This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.
With the holidays just around the corner, many of us will be looking forward to relaxing and taking time off. However, Christmas can be a difficult time for many as it can be expensive and often daunting with many expectations including buying presents, attending social events and meeting family obligations.
If you are struggling with a gambling problem, or are in the early stages of recovery, this could be an extra tricky time for you. We’ve put together a list of tips that may help you to manage things over the Christmas break and start the New Year in a good state of mind.
Problem – financial stress
Many people find over the Christmas period, they are low on money due to buying Christmas presents, having time off work or spending money on holiday festivities.
Financial pressure is a major trigger for gambling. For example, a gambler may often remember the big wins and then convince themselves this is their only solution to the money problem. Unfortunately, when this happens it’s easy to dismiss or forget all those other times money was lost. This irrational decision to gamble could result in more financial hardship impacting further on the demands of Christmas. Here is a quote from Rachel*, a caller to the Gambling Helpline: who tried to win big to give her children their Christmas wishes but resulted in a poor outcome:
‘It was leading up to Christmas and I knew I only had about $200 to spend on presents for my kids. All I could think of was their faces on Christmas when they realised I couldn’t get them the presents they had asked for. I got it into my head that, if I could only double my money on the pokies, I could get them all the things they wanted, and have some left over. Of course, I ended up losing all of it.’
Solution – plan ahead
Unfortunately there is no magic wand we can wave to make money problems go away. But when we talk to people who have very few money troubles, it seems that their secret is often to do with planning.
Having a plan for Christmas means that you can reduce your levels of stress during this time. Gamblers Help services offer free financial counselling, which can involve sitting down with an experienced financial counsellor and making a budget and spending plan. Here is Rachel again:
‘I had a great financial counsellor Pam, who took me through what was coming in each week and what I was spending. She helped me to budget for holiday season so my kids did not miss out. Taking away the financial stress meant that I had one less reason to gamble. It was great talking to someone to help me make rational decisions about what I could afford.’
Problem – family stress
The holidays are a time for families, however sometimes this can also be the source of tension and unhappiness. It is not uncommon for people to relapse over the holidays because spending time with their families brings up difficult emotions and unresolved issues.
For other people, they may feel lonely over this time, if they do not have close relatives or friends to spend the time with.
For many people gambling is a way to try to temporarily escape from these issues, but as we know it often makes things worse. Here is a quote from Nick*, a client from Gamblers Help who struggled over the Christmas period but on reflection realises he needs to reach out for support to have a plan to deal with this difficult time:
‘I go and visit my family in Queensland each year, over Christmas. I had never realised but the combination of having free time, and being under the same roof as my parents again, meant that I was gambling almost nonstop. I felt quite low over that time and wanted to have something to take my mind off things. I now realise it’s not the answer and seeking help is important to manage this difficult time.’
Solution – self care
It’s clear Christmas is a risk time when people may use gambling to manage difficult emotions like frustration, anger, or loneliness. However, there are many other ways to do this that don’t involve gambling.
They are called ‘emotional regulation’ strategies and can be great at helping to pick you up when you are feeling anxious or unhappy.
Here are a few simple strategies that might help over this time:
- Exercise – even a short walk alone, away from company, can provide some time for reflection and relieve stress.
- Reduce alcohol consumption – have some alcohol-free days and replacing alcoholic drinks with water or juice can help with your mood and not cloud your judgement.
- Take some time to yourself – schedule a day or two to spend on yourself, whether it be preparing for the New Year or pursuing a hobby. Even writing down some thoughts can be helpful in topping up your emotional resources.
- Get social – if you are feeling lonely call a friend for a Christmas reunion or contact a local community centre where Christmas activities are provided for local residents to come together and celebrate.
Talking to a trained counsellor during this holiday season can help you to feel more in control and give you a different perspective on things. Call the Helpline on 1800 858 858 for some free and confidential support.