Reflection on Gratitude as a way of Taking Care at Christmas

More from Duty of Care  here.

It’s almost the end of yet another year. And though we still can’t relax fully into the pandemic is over, in the wake of malicious sub-variants and a potential new wave of COVID,  many of us are thinking we just have to get on with it and behave like we used to – with joyful abandon and party like it’s 1999. Perhaps not.

But a lot has changed, over this year (and the last two), as we have had to adapt and readjust how we do work and life. Some things, however, haven’t changed. Like the way many of us seem to wind up, instead of winding down – as we head towards December 25th.  And though there is a dullness to the glitter and ka-ching of the coming Christmas of 2022  – on account of our enormous national debt, high inflation, low wages, floods, and so much more – I still get concerned about the annual freneticism that takes over.

In my work supervising mental health staff and with colleagues,  I hear and see that many clinicians are indeed, very tired.  I hear they are doing more, the demand for service has increased and their client’s needs are greater, more complex, and as staff are asked to step up – they do.  There is simply more work, with either the same or less resources. It’s a bottomless vessel of need.

Just read the news or the daily feed and there’s enough going on in the world to make us spin faster and faster, out of control. Sure, stuff is always happening, but at Christmas time when most of us want to lean into the joy of it, the bad in the world is magnified against the decision about coming together with family and friends, putting up a Christmas tree, giving gifts, taking a break from work and slowing down into summer. The joy of the festive season is double-edged and there are contrasts and extremes everywhere we look.  

Equally, my family, friends and neighbours also seem to be gearing up in the race for the month ahead. Weekends, week night, Sunday afternoons – booked up already as our diaries and calendars fill with the rush of either getting it all done before Christmas, or just getting to Christmas.

So, how do we take care of ourselves during this hectic time? How do we enjoy the positive elements of Christmas time without feeling guilty about what we have (however little that is) and not feel overwhelmed by the weight of disadvantage and disaster going on around us? How do we end the year with our wallets, our relationships, our integrity, our hearts and our wellbeing intact?

An Opportunity to Reflect

In the supervision work I do at this time of year I like to take the opportunity to ask clinicians to reflect – on their year’s achievements with clients, and in their work. I ask them about the lessons their clients have taught them and what they have been grateful to learn.  I ask how they’ve got through the struggles and difficult elements of their work and what they end the year knowing about taking care of themselves.  

Without exception, people appreciate this chance to stop and look back at where they’ve been over the last twelve-months, what they’ve gained, and how they have come through the mire.

Also, without exception in the reflection, is the humility and gratitude that comes with understanding our positions of privilege as healthcare workers. The things we sometimes take for granted – our home; that we have a comfortable bed each night; good food on the table; a fortnightly wage. When so many of our patients and clients do not know how they will eat tomorrow, let alone where they will sleep.

A dear friend just gave me The On-Minute Gratitude Journal For Women (not sure why men were excluded in the title), by Brenda Nathan. There’s not much to it (on the surface), and the task is simple – to write three to five things each day that I am grateful for. The outcome (and deeper reward) being that not only will I feel good for doing this, but I will experience the gratitude I acknowledge on the page – across my day, and this will help me feel a sense of joy in my life. Nathan writes further that gratitude makes us more optimistic and compassionate. My friend who gave me this little gem of a book – is a testimony to this. She is one of the most compassionate people I have been lucky enough in my life, to know.

So, back to the wonder, simplicity and power of reflecting – as a way to take care of ourselves as we approach the frenzy of the weeks ahead.

Whether it is on our day, our week or the year gone – let’s take a breath; and a moment to slowdown in the scurry to Christmas and reflect.

  • On what we have done that we are proud of,
  • On who and what brings us joy,
  • On a lesson we have been lucky enough to learn, and
  • On what we have, that we can be grateful for at this time of year.

 And I will keep writing and learning in my gratitude journal.