5 Ways To Navigate Christmas When Life Seems Far From Ideal

Traditionally Christmas is a time when people get together with their family. That is great if you have a family you are happy to get together with. But not everyone is in that position

Maybe your Christmas is marred by memories of someone you used to spend Christmas with but don’t anymore. Maybe it is because they have died, or you are estranged, or they have moved away.

Or maybe Christmas is a time of having to visit family when there are difficulties in relationships. When you feel you have to endure contact with people you are frightened of, or may have hurt you, or are downright unpleasant.

Or Christmas may be a reminder of past traumas.

The Cultural Importance of Christmas

Whether you like it or not, Christmas is important culturally for many people. There are those who believe in Jesus and see this time as a celebration of Jesus’ birth, often with family. There are also people who see Christmas as a time to have fun and catch up with family and friends.

If you watch the myriad Christmas movies that exist, you will see a constant message of people having a lovely, perfect time. Suddenly everyone is friendly and old rifts are healed. People are included. There is fun and laughter and all good things.

The reality frequently fails to meet the expectations of the movies.

Christmas Has Significance In Many Lives As A Time To Be With Others

The significance of Christmas as an occasion in our lives means that it takes on a significance that is hard to ignore. Few people report being happy to spend Christmas alone. Many experience stress at what to do for Christmas. Many are alone, and not happy about it.

Christmas can be a joyous time if you have people to celebrate with. But it can be a sad time if you have lost someone. It can be a stressful time if you have traumatic memories of past Christmases that were horrifying. It can also be a stressful time if catching up with some family members is far from pleasant.

An Experience of a Christmas With Gratitude

I recently had a conversation with a man who was facing yet another Christmas alone. He was estranged from his family after the death of his brother, and had experienced many lonely Christmases. He was looking for something different to do for Christmas and decided in the end to plan his own special Christmas camping somewhere he loved.

His choice for Christmas is not everyone’s idea of a fun Christmas. But his attitude may be helpful. He had decided last year he was going to stop fighting the fact that he was alone at Christmas and instead be grateful and seek gratitude in the season. His plans for this year were the result of that decision.

These are his tips for a joyous solo Christmas.

One. You Belong.

It is easy when on your own to think Christmas is not something for you. After all, the images we see everywhere of Christmas are of people in groups. But being on your own doesn’t mean you don’t belong.

You do belong.

He worked out a few years ago that looking for things in his life to be grateful for reminded him that he was loved and worthy even though he was alone. He saw Christmas as a time to have fun. To relax. To eat all the foods he felt he couldn’t eat at other times of the year. To indulge in special foods.

He listed all his friends and the way they showed throughout the year how much he mattered. So many of them had family Christmases and caught up with him at other times near to Christmas. Even though they couldn’t invite him to their family Christmas, often a long way away, he still belonged.

He decided to see Christmas as a time he may be alone, but not lonely. He decided to be grateful for the friends he had and the richness they brought to his life all year around.

He chose to see his life as a gift to himself and to others and decided to plan a Christmas that honoured this. In his case, it was to go camping in a favourite spot and spend a few days doing what he loved to do, knowing he belonged even if he was alone.

Two. Give Yourself Permission to be Real

He found that as a result of practicing gratitude he was able to accept his life exactly as it was. He didn’t try to deny the reality of his life. He accepted it for all its wonder and all its warts.

He was happy to realise he had given himself permission to see his life as it was and be okay with that.

He allowed himself time to feel the pain of the family estrangement. He allowed himself to be honoured by acknowledging this pain. What he found was that honouring that pain and giving it space did not make him miserable. It actually allowed him to accept what was and find joy in the things he decided to do at Christmas.

Life is full of hurts and absences. Fighting those things only makes it more painful. When you accept what is, you are able to find a way to move forward in life and find joy.

Three. Stop. Look. Go.

As he was researching gratitude he came across this practice of grateful living. The practice is to stop. To pause. To not rush into decisions, action, reactions, but to pause.

Once you stop, look around and within. What are you feeling? What opportunities can you see around you? What does your heart tell you?

Once you have given yourself time to examine your future direction and you are comfortable with what you have discovered, then proceed.

As you proceed keep stopping, looking and then going. You may need to try different approaches to see how they fit. You may have an idea and find you can’t proceed with it. You may start doing something and not be happy with it. Be ready to adapt what you are doing and to go on when you feel ready.

Four. Be Open to Opportunities

Last year, he discovered an elderly neighbour who was alone at Christmas, having just lost her husband. He decided to share his Christmas meal with her and give her a simple present at Christmas. The day turned out to be a special one for both of them, especially as the elderly neighbour died during the year.

He saw an opportunity and acted on it.

His planned camping holiday was another opportunity that arose for this year and he has decided to take it.

Being alert to opportunities is a way to honour your life for all it has to give and for all you are able to receive.

Five. Say Yes to Joy

This last point was one he was delighted to learn.

He felt to be happy, to experience joy, would be a betrayal of his brother.

Instead he found that his happiness and joy was there alongside his sadness at his brother’s death and his family estrangement.

He saw the reality of the advice he had read that joy can be present alongside sadness. That joy is an affirmation of life continuing. He also realised the courage it takes to hold the past in the present and experience joy alongside sadness.

He realised he wanted to enjoy Christmas and he chose to live it doing something he enjoyed. Yes it was going to have its sad moments, but it was also going to be a wonderful day.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about the things happening in your life, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

The Cost Of Love

I recently had a conversation with some bereaved parents facing their first Christmas without their son. This is what they wanted me to share with you in the hope that it may bring comfort to others in a similar situation. As well as changing anything that could identify them, I have put their thoughts into words that I hope will do justice to their pain.

I am going to call my parents Joy and Father Christmas. That is not their name of course. But they rather liked the idea of those being their names.

Joy And Father Christmas’s Story

As Christmas and many celebrations of family weddings, birthdays, births approach, we realised we needed to take a deep breath and prepare ourselves for the events and the pain.

We tried to plan for joyous occasions and how we could show joy without breaking down in the morass of our own pain.

We planned ways we could quietly and unobtrusively leave.

We felt we were no longer part of this happy society. This group of family and friends going about their lives as through nothing had happened. And for them it hadn’t. Life went on for them in all its glorious joys and splendour.

The Darkness Of Our Pain

But for us life was dark, devastating and full of pain and tears.

All these celebrations with family at their core were devastating for us when we were bleeding and our family was ruptured by the death of our son.

We dreaded the approaching Christmas.

I Used To Love Christmas

In the before time, before our son died, I loved the warmth and generosity of Christmas. I loved getting together with friends and family. I loved the warmth of belonging to a wonderful group of people.

Cooking For His Absence

I love cooking. It is what soothes me. So I have been cooking. A lot. And I have been inviting people over because someone has to eat the food. They come and there is joy and love and warmth and we are surrounded by their love.

But all I see is the one who is missing. The one who would always have been there.

So much of what I find myself cooking is what our boy loved to eat. And it hurts so much to cook these dishes, knowing he will never eat them.

I serve meals for my family with one less place set. And that hurts so much. But setting a place for him seems wrong as well.

Going Through The Motions

We go places. Dutifully attending events of our family and friends. We don’t want to go, but feel we need to, so that we don’t drown in our misery.

We get into the car and there is an empty seat.

Our journeys are marked by the absence of his incessant chatter at all the things he could see flashing past the car window.

It hurts so much.

But no one ever sees.

Time marches on.

All The Firsts

Our other children have had birthdays since he died. Each one a first birthday for them without their brother.

I watch my other children growing older and feel pain that he won’t grow older.

I see friends son’s his age and wonder whether he would be getting taller. What size shoes he would be in now. What his interests would be.

He is forever frozen in time and we try to move on, but it is so hard to escape.

After The Funeral

It has been a few months now and people have stopped asking us how we are. There are no more casseroles at the front door, cards in the letterbox, emails and text messages asking how we are.

We feel as though we have taken on an extra job. We are trying to support our other children. Smooth them through their bereavement. Attend to their every need. Notice every hesitation or sign of being stuck in their pain.

Reaching Out For Support

We try to look out for each other, but that comes a distant last after the needs of our living children.

We have joined groups of other parents who have lost children. We have sent out children to counsellors and groups to help them work through their grief.

We draw comfort from the experiences of other parents, from realising we are not alone in this isolation of grief.

The Forgetting Of Life Moving On

We wait for other people to notice he is missing. To mention him. Some do. Most don’t. That hurts.

We attended a baptism and then a wedding. Both were excruciatingly painful. We left early, worried that our pain would mar the joy of the happy parents and the happy wedding couple.

I run into people through work who don’t know about my son. They ask how the family is. I don’t know how to answer. Do I say each child’s name and what they are doing then add that my son is dead?

I just change the subject.

There are still people in our community who don’t know. Who ask when they see me. Your son used to play soccer, is he not interested any more? No. He is dead that is all. I usually mutter something and get away as fast as I can.

Some days I come home early from work, before anyone else is home, and I can’t go into the house. He is not there and I can’t bear the silence his absence brings.

Hiding My Tears

For so long I hid my tears from my son. I wanted his last months to be happy ones. I didn’t want him to see my misery. Now I hide my tears from other people. They feel uncomfortable when I cry, so I don’t.

Seeking Counselling Support

After the counselling we received. Something that helped us both be able to express our pain without fear of hurting anyone else. After that counselling I realised a few things.

I can look around and see the many who, like us, are facing their first Christmas without the one they love, the one whose absence has left a massive hole in their life and heart.

I realise this is an aspect of being human that we tend to ignore. My resolve is to acknowledge the universality of grief. In acknowledging the pain of loss. In acknowledging the frailty of our human bodies, of the tenuous and frail hold we have on life. I realise that the present moment, each day, is important and not to waste it by worrying about trivial things.

