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My Christmas wish is…

The holidays can be tough. In this blog one of our Young Champions talks about some coping strategies for the festive season. 

It’s that time of year when we say to each other that none of us can believe it’s December, and how quickly the year has gone. It’s that time of year when we celebrate with one another because it’s the season to be jolly. But for some of us, it’s that time of the year we dread the most and wish it was not upon us.

I’ve decided to take some time to reflect on the upcoming season and to plan out some coping strategies of what will see me through to 2020. I personally dislike Christmas for many reasons and have experienced this feeling for many years. I have probably been quite unlucky, because for around four consecutive Christmases something traumatic has always happened. Unfortunately, now the festive season reminds me of what happened - but additionally, around this time of year I’m always on edge to psychologically prepare myself for something bad happening. Over these years it has been difficult. But there are some things which I know and which other young people would want you to know to reduce the pressure and burden of the season for us - so we do not struggle.

As well as having PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), I also have Asperger’s. Sometimes I need a break from processing all the sensory information, which will result in me finding somewhere visually and auditorily plain. But firstly, for many young people, they will sometimes want some alone time. However, there is sometimes pressure from others not to leave - and to stay. We appreciate it when you ask us once to maybe stay, as sometimes we need to know we are appreciated. If we continue to say we want to leave after you have asked us, then please let us. Let us leave comfortably without pressuring questions, or announcing it to the whole room, as it can feel uncomfortable and embarrassing. This can again add to the stress of the season.

It is also not okay to keep pressuring or start becoming annoyed with the young person if they still decide they want to find somewhere quiet. Particularly having a form of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), it can help to avoid feeling overwhelmed if we can find somewhere that does not stimulate senses and provides a break from socialising. Finding somewhere quiet can often help young people to escape from the pressure, and doing a self-care activity, such as reading or listening to music. There are many self-care activities that can be done to relieve feelings of overwhelming emotions. I would encourage young people to make use of their own self-care strategies when things start to become difficult.

Please do not force young people to take part in activities when they have already declined to take part. Quite often at this time of year, we play games or go out to places. This can actually be why young people dread the season because there is an expectation that they have to do stuff. It is okay to say no to activities. It would be great if others could understand that, if someone does not want to do something, then they do not want to do it. It does not matter the reason why, as there are many reasons. What matters is that their choice is respected.

This can be a difficult season as there is often an emphasis on food and eating a big plate of Christmas dinner. If a young person has declined to eat, please do not ask questions about why they are not eating. Allow them to eat what they feel comfortable eating without pressuring them to eat more. You do not even have to be aware of the young person having an eating disorder or not. It goes for all young people - to feel comfortable eating what they want to eat without being pressured or made to feel uncomfortable by being questioned.

Finally, do not wait until the young person has experienced a crisis to let them know that you are there for them. It does not matter whether the young person is struggling with their emotions and mental health, or not. It is always good to let the young person know that you are there for them, and you’re willing to listen and support them at any point.

I know how lonely it can be not to be able to talk to anyone, particularly on Christmas Day. So what was my wish list for Christmas? To know that there was someone I could talk to, who would listen and respect my choices, not force me to take part in things, and support me in doing the things which I was comfortable doing. This is what I can imagine is also on other young people’s Christmas wish lists this year - and honestly, they will appreciate it if you do this for them.

On My Mind is a website that aims to empower young people to make informed choices about their mental health and wellbeing. The pages were co-produced by young people to help other young people. The website includes a self-care page that has 89 self-care strategies, and an urgent help page that features organisations that offer help and support for young people.