A 2013 report from youth support network, headspace, has revealed that a vast majority (72%) of young Australians are negatively impacted by family politics at Christmas time, and 27% of them battle with feelings of loneliness and depression during the 'festive" season.
Dr Dain Heer believes that family pressures are an unhealthy and unnecessary factor during holiday gatherings, and advises that these occasions would be far more jolly if people learned to:
Stop changing their behaviour to please others
Encourage others (especially young Australians) to be authentic
Develop gratitude for the people in their lives
Become aware of the impact of others' moods and emotions on their own wellbeing
'What would Christmas be like if we encouraged young people to just be themselves, rather than trying to get them conform to family pressures and traditions?" Dain remarks.
'For instance, many lonely young people go online for support over the holidays and many of them are told that it is wrong to do that; told that they should be part of the family occasion. But what if they were allowed to find online support or, better still, what if they were made to feel welcome, included and celebrated, just for being themselves, in the family?" he adds.
Dr. Dain Heer, speaker, coach and author of bestselling book Being You, Changing the World, provides the tools and inspiration to uncover the real -you' and find the courage to be different – which in turn sparks new ideas, creates success and increases happiness and wellbeing. His work is now in 121 countries in which he facilitates people to tap into and recognize their own abilities and empowers them to know they are the creators of their own life. Gaining global attention, Dr. Heer has been interviewed a variety of media such as Fox News, Gaiam TV, Great Day Houston, The Collective Magazine, Natural Awakening, Om Times, Askmen.com, Beliefnet.com, San Diego Living, and Mariashriver.com.
Question: Why do you believe young Australians hate Christmas so much?
Dr Dain Heer: Because they are aware of the tension in everyone around them, even though nobody acknowledges it. They also never get credit for the level of awareness they have. It's like, they know when Mum and Dad are upset, when Mum and Dad are out of money or stressed because of tension with family members. But nobody ever speaks to them about it. Most people don't give them credit for that awareness, so they really don't have anywhere to go. They become isolated, so it makes sense that they turn online to be less isolated.
Question: What is it about Christmas that leaves young Australians feeling isolated and lonely?
Dr Dain Heer: I think they really haven't found a space for themselves. If you are the Mum or Dad, you know what your role is. You've created this family by your choice (well, more choice than not) but kids in general have to go along with what Mum and Dad or everyone else wants to do. It's like they're not given choice, or the freedom to have the choice to 'not go" or 'not do" without being made wrong. The other thing is because Mum and Dad are often stressed out because of money, or because of huge judgements of themselves, that stress gets passed down to the kids. It also means that kids have nowhere to turn if they themselves start feeling stressed out.
Question: Is it only young Australians who feel like this?
Dr Dain Heer: I would say a lot of Australians feel this way, for different reasons. For Mum and Dad it might be financial stress or the self-judgement of not providing enough, not being able to do enough, or give enough, or give good enough gifts. Or it may be relationship problems. Then if you look at the older set, they can often feel isolated as well and feel like they are not being asked to participate.
Question: Why does the festive season make us feel more lonely and isolated than other times of year?
Dr Dain Heer: Because it's 'supposed to be" a happy time. But for many people it's not a happy time; it's an unhappier time than usual. But Christmas shines a spotlight on the unhappiness at this time of year because we are told that we're supposed to be happy. We are also told that if you buy enough stuff, then that will make you happy – but that doesn't ever work.
Question: How can we learnt to overcome these feelings?
Dr Dain Heer: Firstly, ask yourself 'If I were choosing for ME this holiday season, what would I actually choose?" We don't often do that – take time and space for yourself. Make sure you take time out for you – I recommend one or two hours per day – just to make space for you and do whatever YOU feel like doing. Next, you need to recognise is that 98% of your thoughts, feelings and emotions don't belong to you. You are picking them up from the people around you; you're absorbing all these feelings like a big radio antenna. So, it's good to ask yourself 'Who does this belong to?" If the feeling gets lighter, less intense, then it is not yours; it's just something you've picked up from the people in your environment – it's just something that you are aware of on a deep level. You are aware of Mum and Dad's stress, you are aware of stuff that's going on for them. And you can't deal with it.
Question: Can you provide your top five tips to deal with family tension around Christmas time?
Dr Dain Heer: Begin to ask questions to open up some other possibilities. Like, one great question to have going through your head over Christmas is 'How does it get any better than this?" 'How does it get any better than this?" Like a mantra in your head. When something bad happens and you ask this question, you'll notice things get better. If you ask it when things are going really great, you'll notice that things get even better!
Ask 'Who does this belong to?" and see if the emotion gets lighter. If it does, it means you're just picking up on someone else's stuff and you can 'return to sender".
Write down a list of ten people you are grateful for and ten things you are grateful for. Keep it with you and look at it when you are at family gatherings – go to the bathroom and look at it if you have to.
Find one person who can be a support system for you – someone who has no judgement of you; someone who you have fun with; someone who makes you feel lighter when you are with them. Set up a buddy system with them and arrange to call each other regularly through the holidays. Check in with them and arrange for them to be your support.
Question: What advice do you have for those who do feel overwhelmed at Christmas time?
Dr Dain Heer: Firstly, I recommend using 'Who does this belong to?" Other than that, we end up feeling overwhelmed at Christmas for three main reasons – the financial stress, judgements we have of ourselves over what we are not providing for others or what we are not being for others, and we have everything that has not been handled over the preceding year hanging over us.
For financial stress, think to yourself 'Ok, I know I'm expected to buy things for others but what if I did this in a way that didn't stress me out?" You may want to call people you are buying for and explain your financial situation and suggest that, instead of gifts, you can just bake cookies, or just give gifts to the children. Instead of gifts, you can write a letter of gratitude to the people in your life – see the amazing shift that happens when you do that!
Write down all the judgements you have of you, and burn the piece of paper. Let them go!
Write down everything that has not been handled fully over the year – everything that still bugs you, everything that stresses you out, everything that you wanted to accomplish but didn't. Write it down and say 'If I had six months to do this, where would I start". Then make a start on one thing on the list – make a start towards completing or letting go of this stuff. Do one thing a day until the list is clear and things will change dramatically for you.
Question: How do you suggest we encourage those who may battle with feelings of loneliness and depression during the 'festive" season?
Dr Dain Heer: Firstly, you need to let them know that they are not alone, they are not crazy and they are not wrong! A great question they can start asking is 'What's right about me that I'm not getting?" because we tend to go into a huge amount of judgement about ourselves (I'm not doing enough, I'm not being enough.) When we ask 'What's right about me I'm not getting?" all of a sudden you open the door for what is actually right about you - what you're doing right instead of all the things you're supposedly doing wrong.
Also get them to ask, 'How does it get any better than this?"
Get them to list their top three stresses over the Christmas season and then ask them 'What one step can you take today to change this?"
Interview by Brooke Hunter