It will hurt this Christmas. Our little family will feel the pain of his absence, but we will also know that our lives are better because he was in them. Because we loved him and he loved us. Love always carries a cost, that of pain when the living relationship ends. But the joy of knowing him was worth the pain of losing him.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How do I cope with grief at Christmas?

Right now it is hard to avoid noticing that Christmas is almost upon us. In fact it is three weeks away today.

There are Christmas parties everywhere. You may have been invited to several.

The shops are full of Christmas decorations, Christmas themed window displays and Christmas wrapping paper. The muzak is Christmas themed. Everywhere there are people buying up presents, food, decorations. It is busy and endless.

For many people, this time of year is very exciting.

But for others Christmas brings painful reminders that the person you love is not there.

This can happen with the first Christmas, or the 50th. There is always a memory of the one who isn’t there.

Planning for Christmas and New Year

You may have already planned for this Christmas, knowing it will be hard. It doesn’t make the pain any easier, but from my own experience I find it helps to understand that the pain I am feeling is normal. And that I am not the only one feeling this way.

It is important as you face this season with your grief to be honest with yourself. Yes, it will most probably hurt. It is helpful to adopt some strategies to help cope with the pain.

Don’t Feel You Shouldn’t Be Enjoying Christmas

One other thing to mention is that you may actually enjoy some aspects of Christmas. That does not mean the one you have lost isn’t important. It is perfectly okay to enjoy yourself.

Being miserable won’t bring your loved one back. Enjoying some aspects doesn’t make you uncaring and doesn’t mean you didn’t love this person. It just means you are finding joy in some aspects of Christmas.

Some people enjoy Christmas as part of their grieving. As a way of honouring the fun they had previously with the one who is gone.

But being honest about what hurts is important. Be honest that it hurts and accept the way you react. Whether you react with avoidance, sadness, joy or any other reaction, it is absolutely okay.

Make Plans For How You Will “Do” Christmas and New Year

It is helpful as Christmas approaches to make plans around how you will acknowledge and celebrate it.

Some people adopt new traditions, marking the “after” part of Christmas.

Other people set a place at the table for the one who is no longer there.

Many people visit the grave, place where their loved one’s ashes are, or a special place their loved one enjoyed being.

The Importance of Planning

Whatever you do, it is important to plan Christmas. To plan what you want it to look like.

Although it is tempting to forget about celebrating it is important to mark the occasion. As I have already suggested, maybe you want to start a new tradition.

Maybe this tradition will be something that you enjoyed doing with your loved one.

Plan also to do something to honour your loved one. I previously mentioned setting a place at the table. Another thing people do is to light a candle in their memory, or buy a special ornament to represent them.

Another idea is to have some moments to acknowledge the loved one, even having a moment’s silence in their honour.

Knowing Christmas Is Hard Doesn’t Make It Easier But It Can Help With Coping

Understanding that Christmas can be a difficult time for those who are grieving may not make it easier, but it can help you understand and accept your reactions.

Acknowledging that this time of year won’t be easy, and making specific plans to prepare for it will be helpful to you.

Find Someone Understanding To Talk To

It is also helpful to talk to friends, family or a counsellor who you know will be supportive and allow you to express your feelings without trying to shut you down.

Do let people know that his Christmas is different and you may be doing different things this year. You may not even feel like having much of a celebration.

All Emotions Are Valid

Remember that all emotions are valid. It is okay to feel angry, sad, grief, happiness, excitement, and more. Don’t compare yourself to other people. The way they handle their grief, even if it is for the same person, is going to be different.

Remember there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas. Don’t isolate yourself. Find those who are supportive of you and spend Christmas with them. And don’t forget to look after yourself.

Can I Help?

If you would like to talk to me about your grief and managing Christmas and New Year, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with helpful information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

9 Steps to Managing Conversations at the Dreaded Family Christmas

Families are never completely harmonious. They are comprised of people, bound together by genetic and marital ties, who often are not free to discuss conflicts as openly as is healthy. There are often undercurrents of tension and unresolved hurts in any family interactions.

Add a family Christmas, with all the stresses that “perfect” day brings. Add to the mix some freeing alcohol. Add to the mix the proximity with people who have caused those tensions and unresolved hurts.

Mix these ingredients and you have an explosive mix.

You can try to avoid difficult topics, but inevitably something will come up, particularly if you have the mix listed above.

Below are 8 steps you can use to survive the family Christmas. 8 steps to help you keep away from the difficult topics you may not be ready to discuss in a large family gathering.


Are you expecting challenging topics of conversation? Plan in advance how to manage and deescalate these potential ignition points.

You can set boundaries by letting family members know what areas are contentious and that you want avoided. You can practice how you will set this boundary in a positive, affirming way.

Maybe you might say something like: “I love seeing you and our time together is really great. There are just some things that we disagree on and maybe we can avoid discussing them today so that we can enjoy our time together.”


