Christmas is a time of year that we typically associate with celebrations, friends and family.
In London it can feel fun and exciting in early December as the Christmas lights go on, the parties begin and the pre-Xmas sales make us all eager to bag a bargain. But as 25 December draws nearer, for many Australians in London it can also be a difficult time, or at least an occasion full of mixed feelings.
If it’s your first Christmas in London it may be novel and new. It’s possibly your first Xmas in the cold – perfect for mulled wine and traditional Xmas dinners which are the staple of Christmas here in the UK; and the complete opposite to the BBQs, seafood and beach celebrations that you may be used to back at home.
If you are new to London, perhaps you are sharing a house with a bunch of Aussies who will party their way through Christmas into New Year, or you will take the opportunity to travel to somewhere in Europe and enjoy the snow, immersing yourself in the traditions of somewhere completely different.
There are certainly many ways to occupy your time and enjoy the festive season on this side of the world, and you don’t have to be new here to enjoy it.
But for many Australians, once the novelty has worn off, this time of year can be challenging. Because it is a time of year so synonymous with family and close friends, it can be genuinely hard being away from loved ones. As a result, homesickness can kick in quite dramatically for some. Plus, as we all know, it is an incredibly expensive time to travel Down Under. So, it’s not necessarily possible to just jump on a plane if you start missing everyone and decide you want to be at home with them all.
You could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
The impact of the cold and darkness at this time of year should also not be underestimated, particularly for Antipodeans who are used to summer and plenty of sunshine in December.
A genuine condition that many people can develop during winter in this part of the world is Seasonal Affective Disorder, aptly known as SAD. This is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern. The episodes of depression tend to happen at the same time each year and it is often referred to as winter depression.
The main symptoms of SAD are similar to other forms of depression in that they involve low mood, and a decreased interest in, or ability to enjoy, life. It is quite common to feel lacking in energy and being tired too, despite the amount of sleep you have. In fact, people suffering from SAD may sleep more than usual and struggle with getting out of bed. SAD is something that can be experienced by anyone but if you are new to the UK and not used to the long darkness that descends in winter, you may be quite prone to developing it.
So what can you do if you find yourself struggling in different ways at this time of year – whether that be with SAD or because you are feeling homesick or lonely?
A touch of Aussie Christmas: anything that gives you a little taste of home – however clichéd or corny – can be comforting
If you are homesick, lonely and longing for Oz, bringing a bit of home into your festivities here could help bring to life positive memories and associations. For instance, ask family or friends to send you some of your favourite treats from home which are quintessentially Australian; such as Tim Tams, Cheezels, Cherry Ripes or Wagon Wheels. Or perhaps you could make a pavlova or some other kind of Australian dessert to share with your friends on Christmas Day – either instead of, or alongside, your Christmas pudding.
Getting together with other Australians over the Christmas period might also help, as there is something about being around others who know what you are feeling that can lift your spirits. And watching some of your favourite stereotypical and lighthearted Aussie movies like The Castle, Muriel’s Wedding or Priscilla Queen of the Desert might also feel familiar and comforting. In fact, anything that gives you a little taste of home – however clichéd or corny – can be comforting at this time of year, so indulge to your hearts content.
However, if you are struggling with more than just homesickness or loneliness at this time of year, perhaps seeking outside help could be worthwhile. In particular, if you know you are suffering from winter depression or SAD (or after reading this, you think you may be), there are things that can help. Getting some sunshine whenever and wherever you can is worthwhile. Some people find SAD lamps make a big difference and similarly there are now SAD type alarm clocks which light up slowly in the morning to mirror the sunrise (but at a time that suits you) so that you wake up naturally and your body rhythms may be better aligned for starting the day.
Exercise can also be helpful. Even though it may feel like a struggle, it can help to level out your moods and give you more energy.
You are not alone in feeling this way at Christmas
And if you are really finding it difficult to cope, it may be worth considering counselling. A counsellor can offer you professional support and understanding and a place to talk without judgement. While together with your counsellor, you can work on identifying and implementing some lifestyle changes which may help to reduce your symptoms and make you feel a little better.
So if you are struggling with enjoying the Yuletide festivities here in the UK, perhaps you can take comfort from the fact that you are not alone. And also in that there are some things you can do, both big and small, which may improve how you are feeling at Christmas time.
Saff Mitten is an Australian counsellor, psychotherapist and life coach who lives and works in London. She has a great understanding of the range of practical and emotional issues Australians can face when living in the UK. If you want to contact her, visit her website: www.saffmittentherapy.com