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Thursday 23rd November 2023

As we enter the festive season, we are reminded of the unique challenges faced by members of the RAF Family. With an emphasis on spending time with loved ones and the societal pressure to feel joy and happiness at this time of year, Christmas can be one of the hardest challenges if you feel isolated or struggle with loneliness. Already, an estimated 85,000 working aged members of the Armed Forces suffer from loneliness and bereavement, and so it is essential to find ways to cope with the added pressure for social connection that Christmas brings.

The RAF Benevolent Fund, the RAF’s leading welfare charity, offer a variety of services to support members of the RAF Family experiencing difficulties, from low mood and stress to loneliness and isolation.

The Fund has put together five top tips for looking after your emotional and mental wellbeing this festive season and help you reclaim your Christmas spirit.

1. Stay Connected

Staying connected at Christmas while serving or away from your partner is crucial for maintaining morale and emotional wellbeing. If possible, make the best use of technology to stay in touch with loved ones through video calls, messages, social media, and virtual games which can help bridge the gap when you can’t be physically together, allowing you to share special moments from afar.

It can also be useful to journal thoughts and feelings or write letters to feel connected when possibly unable to speak to loved ones – even if they are never sent. Noting down the words you want to say when you can’t say them can build up a log of missed conversations to go through when you do eventually reunite.

If you find yourself struggling this Christmas, the RAF Benevolent Fund offers a Listening and Counselling service with support available for a range of issues including anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, emotional stress due to caring for a loved one, and loneliness and isolation. The service provides a dedicated helpline and therapy sessions delivered through specialist partner organisations.

2. Support from within

Many RAF personnel work on shifts or have irregular duty hours which can make it challenging to participate in traditional festive celebrations and spend time with loved ones. Lean on your military colleagues for support; they may be experiencing similar challenges and can provide a sense of camaraderie and understanding.

One way to get into the Christmas spirit could be to create a festive atmosphere in your living space whether that’s by getting a tree to decorate and putting up Christmas lights, watching a much-loved Christmas film, playing Christmas music, or stocking up on your favourite festive treats. These group experiences will help to create a sense of togetherness and a space to bond with your RAF Family.

3. Create your own Christmas

If you know you’ll be deployed or on duty during Christmas, consider celebrating the holiday with your loved ones before or after your deployment. Bringing Christmas forward or postponing until the New Year can help maintain the spirit of the season and leaves you with memories to treasure, or something to look forward to. Let the joy of Christmas continue in your family, no matter when you celebrate.

If you are struggling with family absence at Christmas, the RAF Benevolent Fund has a platform called Building Stronger Families aimed at giving couples the opportunity to explore the impact deployments and extended periods of absence may have on the family unit. The platform offers suggestions for how you and your family can manage this impact effectively.

4. Seek mental health support 

The holiday season can be a trigger for mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and the unique stresses of military life can often bring these to light. It’s essential to validate your feelings and understand that it’s okay to not always feel festive. Maintaining a consistent routine, staying active and practising mindfulness are just some of the ways to manage mental health – but if you’re struggling with feelings of loneliness, depression, or anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out to military mental health services or support groups.

The RAF Benevolent Fund offers a confidential 24-hour emotional support helpline, providing access to a trained counsellor for immediate, one-off support, on a range of issues such as bereavement, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, stress and loneliness. You can call, for free, at any time on 08081 751365.

5. Try something new to manage stress

According to latest research, one in three Brits said their stress increased during the holiday season due to lack of time, financial pressure, gift-giving, and anxiety around family gatherings. Find healthy ways to manage this added pressure by prioritising self-care, setting realistic expectations, and communicating how you feel with loved ones. Remember that it’s fine to take a break or to share the load and focus on what is important to you during the festive season.

The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is the RAF’s leading welfare charity. It exists to support current and former members of the RAF, their partners and dependants, whenever it is needed. For more information visit: www.rafbf.org.

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