Before you meet up, think about happy things you and this family member/s have in common. Are there happy childhood memories you can share, do you have the same interests? Brainstorm ideas of topics of conversation so you are ready to have a conversation. When you have no topic to discuss, conversations tend to follow well worn paths. If those well worn paths are the contentious ones, then that is what you are going to end up having a conversation about.


Preparing ahead safe topics to discuss will allow you to quickly redirect the conversation to a safer topic that is related to the contentious topic. It is easier to pivot if the topic is related somehow, so if someone brings up a humiliating episode when you were a child and were swimming, you may bring in a conversation about wonderful beaches to visit and direct people to that topic. In that situation, the chances are that others in the conversation are not happy to bring up the humiliating episode either and will welcome the change to change the topic.


When you are under stress, you will tend to do what is habitual. So well used responses to others will tend to be used. This will quickly derail your intention to steer away from the uncomfortable conversations. So practise what you will say. Have imaginary conversations where the other person says something they usually say, or makes a comment about a situation they usually comment on. Imagine redirecting the conversation away from that contentious comment and what you will say. While you are doing this, imagine being relaxed and able to deflect any triggers in their words. Imagine calmly setting a boundary, or redirecting the conversation, or making a statement.

While you are imagining this conversation, practice taking calming breaths and imagine you are releasing all the tension and it is flying away as you breathe out. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in peace and calm.

If you have a family member who makes highly politicised comments, or makes racist comments, or expresses strong extremist viewpoints, practice a statement that acknowledges their opinion but indicates it is not up for discussion. The well tried response to this is to “agree to disagree” and have no more conversation around that.

Sometimes these statements are deliberate attempts to bait you into responding. Don’t. Set the boundary and try to change the topic of conversation. If the person still persists, walk away. Take a walk around the block if you need to calm down. Just remain calm until you are somewhere where it is safe for you to be upset. More on that later.


This is another redirecting technique. Bringing out a positive family story involving a happy memory. The more family members involved in this memory the better. If you start off saying “Remember when xxx” you are inviting others to add their recollections of the memory. Not only is that fun to share in happy reminiscences, it also shuts down anyone negative due to the weight of people participating in a new conversation.

Remember, a family member who is difficult for you to get along with, may also be difficult for others to get along with. Other family members may welcome your efforts to redirect the conversation and be more than happy to jump in with enthusiasm. After all, everyone wants to have a lovely day.


There will no doubt be things your family enjoy doing together on family occasions. There are families that love to gather around the piano and sing Christmas carols. Others love to play games. Others have a post Christmas lunch walk.

If your family has traditions then make sure they are carried out. If they don’t have any, then introduce some new things you think family members will be interested in. Prepare the ground for this. Talk about this “fun” idea with family members you think will be useful allies in this so that when you introduce the idea it will be supported by other people. These traditions are a great way to distract from unpleasant conversations.


In the lead up to Christmas, think of at least 10 things to be grateful for each day. Write them down and say them out loud, followed by three thank yous. Slowly introduce gratitudes for family members.

Don’t force the jolliness. Find things you are genuinely grateful for. They may range from extraordinary things to the seemingly mundane such as your health, your home, your job and so on.

Each day add gratitudes for family members. Start with the ones you love seeing. As you get close to Christmas think about the ones that cause you grief. Is there anything about them you like? Anything about them you admire? Try to find something to be grateful for about them. One might be that they are diligent about attending the family Christmas every year. Another might be they help with the washing up. Another might be they love their car. Find something to be grateful for.

Finding positives help you to feel more empowered and more in control of those difficult situations. It also helps to see the main protagonists as people with less power than you thought they had.


Think about who will be at the Christmas event and identify those you find supportive. They may be the type who will speak up and support you at the time of the difficulty, or they may be someone you can speak to later to help you calm down.

It is easier to manage in stressful situations when you know you have support.


One of the easiest ways to calm down is breathing. It is best to practice this technique in advance so that it is second nature when you need it. If you try this for the first time when you need it, it is unlikely to work effectively.


The best way to practice is to start small.

• Set a reminder on your phone for every hour if possible.

• Now prepare to breathe for 1 minute.

• Set a timer for 1 minute.

• Sit quietly with your hands resting in your lap.

• You may choose to let your focus slip or you may choose to close your eyes.

• Now breathe in while noticing the feeling of the air entering your nose and your chest and tummy rising with the in breath.

• Now breathe out while notice the feeling of your chest and tummy falling and the feeling of the air passing through your nose.

• With the next in breath, imagine you are inhaling calming air. Imagine it is a beautiful calming colour such as blue or green, whatever your find calming. See that coloured air entering your nose and lungs.

• Now breathe out all the tension and difficult emotions. Imagine the air you breathe out is the colour of tension and difficult emotions such as red, whatever you find expresses what you are feeling.

• Continue breathing in calm and breathing out tension. You can say to yourself I am breathing in calm on the in breath. And you can say I am breathing out tension/anger (name emotion) on the out breath.

• If you notice your mind wander away from noticing your breath just return your attention to your breath without judging yourself.

