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Getting through the festive season

By: Dr Anastasia, Clinical Psychologist

The Christmas holidays can be a time of joy and festivities for some people. For others, the festive season brings about stress, boredom, loneliness and the desire for an escape. Reuniting with family can bring about conflict and tension, while for others, a lack of support means that Christmas is quite an isolating time of the year. Below are some suggestions for how to manage gambling urges over the holidays.

Be aware of your triggers. Strong emotions can be triggers for wanting to gamble. It is useful to think about what specific feelings or emotions may trigger the urge to want to gamble. For some, it is wanting relief from stress. For others, it may be wanting an escape from boredom or loneliness. However, it’s not just negative emotions that we have to be wary of. Positive feelings can also be triggers. Celebrations and happy times may be associated with gambling for some people.

Be aware if there are particular people or places that may trigger your urges for gambling. This may mean looking to avoid particular venues such as pubs and clubs, and suggest alternate venues for family gatherings. It may be beneficial to limit time spent with particular people who may be triggering or stressful to be around.

Also consider your relationship with drinking alcohol over this time. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and decreases the activity in the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is what helps you to think clearly and rationally, and it is involved in your decision making abilities. Therefore, drinking alcohol can make someone more vulnerable to giving into gambling thoughts and urges.

Plan ahead. Once you know what your triggers are, come up with a plan of how you might manage difficult situations that arise. Consider setting boundaries with people who you may find overwhelming or stressful to interact with. You may also want to set boundaries around certain topics of conversation.

To cope ahead for loneliness and boredom, plan ahead with a list of activities you can do or people you can talk to or see. It is important that we have a balance of two types of activities in our life: activities which give us a sense of pleasure and are fun (e.g. going to the movies), and activities which give us a sense of progress and achievement (e.g. learning a new skill). Try to incorporate both types of activities into your lists. If you are spending Christmas Day alone, consider joining a Christmas lunch hosted by charity organisations such as the Salvation Army

Finally, reach out to and utilise professional supports if you need to. Phone services such as Gambler’s Help (call 1800 858 858), and Beyond Blue (call 1300 224 636), are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.