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Reflecting back, looking forward… it’s that time of year again


By Lis Starkey-Smets



Today is New Years Eve, a time to look back and reflect on the year that is about to end, and look forward with anticipation optimism towards the year ahead.



Christmas day has been and gone, with fun-filled family gatherings, delicious food, an abundance of presents, and perhaps some games and a cheesy Christmas film or two.



This is how it’s supposed to be… right?



Unfortunately, for many people, this time of year can be an exceptionally difficult time. The build up to Christmas can be very stressful, both financially and emotionally. For some there’s the issue of who Christmas day will be spent with. Even in “conventional” families this can be a contentious issue, but for families with separated or divorced parents, half and step siblings, this can be an even trickier situation where multiple people are likely to be disappointed or feel hurt.



Then there are families where people have fallen out, resulting in others feeling stuck in the middle. Some people are forced to spend the day in the company of people they would really rather not, potentially bringing up a lot of painful feelings from the past. Others may choose to avoid those situations, which can still be a very painful and difficult decision to make, and can result in isolation, disappointment and sadness.



For others there is no choice of whom to spend Christmas with. A significant number of people spend Christmas day alone, or away from their loved ones, for a whole host of reasons. Some people have lost loved ones through death, arguments, or ongoing family feuds, and Christmas time can really bring the pain associated with these losses to the forefront.



Then with the New Year fast approaching, there is a tendency for people to reflect back over the past year and look forward to the next. But what if the past year has been a particularly tough one and things look set to continue? What if reflecting on life in this way is resulting in feelings of hopelessness, despair, sadness or feeling totally and utterly stuck?



I feel it is important that whatever our own circumstances, we allow ourselves to reflect on the lives of others and be there to support those who may be facing significant struggles. What if instead of (or as well as) having New Year’s Resolutions this year, we all made a real effort to reach out to people in 2018? To check in with people, and really take the time to find out how people are doing underneath the surface.




People’s feelings are not always on display. For many, putting on a brave face or wearing their “happy mask” is their way of coping, or that is just what is expected of them.

Take the time to reach out and really listen to how someone is feeling rather than just hearing what you expect to hear.



We often ask people “how are you?” and “how was your Christmas?” in a cheery voice, expecting to hear back “I’m fine thanks” and “yea, it was good thanks”.

Take the time to genuinely ask someone how they are. You may not get an honest answer out of them first time as many of us are so programmed to give the stock response, but genuinely taking the time to enquire and really listening to the answer can go a long way to encouraging and allowing people to open up and be honest about how they are truly feeling.




And if you are someone for whom the Christmas period has been particularly challenging, you are finding yourself deeply unsatisfied with aspects of your life or are struggling to know how to move forward, don’t be afraid to open up about how you are feeling with someone you trust. Although it’s not necessarily going to make everything okay, talking to a friend or relative really can help to make you feel less alone and work through or process some of the difficult feelings you are experiencing. And if things continue to feel like they are too much, you might decide to look into having some counselling to help you to move forward with the help of a trained professional. There is never any shame in asking for help.



Whatever your situation, I hope you find the strength to make 2018 a happy and prosperous year for you and others.





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