As humans, we are conditioned to seek social connection with others. A sense of social belonging is not only something most people seek in their lives, but an innate drive. Christmas can be a particularly challenging time for some given this is usually spent gathering with family and loved ones.  For those with strained relationships or whom have lost loved ones, this can trigger painful memories and feelings of grief and loss.  For those who are away from family and friends due to COVID travel restrictions or other reasons, the holidays can create additional burdens and a sense of loneliness.

So what can be done to make this festive period a little easier?

    1. Take this time to process grief. It is not uncommon for grief to be triggered during the holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.  Grief can be viewed as an extension of your love and care towards your loved one. If you are grieving a deceased loved one, take this time to honour past relationships by revisiting happy memories.  Connect with those who have shared experiences to exchange stories.  You may consider creating a memory box of treasured photos and other items or visiting the cemetery/crematorium and creating your own rituals and traditions to keep your loved one’s memory alive.
    2. Use this opportunity to connect with yourself. The more we feel at ease with our own company, the less we need others to provide us with a sense of belonging. Remind yourself what brings you joy and meaning and create a plan on how you can revisit these activities. Being alone can also amplify any negative thinking which can perpetuate difficult feelings.  A psychologist can assist with tackling recurring negative thinking which may be negatively impacting on your life.
    3. Reach out to your social supports or form new connections with others. Despite not being able to spend face to face time with friends and family, technology can greatly assist in bridging the distance between yourself and your loved ones.  Support is only a phone or video call away and a great way to stay connected.  For those living away from family, new friendships and members of your community can lead to new rituals and ways to mark the holidays.
    4. Seek help if needed. It is important not to suffer in silence.  Help is only a phone call away.  Contact your GP if you require more ongoing psychological support.

Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467 (24 hours)

Lifeline Counselling Service – 13 11 14 (24 hours)

Headspace –1800 650 890

Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800 (24 hours)

Dr Joyce Man, ORS, Lane Cove, NSW

Dr Joyce Man

Learning and Development Manager – Psychological Services 

BA(Psych), GDipSc(Psych), MClinPsych, PhD, MAPS

Dr Joyce Man is a clinical psychologist and researcher with over 14 years of experience in the disability field. Joyce previously worked as a research associate at Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University where she co-facilitated a group of autism representatives across Europe to promote participatory research within AIMS-2-TRIALS. Joyce also conducted research around autism service pathways and best practice with the autism community across the EU. Preliminary findings have been used to inform the EU parliament with a view to improving service accessibility and standards for autism-specific and mainstream services for autistic people.

Joyce completed her PhD at Macquarie University where she investigated psychologists’ adherence to best practice standards when working with individuals with intellectual disabilities and co-occurring mental health conditions and the service experiences of carers. She is the recipient of the 2017 Australian Psychological Society, Psychology of Intellectual Disability and Autism Thesis Award.

Joyce has extensive clinical experience in government and non-government disability agencies in Australia, primarily with people with intellectual disabilities and autism. She is also the recipient of a number of industry awards including the FACS 2016 Excellence in Psychology Award in Evidence-Based Practice and The Benevolent Society 2017 Leaders Award.

Joyce is passionate about promoting evidence-based practice in the disability field and regularly contributes via lecturing, training, clinical supervision, reviewing papers submitted to journal publications and publishing peer-reviewed research.
A full list of Joyce’s publications can be found on Google Scholar.