As the year approaches its end, the holiday season is soon to be in full swing. For some people, this can be an exciting time. Maybe the string lights, holiday music and the prospect of social gatherings bring a sense of cheer and elation. For others, this time can be incredibly stressful and come with lots of added pressure: maybe the social gatherings mean undesired guests and increased financial demands. People from rural communities can face these pressures even more as the unpredictable economic and environmental conditions can exacerbate financial stress. With limited access to social support and mental health resources in rural communities, it is important that we destigmatize the topic of wellbeing over the holidays and start having open conversations about how we can support ourselves and each other through the more difficult aspects of this time.
As the holidays approach, you might be planning for gifts, dinners, transportation, and a host of other things that all require money. The holiday season can come with a lot of financial pressure, and it can be a big source of stress during these times. Being honest and intentional about your holiday spending budget and trying to find ways to reduce costs can help to lessen some of this financial strain.
Budget your spending:
Take some time to decide how much money you have to allocate to gifts, food, gatherings, and anything else you might be spending on. Break down the budget into various spending areas and keep track of your spending to ensure that you are sticking to this budget.
Find ways to share or reduce costs:
Lots of people experience increased financial pressures over the holidays, yet this often goes unspoken. There are creative ways to share expenses and reduce some of the financial pressure on everyone. A gift-exchange or secret Santa with a set price can reduce the number of gifts that everyone buys, while still ensuring that everyone in the group receives something. Homemade gifts can also be a great way to give meaningful gifts at a lower cost. Things like homemade recipe books, jams or other crafty ideas can be really special to give to loved ones.
Sharing costs of food can also help ease some of the financial strain over the holidays. Organizing pot-luck gatherings can be a way for everyone to contribute at get-togethers.
For some people, this time of year means spending time with friends, family and other people in your life. While this might be exciting for some, it can also be dreaded for a multitude of reasons. Regardless, there are some things to consider that might make social gatherings more enjoyable.
Consider whether saying no or scaling back is an option
This time of year can be packed with social commitments, and sometimes it can get overwhelming. Maybe the idea of gatherings leaves you feeling anxious and there are other ways you would rather spend your time. Consider making a list of the commitments that are the most important, and prioritizing the attendance of these ones rather than others. If saying no is not an option, try to set aside some time during gatherings to step aside and refresh. It might even help to talk to a trusted person who will be at the event and let them know how you are feeling, so that they can step aside with you whenever you need a break.
Perhaps the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic causes concern for the health of yourself or loved ones. If this is the case, finding alternate ways to engage in social gatherings might ease some of this stress. One of the outcomes of the pandemic is that online social gatherings are much more common, so organizing some sort of get-together or activity on a virtual conferencing platform could be a good way to spend time with loved ones while keeping people safe. If you feel uncomfortable attending a planned gathering, staying home and asking a loved one to video call you during the event allows you to participate without physically attending.
Loneliness and isolation
Being alone over the holidays can be incredibly isolating. Maybe this can be a time to treat yourself to doing something you enjoy, whether that is taking a walk, reading your favourite book or doing something else you might want to do but don’t often make time for. Volunteering at places like food banks can also be a great way to connect with people, and services like these are often looking for extra help during this time of year. Many rural communities do not have accessible community resources. If this is the case for you, it can help to connect with people virtually.
Grief and loss
The holidays can bring up a lot of difficult emotions for people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one. It might feel right to honour the loved one by continuing traditions or talking about happy memories you shared with the person. If this does not feel right, maybe it is a time for new traditions and memories. It can help to talk about what you’re going through with people that you trust so that they can support you through the grief, however that looks for you.
Know when to reach out for support
Although there is often a lack of community resources and support for rural populations, there are ways that you can get help. Many resources can be accessed remotely, including support lines, peer support groups and therapy services. There is no shame in reaching out for help, and it might help to familiarize yourself with the resources that are available to you in case you or someone you know might want to reach out. for a list of community resources in Canada, the U.S. and North America.