• Continue until 1 minute is up. Notice how you are feeling calmer and more in control of your emotions.

If you practice your 1 minute mediation as often as you can you may consider the next day practising for 5 minutes sometimes and 1 minute at others.

Practice as often as you can. When you need this calming at the Christmas event you will find it easier to slip into the practice if you have taken the time to practice in advance.

You can use mindful breathing sitting or moving around. Many people practice as they are walking. This is something you might try if you need to get some space away from the difficult people.


The walk works like this:

• Don’t rush to push the emotions you feel away. Allow yourself to feel them, name them and walk them out. Stamp if you need to, walk fast if you need to. Swing your arms around. Whatever allows you to release what you are feeling.

• Once you have allowed yourself that time and you have acknowledged and released the emotions you can then walk at a calmer pace at your speed.

• Notice what is around you. What can you see, hear, smell, touch or taste?

• Take a deep in breath. Notice the sensation of that breath entering your body as you walk.

• Release that breath and notice the sensation of it leaving your body as you walk.

• Continue breathing and paying attention to your breath.

• Remember to breathe in calm and breathe out stress, anger and/or other distressing emotions you are experiencing.

• As you notice yourself feeling calmer, you can start paying attention to the beauty around you.

• Remember to just return your attention to your breath if your mind starts to wander.

• As you settle into this calming routine, allow yourself to feel your feet on the ground. Feel the ground supporting you are you walk.

• Allow yourself to feel the air around you. Feel the air wrapping you in its loving embrace.

• Continue walking, feeling the calm and feeling the support that surrounds you.

• When you are ready you can return to the gathering.

• You may decide to stay there, you may decide to communicate boundaries, you may decide to leave. Do whatever feels right for you.


If you feel that it is too distressing to attend the family Christmas, make other arrangements.

Maybe you would like to attend a community lunch.

Maybe you know other people who are on their own at Christmas. Perhaps you can get together to celebrate.

Maybe you would like the day alone with some lovely food and a stack of movies/games/books you would love to watch.

You may even find other family members don’t like the event and would be happy to do something with you instead.


You have prepared yourself for the family Christmas and it is still difficult. Be okay with that. Don’t forget your strategies. Set realistic expectations of how people will be and prepare for this.

Do take the time to take some calming breaths before responding to other people. It can help to name what you are feeling. This allows you to cope better. It also allows you space to decide to not react to this person. It is in this moment you may choose to walk away, or calmly say their comment is inappropriate, or not funny, or unacceptable or anything else.

People can get to you with their behaviour and comments because you have unresolved hurts. After Christmas, review the family Christmas. What came up for you? Is there something you need to resolve. Counselling can be really helpful to explore and resolve old hurts. You can also learn helpful strategies to cope.


If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your unresolved hurts, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz


Creating Meaning at Christmas When Meaning has Gone

At this time of year, many people who come to see me about their grief become worried about the looming Festivities of Christmas.

Many don’t know how to make their Christmas be anything but awful and devoid of meaning. They are grieving and the person who made it worthwhile will not be there anymore.

Maybe you want to pause Christmas for a year?

If you have other family members who don’t want to do that, especially children, then you can’t really do that.

Maybe the one you loved always enjoyed Christmas and you are determined to honour their memory by celebrating Christmas. But you don’t know how to do that.

I always suggest that this may be a time for new traditions, new ways of doing Christmas that honour the one who is gone, but still allow for celebration.

Here is a suggestion of how you can plan a new type of Christmas.


The first step is to plan activities that will help bring new meaning to the day.

Get a notebook and start writing down.

• An activity that expresses your values (what is important to you?)

• An activity that makes you smile.

• An activity that you find relaxing.

• An activity that connect you with people you care about.

• An activity that makes you think.

• An activity you enjoy but never have time for.

• An activity that brings back wonderful memories

• A spiritual activity that makes you feel connected to a higher power.

• An activity that isn’t always fun.

• Any other activities you can think of that you find meaningful.


The next step is go read through your list.

What on this list is something you most long to do? Are they things you can do at Christmas? Are they small enough to fit into a hour or two . . . or less?

Make a list of the things you can fit in to Christmas.

Take 2 pages and divide them between the morning and afternoon/evening.

Start at the hour you normally get up.

Have the finish time when you normally get to bed.

Now divide the day evenly between the two pages, marking off every hour from when you start the day to when you end the day.

Now write in the things you know you need to do on the day.

I want you to include on this list at least one time when you will do something to honour the person who is no longer with you. This doesn’t have to take long. Just acknowledge them.

I also want you to include down time when you may nap, meditate, read a book, sit under a tree, take a walk and so on.

Now look at the time left over.

Look at your list of activities.

Choose the ones you can achieve in the day. You may want to brainstorm how you might do each activity.

Now look at your spare slots and choose 2 to 3 activities you can fit into those slots.

Make sure the activities you choose are ones you know you can do. Try to fit one activity as early as you can in the day and another activity as late as you can in the day.



It is the day after Christmas.

How did your day go?

Did you do your special activities?

How did it go?

Look at your list of activities. Is there one you can do today?

Maybe there will be ones you can do tomorrow, the day after, and so on.

These special activities are not just for Christmas.

Make that decision to include in your life activities that give meaning to you. As you learn to live with the loss of your loved one, meaning in your life now is one things you must learn. Why not use that learning to help you live through this.


If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How to set healthy boundaries at family Christmas get togethers

We all know the pressure to have the perfect Christmas. There is also the pressure to buy presents, to prepare food, to clean the house if you are hosting anyone for Christmas, or to travel away from home with all its associated stress if you are visiting for Christmas.

It is well accepted that Christmas can be a stressful time.

It is also accepted that getting together with family can be stressful as well.

Another stressful aspect of Christmas is the sheer volume of Christmas parties you may be invited to. You may receive more invitations than you feel comfortable accepting, yet you do accept them because you don’t want to let anyone down, or disappoint them.

All this stress can be overwhelming and make Christmas a less than enjoyable time for you.

Many people learn early in life to please other people. Maybe you are a people pleaser.

You may have learned to do this in your childhood home. It may have been a matter of survival. You may have learned to do this to make friends at school, or protect yourself from bullies. You may have learned to do it due to being in an abusive relationship. You may have learned to do it because you didn’t believe people would like you if you said no.

Whatever the reason, it can be a problem at Christmas.

It can be a problem when you feel you have to accept every invitation to attend a Christmas Party, even when you feel overwhelmed with busyness.

It can be a problem when you see family members at Christmas and you fear the expectations they have that you will go alone with anything they suggest.

Of course, you won’t only be a people pleaser at Christmas. It is just that it seems to be a time when you are called on more to people please and your stress levels are already high.

What do you do about it?

It is worthwhile considering how much of a problem this is.

To determine the extent of the problem it is helpful to understand the impact people pleasing can have on you.

• It can increase your stress

• It can lead to you feeling depressed

• You can feel resentful

• You can feel angry

• You can push yourself to the point of exhaustion which can impact your physical health

• It can lead to you now enjoying Christmas time at all

• It can cause you to neglect your self care

• It can harm your relationships


We all say yes to things on occasion that we may not want to do. That is a choice we make in accommodating other people.

But if you say yes all the time, even when you don’t want to, then you do need to do something about it.

People pleasing, or fawning, is a stress response. It is part of the responses our brain activates when we are in danger.

The most well know of those responses are Fight and Flight. People pleasing, or fawning, is part of this group of defence mechanisms. When you fawn, you seek to accommodate the needs of others to the point where you don’t meet your own needs.

You may find you are not able to tell others how you really feel about something.

You may put the needs of others ahead of your own. A good example of that is saying yes to a Christmas party invitation when you are exhausted and really need to rest.

You may say yes to every request made of you.

You may seek to flatter others.

You may have low self esteem.

You will probably go to great lengths to avoid conflict

You may feel you are taken advantage of and that may really irritate you.

You may worry about fitting in with others and be frightened of having an argument with another person.


Because you always put your needs last, you are more vulnerable to emotional abuse and being exploited by others. You are also more vulnerable to abusive relationships.

At Christmas, being a people pleaser can lead to high levels of stress and you finding this time of year anything but relaxing.


Feeling safe enough not to people please is a slow process. There are some things you can try in the interim. How effective they are will depend on how safe you feel, but you will only know when you try.

It is helpful to enlist the support of someone else who can be there and give you encouragement, give you some time out and be a listening ear when you need it.


You need to know these important things:

• You deserve to be able to do what you want

• You deserve to be here and to take up space

• You are enough, just as you are

• Your thoughts, feelings, opinions and boundaries matter

• Most of the time when you say no you will survive.


I would never recommend you stand up to a violent abuser or a coercive controller. That is dangerous. If you are in those situations it is best to contact 1800 RESPECT for assistance.

Apart from that it is okay to say no.


The main measures to take are to be able to say “no”.

Your friend asks you to come to her party. You don’t want to go. You are worried about disappointing her by saying no.


You deserve to be able to do what you want.

You take a deep breath and say “no, I can’t come”. You may like to add a thankyou for your invitation.

It is important to remember that you don’t have to explain why you are saying no. Your no is no and that is good enough.


You arrive at your Aunt’s house for the extended family get together. She is a very organised and determined woman, used to give you orders and expecting you to jump to obey them.

You have drive 2 hours through heavy traffic to get there and you are tired, frazzled and need to destress for a while.

She jumps in with an order to prepare something in the kitchen. I might add at this point that everyone has brought food to contribute to the family feast so there is nothing to prepare in the kitchen.

You don’t want to. You need to sit for a while and see the rest of the family.

You have enlisted your partner to support you.

You say “no”. it is probably a good idea to add “when it is time to put the food out I can help you for a short while”.

