Supporting someone who’s hurting this Christmas

December 22nd, 2020

It’s meant to be the happiest time of the year, but we all know someone who struggles during the holiday season. Maybe they’re dealing with grief, stress, loneliness, or harmful online behaviours, which often escalate during the holidays.

This festive season, how can we reach out and show kindness to someone who needs it?

Take the first step

Reach out by phone, messaging, video calls or in person, to let people know you’re thinking of them.

It’s lovely to send greeting cards or small gifts, although it’s best to avoid super-happy slogans and pictures if you’re contacting someone who has had a terrible year. Choose something attractive and gentle instead, with a personalized message and your contact details attached.

You might also decide to post a message to your social media feed reminding everyone that this time of year can be stressful or lonely sometimes, and that you’re here for anyone who would like to catch up.

Ask how things are going

If you suspect someone is having a hard time, create opportunities for them to talk to you.

  • Choose a place where they feel comfortable.
  • Make sure there’s time to speak without interruptions.
  • Ask things like ‘What’s been happening for you?’ rather than ‘How are you?’, as that question makes many people feel like they have to say ‘fine’.
  • Mention anything you’re concerned about – e.g. ‘You seem distracted lately’, or ‘I haven’t heard from you in a while’.
  • Listen without judgement to whatever they want to say.
  • Ask questions to help them explain – e.g. ‘How did you feel about that?’ or ‘How have you been coping since?’
  • Keep your tone and body language calm and open.
  • If they need time to think, wait it out.
  • Don’t force them to talk if they don’t want to.
  • Don’t dismiss what they’re going through (‘That’s no big deal!’) or make them feel blamed (‘Why did you do that?’)
  • Tell them you’re glad they trusted you enough to talk.
  • Keep checking in with them afterwards.

Visit R U OK for tips on starting the conversation during the holiday season.

Help them make a plan

If you know someone who’s struggling to get through the festive season, help them figure out an approach which works for them.

Ask ‘What have you done in the past to cope with situations like this?’ or ‘What’s something you could do that would help you feel better?’

Don’t tell them what to do. But if they would like suggestions, you can mention that many people find the holiday season easier if they:

  • Distract themselves with things that nurture them and make them feel good, like art, music, favourite foods, exercise, reading, or spending time in nature.
  • Take a break from social media if all the ‘Merry Christmas’ stuff is getting them down, or mute certain words or accounts for a while.
  • Shop for gifts online if going to the shops is too confronting.
  • Do something that helps others, like donating to a charity in the name of a loved one, choosing charity gifts or cards, buying from a business that’s been struggling during lockdown, or donating to a gift drive, food drive or animal shelter.

Ask what you can do to help. If they need suggestions, you might offer to:

  • Cook for them.
  • Get their groceries for them.
  • Help with their present shopping and wrapping (if they are doing presents).
  • Help put up their decorations and take them down later (if they are doing decorations).
  • Take them out for a walk or a coffee.

Recognise that they might not take part in the holiday season at all, and that’s fine too.

Make it easier for them to join in

It can be great to invite someone along to your celebrations on big days like Christmas – but they might feel awkward joining in another family’s get-together. You can make it easier for them by:

  • Inviting other people from outside your immediate family too.
  • Assuring them that it’s fine if they prefer to just stay a little while.
  • Setting aside a quiet part of your home where people can take ‘time out’ from the celebrations if they need to.
  • Asking them if they’d like to create a new ritual this year, such as lighting a candle, planting a tree, or playing a particular song.
  • Offering alcohol-free drinks and activities.
  • Offering to get together another time if they’d prefer that – e.g. for a walk, a picnic, or a trip to the beach.

Encourage professional support if necessary

There are free, confidential counselling services available 24/7, every day of the year, via phone or web. They include: