Surviving Christmas

We are told that it is the season to be jolly, however for many Christmas is not the most magical time of the year, but the most difficult. Sometimes it brings back memories, it can be an exceptionally difficult time when we are grieving. For others the memories are of people they would rather forget. The obsession with family at Christmas is painful for those whose families are abusive, who have cut off contact, who have to remain apart for their own safety and sanity. Then there are those whose families have rejected them, who would love the Hollywood movie ideal of sitting round the table together, but for whatever reason are excluded from the list.

Those with chronic mental health conditions can find all the old clichés coming out. People asking them what they have to be depressed about, or telling them to cheer up, its christmas! As if an illness has a calendar and will go into remission when it notices the date. Comparisons between mental and physical health issues can be problematic. For one thing it reinforces the idea that one can only have one or the other. Even so it is telling that people in hospital for physical ailments over Christmas are seen as needing special treatment, visited by celebrities and news crews, while those struggling mentally are seen as letting the side down.

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Transitive Triggers: Why did that trigger me?

We are all familiar with the idea of triggers. Things, events, places that take us back to the site, sounds and feelings of the trauma we suffered. These triggers are usually something more or less directly related to the trauma its self. Something present at the time of the traumas such as a sound, smell or physical sensations. Sometimes a visual queue will act as a trigger but again these tend to be more or less directly related to the underlying trauma.

Because of this direct, and often visceral connection to the deep levels of our sub conscious we are often able to identify the trigger and its relationship to the trauma itself.

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Cultivating Resilience

Resilience is a practice, not a trait.

Sometimes people express surprise that despite living almost on the borders with Scotland I grow my own grapes (admittedly in a greenhouse) It is an unheated greenhouse however, with a vine that each September is laden with a harvest of sweet grapes, golden amidst the autumn leaves.

The vine is also a very useful tool for exploring the idea of resilience with people who have come to believe that it’s a quality you either have or don’t, and there is nothing you can do to change which group you belong to.

If I want a bumper crop in Autumn, the work starts in the spring, ensuring the new buds are healthy, fungus free and strong. In order to do this, I have to know what to look for, and what the warning signs of future problems are. If you want to cultivate resilience you need firstly to be able to spot when things are starting to deviate from normal. More tired than usual? Snapping at workmates, friends or family? Finding routine tasks more of a struggle than usual? Resilience means being aware of changes in your moods, your reactions, your energy levels, your responses to stress, not once they become an issue, but before hand.  Journaling, checking things out with a trusted friend, or counsellor can help identify these changes.

Come July I have to do one of the hardest tasks if you grow grapes, I have to ruthlessly cut healthy, growing, clusters of young grapes. If I don’t the vine will try to grow all of them and I will end up with nothing worth harvesting.

So it is with cultivating resilience. A myth that we can do it all, have it all, has grown up, often leading to burnout. Look at those things in your life which sap your energy, which prevent you achieving your goals, which ones might need to be trimmed so you can reap the harvest you want?

Resilience isn’t a trait some are born with, but a set of life affirming behaviours which all come together to mean you can weather the storms, survive the winters, and just like my vine, produce great fruits year after year.

First published by Karen Pollock MBACP on her web site