She may be stunned you said no. She may try to shame you into helping. She may want to argue. If you can , walk away. If need be you may need to tell her that you need to destress after the drive and want to catch up with family members. You may ask if she has caught up with family members and suggest you can do that together.

Your partner can also support you by steering you away from your aunt, or, if necessary, stepping in to enforce the boundary.


I have already mentioned that people pleasing is a survival response. It is learned because of traumatic situations.

When you have trauma in your past, you often find it hard to feel safe and manage your emotions, which are often very strong. You will frequently feel unsafe and that is something that you can heal from slowly with the correct treatment.

In Australia the Blue Knot Foundation has well respected trauma treatment guidelines that are effective in healing. It is wise to seek out a therapist who adheres to these guidelines.


If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your people pleasing, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

How can I manage grief and Christmas, especially a family Christmas?

Since the COVID pandemic began, many people have experienced Christmases that have been dramatically different to previous years. With lockdowns many people could not travel to see family. During that time also people died. Funerals were delayed until relatives could attend. People didn’t get to say goodbye. Families didn’t get together so the death of the family member was not able to be grieved fully.

Now restrictions are lifted. People can travel to see each other.

With family get togethers at Christmas resuming for many, there is a chance of a resurgence of old tensions. There is also adjusting to the different family makeup with the loss of those who have died.


There is such societal pressure for Christmas to be magical. The shows on television, the ads, the social media posts of perfect Christmases. All these things influence your belief around Christmas needing to be perfect.

So we arrive at this perfect Christmas Day stressed and most likely yelling at each other. So now we are stressed and upset.

Now add Grief to that mix!

When you are struggling with grief and the absence of people who once were part of your life it seems that everyone else is having a better Christmas than you. And there is that feeling that you should be doing that too.

It seems everyone wants to present to the world their perfect Christmas. But not that many people experience that perfection at Christmas. After all, who wants reality at Christmas? We are all programmed for perfection and who wants to admit they don’t have it.

The more people you add to the Christmas mix, you greater the chance your Christmas will not be perfect. It is wise to remember that.


Janie’s Father died just after Christmas 30 years ago. She remembers sitting with him on Christmas Day and him wishing her Merry Christmas. It was the last time he spoke to Janie before he died.

The next Christmas, Janie said Merry Christmas to her father and set an empty place at the table for him. She has done that every year since then.


Robert and his children tried to avoid Christmas after his wife Sally died. The first year they went away for Christmas. They tried to avoid it completely and all the family get togethers.

The next Christmas they put up a new tree with generic decorations as you would see in any business at Christmas. They couldn’t face the special memories of their own tree and decorations. On Christmas day they went to the cemetery instead of getting together with family.

The third Christmas they put up their old tree with all its special memories and set a place at the table for their mother. They decided they needed to remember that life goes on even when the person you love so much is gone. They invited their family to come to them and found it healing to be with people who knew and loved Sally too.


You most likely will not feel like this, but you need to be proactive in your approach to being with others for Christmas.

One suggestion is to let people know what you want from them. They will most likely be worried about whether to mention your loved one, or whether they are a taboo subject. There is no hard and fast rule on this one and most people know that. Let them know how you want them to be. That way you can all experience less stress around what to say.

Let people know if you want to be left alone, or if you want someone to have coffee and a chat with. Let them know if you want the occasional contact to check in on you. Let them know if you appreciate gifts of food or flowers. If you want these things and no contact then let them know you would prefer them to leave it at the front door.

Don’t forget to acknowledge the help people give. You may feel frozen and unable to see anything positive, but you can be aware of the benefits of the care other people demonstrate for you. Thanking them not only lets them know they are doing something that you find helpful, but it is also beneficial for you to express the positive things that happen for you. This helps you engage with life. Something you may not want to do, but need to do.


When a loved one dies it is tempting to shut everything down. But if there are children involved you need to have greater consideration. Children need to know life does go on. It might not feel it now, but it will go on. They may also want the stability of routine in their lives.

Christmas is one of the routines they may be relying on for stability.


It is important to acknowledge your loved one and to include memories of them in the day.

You may decide not to make as big a fuss over the day as other years.

Ultimately you may decide to do at Christmas what makes the children happy.


Many people set a place at their table for their loved one.

Another idea is for everyone to write down their memories of your loved one and put them in a box under the Christmas tree. This can be unwrapped and the memories read out. Sharing stories together is very unifying and a wonderful way to remember someone, and learn more about them. It also makes it acceptable to include them in Christmas.

Maybe you may like to watch their favourite Christmas movie, or listen to their favourite Christmas song.

Or you may like to add an item to the menu that they particularly loved eating. Then you can eat it as a remembrance of them.


It is hard facing Christmas without your loved one. It is hard when you have a family get together and you have to negotiate all the festivities while grieving. You always need to consider the needs of children in this mix and that is hard too.

If you do have a family Christmas, let family members know what you expect from them. Don’t forget, they may be grieving too.

