Tuesday 20 March 2018

For many of us Christmas is far from happy

For the whole month of December we’re bombarded with the message that it’s ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ and people are telling us to have a ‘Happy Christmas’. The reality is however, that Christmas is far from happy for many of us and indeed some of us struggle to cope.

Everything is amplified at Christmas - the pressure to have a good time, to make it a special time for your loved ones, to buy the right present, to get on with family when tensions are running high… And sometimes it seems as if everyone else is able to manage to have the perfect Christmas, their shopping done early, can afford big presents, put on a spectacular spread, and have a happy and ‘normal’ Christmas. It’s easy to feel like you’re failing during the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s worth noting however, that as the holidays approach and the pressure builds, there are real and practical things that you can do to help yourself. The HSE has been empowering us with the #littlethings we can do to make a difference to how we feel, it might be that these steps become even more necessary around Christmas time. Certainly we need all the help we can get.

We know that it’s important to really listen to others, but if Christmas really is a time for giving, a time for sharing, then it is also a time for sharing our problems too. Talking about your problems, or about how you feel, is one of the positive steps you can do to help yourself. You may think that people don’t want to be burdened by your problems or that they’re not interested, but you’d be wrong. Sharing your problems, admitting that it’s all too much or seeking help is not a sign of weakness but the opposite, it’s a sign of inner strength; that you’re willing to look outside yourself for a solution to the negative way you’re feeling.

Úna-Minh Kavanagh is an ambassador for the #littlethings campaign who is willing to talk about her journey and, together with the HSE, Úna is helping to promote the conversation in this country about mental health issues. She’s a breath of fresh air.

“I think the first step in turning things around has to be realising that you have a problem. It’s OK to not feel OK, even though at Christmas everything is supposed to be amazing. It’s about acknowledging little changes in yourself. The next step is looking for help, whether that’s talking to a friend or family member. I went online and sent an email and there was so much helpful information there. Some people might think that realising you need help is admitting defeat, but it’s actually the opposite of defeat because it’s the beginning of you turning it around,” she says.

“For me the problems started when I found myself unemployed for most of 2015. I had left my job and made a decision to go back to full time study and then found it difficult to find work afterwards. I was in a weird state of mind and kept asking myself “did I do the right thing?”. I can say it really was the worst year of my life.

“I think people who have never experienced unemployment don’t realise how debilitating and difficult it can be. You can’t make plans for the future, I had debts from my studies and I had been so used to being busy it was all beginning to overwhelm me.”

It’s a familiar story to many of us, but again, sharing her problems proved key for Úna.

“I realised I was suffering from stress and anxiety and for me what really worked was sharing my problems. I have a journalistic background so it was natural for me to write about what I was going through. I almost find it easier to express myself in the written form than talking, so that process was really cathartic. I also found a group with Aware Ireland where we just shared our problems. There were people from all walks of life and it was brilliant, because I saw that even though all these people had different lives than mine, different problems, they were feeling the same things I was.

“When you’re suffering, for whatever reason, you think you’re alone, but when you hear other people describing what you’re going through you realise you’re not alone at all. It was so beneficial to actually be able to share your thoughts in a safe environment. I’m not embarrassed to say that I actually cried in my first meeting, it was such a big relief. I started to feel lighter.”

Úna has come a long way but from the darkest and loneliest place she has managed to turn things around, and now looks forward to the festive season and the new year.

“I’m very positive now and looking forward to 2016. I’m the kind of person who needs to be busy and thankfully I have a lot to occupy me”, she says.

Gary Seery from Dublin is another ambassador for the HSE and the #littlethings campaign, he’s someone who has been through a lot and is willing to share his journey from the darkest place imaginable to scale great heights with others in the hope that they can benefit from his experience. Gary knows the power of sharing your problems, talking about what you’re going through and has seen its positive effects.

“For me the important first step was going to my GP. I would advise anyone to talk to their GP if they’re not feeling right. They’re really good at caring and they deal with this all the time, they’re trained to do it. Mine was just brilliant for me,“ says Gary.

It may not work for everyone, and perhaps for some it might feel a bit drastic, but Gary thinks you instinctively know what’s right for you. “You’re not supposed to be lying in bed awake, unable to sleep all night or when small problems seem overwhelmingly large, when even washing becomes a chore. You know in yourself that that’s not right, not normal. So for me I knew I had to do something, I had no self-belief, I was feeling suicidal”.

So whether that’s talking to a doctor, a friend, a family member or a counsellor there’s great benefit in sharing your burden. “If you can’t go and see someone, if it seems like too much effort, send a text. Just send a simple text saying “how are you” or “I’d really like to talk to you” and you’ll see, they’ll get back to you. Then the conversation is started. The smallest of things can lead to big changes.”

For Gary running was an important outlet for him, and it started with just leaving the house and running to the end of the road. He built up his fitness bit by bit and is now a dedicated runner with 15 marathons under his belt this year, as well as conquering the toughest marathon of all – to the North Pole.

Gary realises that his journey back started with that one small step, reaching out to his GP.

The power of talking lies in its catharsis. Simply putting how you feel into words allows you to see yourself and your life from a different perspective. It can allow you to see what’s affecting you and it can allow you to identify positive changes. It can relieve the pressure you’re under and it can make you feel less alone. It might be having a cup of tea with a friend or it may be that you feel like talking to someone you don’t know.

The Samaritans have been providing a listening service for those in need for years and they’re particularly active at this time of year taking more than 15,000 calls nationwide over the Christmas period. All of the staff there are trained and willing to listen to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even on Christmas Day.


No problem is too small or trivial. The Samaritans have heard it all before. Our problems are all relative and whatever is bothering you, if it’s making you feel sad, or down, then it’s worth talking about, and worth listening to.


Christmas is a time for caring and for sharing; it might be hard, but there is no better time to share your troubles and to lean on someone else. Confiding in someone means you can trust them and that’s quite a gift to give.

The #littlethings campaign is a countrywide effort by the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention and scores of partner organisations and support groups to bring information, awareness, advice and support around mental health for you and your loved ones. Visit www.yourmentalhealth.ie for more information.

Samaritans is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone struggling to cope. For confidential, non judgemental support please call 116 123.

The Wellness Workshop online is a resource to help you on your personal journey to Mental health Wellness. The workshop is for everyone and is designed to give you tools to both improve your mental wellness and to maintain your wellness. Visit www.wellnessworkshop.ie to start your journey to wellness today.

Life Skills Online is a completely free educational programme from Aware which is delivered online. With the help of a series of easy-to-follow modules and support from a trained Aware volunteer, participants can learn how to manage feelings of stress, worry, anxiety or depression, and learn simple and practical skills to help them cope with life’s challenges. Visit www.aware.ie for more information.

Sponsored by: yourmentalhealth

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