  • Be mindful and inclusive of those around you who may have fewer social supports and connection this Christmas. 
  • Be aware that Christmas is not a happy time for all, especially for those for whom experiences of loss or trauma are especially “raw” at this time.
  • Many families have their own Christmas traditions and quirks, and distance doesn’t mean you can’t continue those moments together. Video chat with faraway friends and family both in the lead-up to Christmas and on the day. You could incorporate these into your preparations and traditions, e.g. have a video chat as you put decorations on your Christmas tree or make those Christmas mince pies.  
  • Spend time with people who you feel good around and well supported by.
  • Have a plan in place around how you best navigate any tricky people who may “push your buttons” at Christmas time.  For some, going for a walk after the Christmas meal is a great way to get some “headspace” and reset.
  • At work, in the lead-up to Christmas, plan fun team activities that enable time to connect and get into the holiday spirit. Remember that some of your colleagues may live alone or have family afar, or have little cultural link to Christmas. Workplace relationships also play a key role in good health and wellbeing. Take the time to truly connect. 
  • Practise acts of kindness, for yourself and others. Take time to reflect on your small wins from the year. Take time to thoughtfully thank others for their contributions to you and your family/team during the year – be specific and think of your words as a gift that may be treasured beyond the initial moments of reading them.
  • Consider taking some time away from the preparatory rush – perhaps a morning of walking in the bush or beach will recharge your batteries. Doing this with a friend may make it all the sweeter, even if it is just via a phone chat whilst you walk.

Merry Christmas from the Umbrella Team!