It is important to remember that Christmas is never perfect, just as life is never perfect. Have the best day you can and accept the imperfections. Remember it is okay to be sad and even cry. Remember that you grieve because you loved and grief is an expression of love.


When you are grieving, Christmas is likely to be a time tinged with sadness.

You may like to set an empty place for your loved one. You may decide to not make as big a fuss as other years.

It may take you a few years to feel up to having a big family Christmas again.

Start new rituals that will help you commemorate your loved one. They may be temporary or become an established part of Christmas.

Do find ways to connect to family and friends as well as the wider community. You may for a while seek out support groups of others who are grieving. Healing needs the support and involvement of community as well as individual reflection. Often you will find healing in the support of other community members including your family.


If you need extra help, you may consider seeking the support of a grief counsellor.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz


*please note that whenever I mention someone in my blogs I never use real names and change the circumstances to de-identify the person who has generously given permission for me to use their story in my blog.

How to Manage Stressful Family Christmases

Christmas is coming.

Life is busy.

If you share in a group Christmas with family or friends then there are presents to buy.

There is food to arrange and buy.

There may be Christmas Cards, the annual Christmas email or other contacts to be done.

You may have work deadlines to be meet.

You may be out of work and looking for new work.

Stress levels are high.

You may be worried about missing family members.

You may also be worrying about having to see family members you don’t particularly get along with.

The last thing you need with all the stresses just getting to Christmas is to have to deal with difficult family situations.

You may feel pressured to meet with friends/family out of a sense of obligation.

For many people, meeting with family means being shoved into a family role that you don’t fit.

This can be distressing, frustrating, even traumatising.

There may be too many family secrets you are forced to keep to find anything enjoyable or relaxing about being with family this Christmas.

You may find that your sense of Who you Are is severely challenged by being caught up in the family’s expectations of who you are and how you should behave. Often, your family’s idea of who you are is claustrophobic and triggering.

You may find yourself switching from a strong confident person, to a powerless mess who is unable to set healthy boundaries around your family’s behaviours.

You may find that no matter how firm you are, they just ignore your boundaries.

There are a number of things you can do to manage this

Do you think there is a solution to this family problem? If you do then there are some strategies you can try. I will list them further down this blog.

You may have already tried many strategies and come to the conclusion that the only approach is to put up with them or not go at all.


Maybe you will decide it is not worth the stress and you would rather do something else.

Do you have your own immediate family such as a partner, children? Maybe you can try staying home with them and planning your own Christmas.


When family members are unpleasant it is often because you are sensitive to their approval. They are more than happy to make you jump through hoops to get fragments of approval.

Come prepared. Don’t expect their approval. Expect them to be negative. Maybe enlist someone who can support you.

If you feel able. Prepare firm but caring responses to the type of negative comments you expect them to give.

For example: Do they make comments about what you are wearing? Maybe they make a comment about you dressing down for the occasion. Rehearse responses such as: “I like to be comfortable.” Or “I like my outfit and I will wear it when I want to.” You may prefer to take a firmer approach. “I can see it matters to you to give an opinion on my outfit, but I wear clothes to suit me and I don’t seek anyone else’s opinion”. “You frequently make comments about what I wear. I am not interested in your opinion. I wear clothes for me, not for approval.”

These are suggestions of what you might say. If you can find a family member to support you, they may have ideas of something you can say.

Remember, you want to set a boundary so you just need to say something that will communicate to them that their comments are not accepted.


Another problem family member is the one who thinks you are their personal slave. You arrive and are bombarded with instructions on what you are to do. That is fine if everyone is working together to put the party together. However, if you are constantly given the awful jobs you may need to say something such as:

“Every year you give me the same thing to do, this year I want to do (nominate what you want to do) so that is what I will be doing.” If they want to argue, for example: “xx always likes to do that” you can always respond “it is time we all did different jobs”.

If you are the one picked on and others get to sit and relax, may be you need to respond differently. Maybe you can say “I am happy to help you for a few minutes later, but right now I have just arrived and I would like a chance to say hello to everyone and catch my breath.” Make sure later you only help for a few minutes.

It can be really helpful to enlist the support of another family member to back you up. And remember to rehearse your boundary setting statements. You are there to set a boundary and your communication needs to say that. You don’t have to explain yourself, just set that boundary.


This one is very tricky. If your family know about the abuse and still support the other person then they have made a choice to support your abuser. They may claim they are remaining neutral. But sitting on the fence and declaring you are neutral when the elephant is squashing the mouse is not neutral from the mouse’s perspective. By doing nothing you sitting on the fence is supporting the elephant.

Many people fail to understand that allowing such behaviour to continue actually condones the behaviour.

You need to decide whether you can face seeing your abuser. If you can’t, then you may need to find alternative arrangements for Christmas.

You do not have to go to a family gathering when someone who has abused you is there and people are ignoring what has happened.


It may be you need help to face the coming Christmas. You may need to talk through past trauma. You may need some strategies to cope with a difficult family member. You may need support to decide you will not go.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your family christmas, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz