Welcome to the Winter edition of Sunderland Psychological Wellbeing Service Quarterly, a newsletter shaped by users of the Sunderland Psychological Wellbeing Service. We aim to encourage service users, past and present, to share their stories, experiences and advice to support others.
We recognise that although Christmas can be a special time of year for many, it can also be a difficult time. Perhaps you have always found Christmas a difficult time of year and are dreading it again this year; or you may be struggling this year for the first time.
The theme of this edition will focus on Christmas and our mental health, along with the current cost of living crisis we are facing.
As always, we would like to thank those of you who have contributed to this newsletter and know many people will benefit from reading this.
Annabel Sanders, Senior Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, and Helen Harrison, Community Psychiatric Nurse
Why do I find Christmas hard, and what helps me manage?
Christmas can be a wonderful time of year; a chance to see those we love, exchange gifts and create new memories. However, it can bring challenges, and for some it is a difficult time of year. We asked some people to share their thoughts on how they have made Christmas work for them. Here is what we found… (Names have been changed to protect confidentiality.)
After a breakdown in a long term relationship, Susan was dreading Christmas. Instead of ruminating, Susan decided to break with tradition and give herself an alternative Christmas. So this year she has new pyjamas at the ready, food of her choice, and a playlist of movies she has been wanting to watch for ages. Susan intends to spend the day doing things she loves and giving herself permission to get through the day her way.
Open up to others
Mark has had a tough year. He is usually bottles up his emotions. He decided he would try something different by talking to other men about how he is thinking. It started up a dialogue with his mates, and their friendship has never been stronger. They have a WhatsApp group dedicated to their wellbeing, and will often share info and reach out if they need support. We can be in a group of people and still feel alone, so just knowing someone is there to help is reassuring.
Christmas is only 24 hours
Carly realised last year that Christmas Day is only 24 hours – 1440 minutes – and of those, she is asleep 8 hours, or 480 minutes. It was no different to her than a typical Sunday, and she had survived 52 of those the previous year! She could do the same, and sleep for longer if she wanted, too.
Not everyone is celebrating
Last year, John was feeling anxious about finances around Christmas. He talked to his friend at work, who admitted his family did not celebrate Christmas for cultural reasons. This got John wondering how many people were not observing Christmas and what they did. He decided to visit his friend on Christmas day for a cuppa, and was able to chat about other things.
Not everyone is having a good time
Despite all the Instagrammable photos, remember – everyone has a story, and Christmas can bring its challenges as well as its joy. This is shown by the fact that many support helplines are often busy over the Christmas period.
Michelle read an article about the TV presenter Kate Humble and how she spends Christmas. In the article, Kate and her husband said they spent Christmas day out walking with their dogs. They pack a lunch of their choice, with a little bottle of fizz, and go and find a spot with a view to eat their lunch. The walks were always quiet and unspoilt as there are no tourists around. After a walk they return to the warmth of their home and chill.
Experiences money can’t buy
Ann decided as money is tight this year she is going to spread the cost. She has created gift vouchers for friends and family, offering a trip to the cinema a meal or a concert to be used up later in the year. This way, the person will get a surprise, their friend’s thoughtfulness and a Christmas gift they can enjoy throughout the year.
Bruno has agreed a £5 spending limit with his family, and they have agreed to donate a toy to local charity.
Last year, Richard was dreading Christmas due to family estrangement and arguments. He decided to work on Christmas Day. He managed to have a shared lunch with his colleagues which was stress free, and when he finished work he returned home to catch up on tv and leftovers. No one expected him to visit, as he had been working all day. He is thinking about volunteering this year, as he has already broken with tradition once.
It’s a Sunday Dinner
Rosie laughed as she said Christmas Dinner is an over-achieving Sunday Dinner! She couldn’t understand why it costs so much more. She decided that her Christmas Dinner for her family would be a Sunday Dinner with two additions; pigs in blankets, and chocolates for afterwards. On Sundays, everyone loved her food, so why should Christmas be different. On Sundays there are always leftovers, so why buy more at Christmas? Her family could contribute by bringing the crackers and drinks – sorted!
Christmas Eve self-care
Yvonne told us of her love of her Christmas Eve ‘me time’. She said she waits until everyone goes to bed and makes herself a cuppa. She lights a candle in the darkness, and thinks of the things she has achieved in the lead-up to Christmas – how she has managed to get everything done in time – and then she focussing on her breathing. Remembering this moment helps Yvonne the following year when she wonders if everything will get done. It always does, and taking this time for herself makes her feel calmer.
Peter struggles at Christmas due to his anxiety, as he doesn’t want to let his family down, but he finds it difficult to be around others. They have compromised this year, and he has agreed to spend two hours at his daughter’s house on Christmas Day (this feels manageable for him). He also has a son who would like him to visit, but lives too far away and he doesn’t feel able to travel, plus it is expensive. They will use facetime to speak to each other, and his grandchildren. Peter has a large family, so finds it difficult to manage with money, so has decided to give an allocated amount per household for them to spend on whatever they choose.
Local Support and Warm Spaces over Christmas and Winter
Due to the rise in the cost of living, there are many places in Sunderland and Washington offering ‘Warm Spaces’ within local communities. Many offer free wi-fi and hot drinks. Here’s the full list of warm spaces across Sunderland this winter.
- Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen provide free hot food services four days a week to the homeless and less fortunate who need support, as well as providing free hot drinks and snacks 18:30 – 19:30 each night.
Over Christmas they will be providing a free Christmas lunch to take away, which you can collect on 24th December free of charge from Albert’s place, 138 High Street West, Hendon, between 3pm – 4pm.
They will also be open on Christmas Day from 11am – 12pm for a light meal. You will need to contact them by 21st December should you wish to use this support over Christmas.
- Sunderland City Council will also be able to provide details of services offering support and food over Christmas, however details will not be available until nearer the time. Please contact them on 0191 520 5555.
Socialising over Christmas
- Carnival House and Kitchen in Southwick offer a range of activities for adults and children.
- Betsy Jenny café in Sunderland town centre always have seasonal activities going on.
- Sea Change is a vegan coffee shop on Ocean road, South Shields who employ people with learning disability and / or autism. They have a social group for people with learning disability / autism on a Monday night on a fortnightly basis that people from Sunderland can also access.
Winter Warmer Recipe – Aromatic Carrot and Parsnip Soup
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 350g (12oz) carrots, roughly chopped
- 350g (12oz) parsnips, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon medium or hot curry powder, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
- 850ml (1 1/2 pints) vegetable stock
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 150ml (1/4 pint) semi-skimmed milk
- Chopped fresh coriander, to garnish (optional)
Prep time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 40 minutes
- Heat oil in a large, non-stick pan. Add onion, carrots and parsnips; cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add curry powder and cumin; cook gently for 1 minute, stirring.
- Stir in stock and black pepper. Bring to the boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes or until vegetables are cooked and tender, stirring occasionally.
- Remove pan from heat; cool slightly. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth; return to rinsed-out pan. Alternatively, use a hand-held blender to carefully puree soup in pan. Add milk to soup; reheat gently until hot, stirring occasionally. Do not allow soup to boil.
- Serve in warmed soup bowls with a sprinkling of chopped coriander to garnish, if desired. Serve with wholemeal bread or rolls.