How to manage your finances during the holidays

Keeping your spending in check over the holidays can be challenging. Even when we know we can’t afford to overspend, the thought of letting friends, family and loved ones down can urge us to go beyond our means. We share 25 ways you can manage your finances in the run-up to the holidays and avoid a Christmas debt hangover

The holidays should feel magical, shouldn’t they? Spending time with loved ones, watching nostalgic films, playing board games, giving meaningful gifts, and sharing comforting foods. Yet, in the UK, over a quarter of us feel stressed about the festive season. As the holidays draw nearer, nearly half (46%) find even thinking about what Christmas presents to buy is stressful, 45% find the costs to be worrying, and 42% find the general financial impact of Christmas to be stressful.

Around three in 10 of us will overspend during the Christmas period. While that’s down from previous years when up to 43% would spend beyond their means, we still spend around 29% more each December than we do any other month.

It’s estimated that a third of us will borrow money to pay for Christmas. That’s 16.9 million people, feeling the pressure to put gifts, food, and even increased bills around heating, holiday lights, and travel to see family on credit cards, using our overdrafts, or taking out a loan.

But why do so many of us feel the pressure to spend, spend, spend during the run-up to the holidays? And for those already struggling, how do we avoid going into further debt during the most expensive months of the year?

Why do we overspend at Christmas/during the holidays?

Many of us have fond childhood memories of past holidays spent with family, friends and loved ones. Whether that’s remembering picking out the perfect tree together, eating your favourite home-cooked meal with extended family, or that feeling of surprise and gratitude at being given that one special gift you didn’t even know you wanted.

As Counselling Directory member and counsellor Dahlian Kirby explains, our underlying idea that Christmas should be a special time we spend together with our families could be getting overshadowed by our own high expectations.

“The main problem for many people around Christmas is unrealistic expectations. The expectations create pressure to be what you think you should be. This can cause tension and frustration in itself. There is also the possibility that we see Christmas as the time that will rescue us from the boring, the familiar, and even from depression.

“It can lift our mood, as can tasty food and baubles and visits from people we love. However, Christmas won’t cure any issues or problems.”

Our anxiety around being ‘good enough’ and creating the ‘perfect’ celebration can also lead to overspending, Psychotherapist Fe Robinson explains.

“Many people at this time of year feel a weight of expectation, a pressure to make everything ‘perfect’. The pressure to please, along with the intensity of materialistic advertising can leave you responding to a whole series of shoulds, the oughts and musts that may feel pretty miserable.

“You may overspend, agree to things you do not want, or generally find yourself off balance. You may also feel a stark contrast between the socially acceptable idea of Christmas, and the reality of your own life circumstances. It is essential to remember that the festive season is intended to be a celebration and that you have the right to choose how you mark it.”

It’s not just the pressure to buy the perfect gift, host the perfect party, make the perfect food, and travel to every friend, family, or work party we get invited to, that can make our spending (and stress levels) mount. It’s all those extra expenses that come with the time of year. Rising heating costs, food prices, and pressure to give back even if we can’t afford it. Struggling financially around the holidays isn’t a choice. But there are things we can do to try and avoid extra debt that will hang over us in the new year.

How can I stop spending too much for Christmas?

1. Sit down and assess your finances ahead of time

No matter what time of year it is, your first step should be to sit down and assess your current financial situation. What have you already got saved for the holidays? How many paydays do you have between now and when you need to buy gifts, food, or other expenses? You don’t need to figure out the exact figures for everything, but having a rough idea of what you have to work with, and what you can realistically save between now and then can help you to get a more grounded starting point.

2. Set a budget (for everything!) – and stick to it

Once you have a rough idea of your financial situation, it’s time to start mapping out where that money may need to go. Gifts (while one of our biggest worries) aren’t the only holiday expense. Travel to visit relatives and friends can quickly add up, as can food, any new decorations, and even the cost of attending a work holiday party.

Set a realistic budget for each item on your list, and create a way of tracking this as you start shopping. This could mean having a spreadsheet, a note on your phone, or a physical list. Once you start spending, track how much you have left for each part of your budget – and don’t be afraid to start moving things around.

If you manage to get a gift for a friend for less than expected thanks to sales, reallocate that money elsewhere in your budget, or save it as part of an emergency fund. It can be tempting to keep buying more gifts for our loved ones, but this can lead to overspending, worrying about buying ‘just one more’ gift for someone else to even things out, and second-guessing what we’ve already bought.

3. Factor in your regular expenses

The world doesn’t stand still during the holidays. Rent or mortgages still need to be paid, as do utilities, credit cards, overdrafts, loans, childcare expenses, and our regular food shops. With many workplaces paying a little bit earlier in December to ‘help out’ with Christmas spending, this can actually make stretching your regular salary to last throughout the holidays and into January a lot trickier. Don’t be tempted to rely on any early payments from work unless absolutely necessary.

4. Make your ‘naughty or nice’ list

Figuring out who you want and/or need to buy for can be a pain – especially if you’re from a larger family. Parents, siblings, kids, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends, colleagues – how do you know where to draw the line? Try to establish which people are essentials on your giftee list, and which would just be nice to show your appreciation for.

Once you’ve got your list cut down, you can figure out individual budgets. For those who didn’t quite make the list, you can always make small backup gifts just in case, like baking cookies, making small hot chocolate kits, or DIY salt dough ornaments.

5. Establish expectations early

Cutting down on the number of gifts (or the number of people you’ll be gifting to) isn’t something to be ashamed of or anxious about. But it is important to establish expectations early.

Have conversations in advance with friends and suggest spending time together instead of exchanging gifts. Consider discussing with family how you could all cut back on expenses by only exchanging a single gift, doing a family secret Santa, or only shopping for the kids. Or if your kids are used to lots of parcels over the holidays, sit down and talk to them about how this year will be different if you’re trying a new approach. This can help everyone make their gift-giving decisions ahead of time, and avoid any last-minute pressure to try and match unexpected gifts we hadn’t accounted for.

6. Opt out of added extras

Plan which extras are worth your time and money. Do you really want to spend £10 on the office secret Santa? How about that £30+ holiday meal with friends – could that instead become a home-hosted event, where everyone brings one dish or drinks, so no one has to overspend? Does anyone really need a £50 beauty advent calendar, or yet another new ugly holiday jumper that will only be worn once or twice?

A lot of small, fun extra events and expenses can really add up. Take time to consider which of these you actually value, enjoy and appreciate – and which are just an extra drain on your budget.

7. Know your spending triggers

‘Retail therapy’ can often lead to compulsive spending, increased feelings of stress, and even serious debt. Shopping addiction can be more common than you might think. Many people emotionally spend to try and cope with feelings of stress and anxiety around the holidays. The pressure to make things perfect, to show how much we care through items rather than actions, and to be ‘good enough’ can all lead to overspending.

Find out more about emotional spending, understanding your triggers, and finding healthier ways to cope.

8. Spend wisely

Avoid impulsive purchases and deals. It can be tempting to splurge when we see offers in stores (especially when advertised alongside big savings), but before you make a purchase, ask yourself: Who is this for? Do I really think they would like it, or am I focusing on the price? What other gift is this replacing?

9. Be proactive: plan ahead to cut down on convenience costs

There are many hidden costs behind convenience shopping during the holidays. Last-minute panic buying not only cuts down on your choice and variety but can lead to additional stress and overspending in ways you might not think about.

Fighting the crowds to try and get last-minute deals can lead to buying more expensive alternatives out of fear of missing out and going home with nothing. All that stress of shopping during peak times may mean you’re tempted to treat yourself to an overpriced coffee, lunch out, or takeaway for the family when you finally make it home and are too tired to cook. Planning ahead can help you save in unexpected ways.

10. Be aware of retail tricks (in-store and online)

Having a budget is one thing; sticking to it? Not so easy. Retailers have countless tricks to encourage us to overspend. From aggressive marketing campaigns flooding our inboxes with high discounts for a ‘limited time only!’, to loss-leading deals to get us in the door and then part us with our money in other ways, retailers know how to create a sense of urgency, tap into our fear of missing out, and make us feel like we have to spend NOW.

Being mindful of these tricks, and sticking to a pre-planned list can be a big help. Remember: many ‘one day only’ sales end up with extensions; competitors often have equally as attractive deals; and there will always be another must-buy temptation, ready when you do have spare money.

11. Switch to shopping online

If you have the time to allow for shipping, shopping online can help to take out some of the pressure you may feel in person. Online, you can price compare more easily, search for extra discount codes, use cashback sites like Quidco or browser cashback extensions like Honey, and even give yourself more space and time to consider your purchases.

Filling your cart, taking a break, and then coming back to reassess what you are thinking of purchasing can help you to more critically consider your spending and filter out those accidental filler gifts and impulsive purchases.

12. Factor in hidden costs

When you’re assessing your budget, remember to factor in the little things. Postage for buying gifts online or sending gifts to loved ones you may not see over the holidays. Wrapping paper (whether posh or budget), holiday greeting cards, gift bags, tags, and ribbons can add up quickly. Consider what’s essential, and what’s nice to have.

13. Price compare

Even if you don’t have enough time for gifts to arrive in the post, price comparing in person is possible. If you’re tempted by something that is on offer, look to see what other brands of the same item are in stock. Often the biggest sale signs aren’t the best deals overall.

Don’t be afraid to compare with other high-street competitors and check out prices on your phone. Found the perfect gift, but it’s much cheaper online than in-store? Consider doing a gift IOU, so your loved one knows that the item is on the way – it’s just not arrived in the post yet.

14. Opt out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become more popular in the UK in recent years. Rather than single-day events, many have spawned week (or longer) sales, urging you to buy big-ticket tech items, gadgets, household appliances, and more at significantly lower prices. But did you know that these big deals are often the same, if not slightly higher than regular holiday sales? Some stores are even known to put their prices up in the weeks ahead to make the deal sound better on the day.

15. Track your spending

Staying on top of your spending can help to avoid any unexpected worries. Tracking your holiday budget in a spreadsheet, app or notebook can be a good start, but make sure you are also checking your accounts regularly, and noting down any other unexpected expenses that may have popped up.

16. Shopping for kids or your partner? Remember the rule of three

While there are many different variations on the rule of three, the general idea is that you stick to the limit of giving three gifts to those you love. These three gifts will each have a special meaning, with more thought and time put into them. A common theme for these is to go with:

Something they wantSomething they needSomething to read

17. Presence, not presents

Take a moment to step back and assess what the holidays are really about for you and your loved ones. It can be easy to get caught up in trying to find the perfect present when, actually, what our loved ones would most enjoy is having us fully present in the moment, spending quality time together, making memories, and just being with the ones we love.

18. Consider starting a new tradition

New traditions can replace old, expensive habits. Why not suggest a family secret Santa or gift exchange, where everyone buys a single gift for one other family member rather than everyone buying gifts for multiple people? Or why not consider a white elephant gift exchange to lighten the mood and keep spending low?

Switching to only buying for the children in the family can be another way of saving while still feeling an overall sense of holiday spirit. Or consider exchanging non-monetary gifts between adults, like a free night of babysitting for family members with young children, a homecooked meal or offer to do some gardening.

19. Trade holiday parties for group volunteering

Holiday parties with friends can be expensive. Between the cost of a meal out, drinks, and gifts, it can feel like another thing on a long list to stress about. Why not suggest a group volunteering day or activity instead? Foodbanks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters all often need volunteers, whether it’s for a day, afternoon or evening. Find out more about how you can give back over the holidays.

20. Consider making, instead of buying

Homemade gifts can be both a money-saver and a thoughtful way of creating something memorable. Photo gifts for grandparents are always a favourite, or consider batch-baking cookies, making fudge, or other tasty holiday treats. Just remember to cost up the price of making things first, and to consider how far in advance you can make any edible treats without risking them going stale.

21. Limit self-gifting

Research shows almost a quarter of us self-gift over the holidays, treating ourselves to new clothes, consoles, tech or makeup. This is often due to us feeling unable or unwilling to tell others what we want, or not expecting to receive gifts at all. While you may feel like you deserve a treat, putting off self-gifting until after the holidays can help avoid accidental overspending and feelings of guilt. If you do still have room in your budget, there is always the boxing day or January sales.

22. Look for ways to make travel cheaper

If you are travelling to see friends and family, try and price compare different options ahead of time. Booking train tickets in advance can save up to 60% with some train operators. Just remember to double-check that any public transport options you are considering are fully operating around the dates you plan to travel.

23. Don’t be afraid to share worries/concerns

While three-quarters of us are happy talking about the cost of gifts with our partners, just a third feel comfortable having these conversations with parents, friends, siblings, or children. It’s good to remember that you aren’t the only one struggling financially at the moment – and probably aren’t the only one feeling nervous about speaking up about it.

Having these conversations with our families and loved ones can help take the pressure off for everyone involved. Counselling Directory shares more about talking about money with loved ones without feeling anxious.

24. Start working on your savings plan for the next holiday season

Once the holidays are over, give yourself time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Now is the time to learn from past mistakes, start planning for next year, and consider spreading the cost and planning over a longer period of time to avoid any last-minute squeezes. For some people, joining a Christmas club is a good solution – just remember, these come with their own risks.

25. Pay off any holiday debts quickly

Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out. If you have built any debt up over the holidays, it’s important you tackle this head-on and figure out the best plan of action. If you have money on a credit card, seeing if you can switch to a low or 0% interest card can buy you a little more time while you make payments. If you have money spread across an overdraft, loans, or credit cards, compare to see which has the highest interest rate, and ensure you make overpayments on this one first.

If you’re worried and aren’t sure where to get started, find out more about what to do and where to get support for debt problems with MoneySavingExpert.

No matter how the thought of preparing for the holidays is making you feel, try to remember: the holidays aren’t about spending money. They’re about spending time with those that you love.

The pressure and guilt when we can’t create our idea of the ‘perfect’ Christmas are real, and it’s healthy to acknowledge these feelings. But it’s also healthy to work through why you may be feeling this way so, in the long run, you can avoid falling back into the cycle of stress, anxiety, pressure, and even debt, when the holidays come back around each year.

Do you need to see a counsellor to talk about the holidays? For more information about how therapy can help you with the holiday season, visit Counselling Directory.

The power of patience: why taking your time is key for personal growth

Inspired by our exclusive interview with Joe Sugg, nature’s our greatest influence – teaching us about the value of the moment, and gradual growth

Dear Happiful readers,

What is it that Ferris Bueller says? “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

It’s funny to think this classic pop culture reference could really be advocating mindfulness (along with taking a much-needed ‘day off’). And while we wouldn’t encourage you to mimic all the exploits of the protagonist, giving yourself permission to have fun, take a break, and savour the moment are certainly traits worth embracing.

In this issue, we’re encouraging you to take a leaf out of Ferris’s book. We’re calling for a respite from the relentless noise of the world, asking you to press pause, and revel in the journey, the experience, and not just the destination.

The patience of nature really epitomises this. Not only is the wilderness a place to marvel at and treasure the present, but it serves a valuable lesson. We might not be able to see growth before our eyes as it’s happening, but day by day, change is there. And in a week, or a month, progress can be unrecognisable!

Our special edition cover star Joe Sugg is certainly on board with this. In our exclusive interview, Joe opens up about the value of taking your time – how we’re so often in a rush, we don’t appreciate the advances we’re making. That, in particular, with our wellness, there’s no quick-fix. It’s about devoting the ongoing time, energy, and care to yourself over the long-term that matters.

So, with that in mind, we’ve peppered this edition with a wealth of features to support gradual growth, and living for the moment – from setting ourselves free by joining the anti-perfectionist movement, to rediscovering our silly sides, and the power of adult play. Plus, our print-exclusive journaling pages are all about taking inspiration from nature to support our personal growth.

Let’s move away from a life at full-speed, and instead try a change of pace. Take a step into the unknown, and let you heart roam.

Your wildest imagination is a wonderful place to be.

Rebecca Thair
Editor

Our mission
We firmly believe there should be no financial barriers to mental health and wellbeing information and support for those in need. That’s why we work hard to offer a completely free digital magazine, ensuring anyone in need has access.

It’s thanks to the wonderful people buying print subscriptions that we’re able to fund this and continue our mission – so we want to say a big thank you!

If you’re keen to support our work, head to our online shop to explore our range of subscription offers, and receive:

Happiful delivered to your door each month
• Free postage and packaging to the UK and NI
• Exclusive early release for print readers

Plus, did you know that the magazine and it’s packaging are fully recyclable, and for every tree used to create the mag, we plant two in its place?

Order your copy of Happiful today.

Autumn watch: how to help our hibernating animal friends

As winter draws closer, you might be wondering how you can best support local wildlife. While, in the UK, only hedgehogs, bats, and dormice are officially known to hibernate, many other species rest up and hide away to conserve energy – and there are numerous ways you can help!

Hedgehogs

These little creatures are perhaps the most likely hibernators to be found hanging around a British garden, so the best advice is to be cautious when tidying any potential hibernation spots near your house from late autumn.

If you have a compost pile, or are considering creating one, this is a particular favourite sleeping spot of hedgehogs, so you’ll be helping already! Just be careful when aerating or adding to your pile. Or, if you’re looking for other proactive ways to help, you could buy a specially-designed ‘hedgehog house’, or build a makeshift one from piles of discarded logs and leaves.

Tip:

Leave out tinned dog or cat food to help any travelling hogs build fat reserves. While it used to be common, it’s best not to leave milk out, as this can cause digestive problems for them.

Bats

Bats typically hibernate in groups, in quiet, cool areas – about 75% in trees in the UK, while the remainder might choose to roost under the eaves of buildings, or find their way into crevices in old brickwork.

The best thing you can do to help bats is simply not disturb them. Waking a hibernating creature can cost it a lot of its energy reserves, and, according to the Bat Conservation Trust, could lead to starvation for bats, as they lose their fats stores. But if you want more proactive suggestions, you could put up a bat box in a sheltered spot, roughly 4m above the ground.

Tip:

Invite more nocturnal flying insects into your garden, as food sources for bats, by planting night-scented flowers such as white jasmine, honeysuckle, and evening primrose.

Dormice

While they spend the summer months primarily in hedgerows or tree branches, in the winter these small mammals descend to the ground to nest in piles of logs or in grass clumps at the base of trees.

Leaving out food supplies can be helpful for when dormice do wake up, including berries, buds, and, in particular, hazelnuts, which are a great source of fat for them. If you have, or can plant, hazel trees, these are ideal habitats for dormice – and given their dwindling numbers, any help we can give to create mini sanctuaries for these mammals could be a huge bonus.

Tip:

Allow brambles and ivy to grow a little more wild where you can, as this can offer another good shelter option for visiting dormice.

Frogs

Amphibians often rest at the bottom of ponds over the winter months, so it’s best to clean them out before winter arrives. This gives frogs a clean and healthy environment, and helps prevent gas building up from decomposing materials below the surface if ice forms. If freezing conditions do occur, remember not to ‘smash’ the ice, as this could do more harm than good. Instead, heat the bottom of a pan, and rest this against the ice to melt air holes in it for any creatures within.

Squirrels

Help squirrels stock up on their food supplies by leaving out various nut options for them to collect throughout autumn (including walnuts, almonds,
and hazelnuts).

Bees

Consider keeping plants that offer sources of winter nectar for any remaining bees, such as winter heather, common ivy, and winter honeysuckle. Additionally, be wary when doing any DIY projects or renovations in case you disturb their nests.

Butterflies

Including ivy in your garden can offer shelter for butterflies over the cooler months, but also watch out as butterflies and moths can also be drawn inside your home by the heat (they believe it’s a ‘false spring’), and try to gently guide or move them out to somewhere cooler.

🌿
Level-up your hosting skills

Proactive steps to take to create a wildlife-friendly haven in your backyard:

• Create an insect hotel: rewild sections of your garden by stacking up piles of logs, stones, or old bricks, and cover with leaves and twigs to make a cosy corner for critters.
• Check your bonfire: always be cautious before lighting any bonfires or burning garden materials, in case creatures have found their way in for shelter.
• Provide water: give non-hibernating animals a source of unfrozen water they can drink and bathe in.

Do I need a health coach, a counsellor, or a nutritionist?

With so many different experts out there, how do you know which is the right one for you? We explain more about how health coaches, counsellors, and nutritionists can help you

Who doesn’t want to be healthier? An England-wide survey of over 5,000 adults found that nearly 80% of over 18s wanted to make healthier lifestyle changes. For many, that means eating more healthily (40%), losing weight (39%), and exercising more (41%).

Being healthier can mean a lot of different things, for different people. For some, it’s making the switch from junk food and ready meals to learning how to cook a more nutritious meal (without spending too much time or money). It may mean losing or gaining weight, incorporating regular exercise into your daily or weekly routine. Or it could mean finding healthier balances between work and life, decreasing overall stress levels, and putting your wellbeing first.

With so many differing goals to become ‘healthier’, how do we know the right kind of experts to reach out to? We explain more about the different kinds of help and support out there, what they can help with, and how you can figure out which pathway is right for you.

What is health coaching and how can a health coach help me?

We all know that making healthier choices isn’t as easy as just deciding to change. If it was, we’d all be able to make big, sustainable changes without needing help and support.

Health coaching is about gaining support in making nutrition, fitness, and/or lifestyle changes. This could be to help with a specific, diagnosed health issue or with your general health and wellbeing. A health coach can act as a mentor, helping you to figure out what changes you want to make, set realistic milestones and goals, as well as learning new skills and techniques to put your physical health and mental wellbeing first.

Different health coaches may offer different specialisms. Generally speaking, health coaches can help you with a broad range of issues that could be holding you back from living a healthier life. This could include weight management, career development, learning how to manage stress or relationship issues, creating a better work/life balance, and more.

Wellness coaches may offer overlapping help. If you’re primarily looking to improve your sense of mental wellbeing, working with a wellness coach could be the answer.

What is wellness coaching?

It’s important to remember that while health coaches can help with a broad variety of issues and goals, they hold distinctly different qualifications to counsellors, nutritionists, medical experts, and personal trainers (unless otherwise stated by the individual). Life coach Directory explains more about the qualifications needed by a health coach.

How can working with a therapist help me feel healthier?

Counselling has been shown to have numerous benefits for people of any age, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic background. Speaking with someone outside of friends and family provides a safe space to open up and talk about what’s worrying you without fear of being judged or hurting someone’s feelings.

Talking therapies can help with eating disorders, addictions, helping to process big or difficult life events, coming to terms with physical illness or long-term health conditions, and even coming to terms with general life changes as you age. Finding a therapist who you feel comfortable opening up with is key.

Different kinds of therapists can help with a wide variety of issues. For example, if you experience health anxiety (where worries about your health begin to take over your life, often due to stress, health scares, loved ones illnesses, or past abuse) a therapist can help you to explore why you are feeling anxious, how it’s affecting your life, and help you to find new coping mechanisms.

Those experiencing high levels of stress or work-related stress may find speaking with a counsellor can help them to better understand underlying causes of their stress, learn new coping strategies and set healthier boundaries. Even if you’re struggling to put a name to what’s wrong and are just feeling sad or stuck in life, speaking with a therapist can help you to reassess your priorities, life goals, build confidence, self-esteem, and self-acceptance, all while feeling heard and supported.

How can nutritional therapy help me feel healthier?

Nutritional therapy refers to using food, supplements, and a healthy diet alongside working with a qualified nutritionist, dietitian, or nutritional therapist, to create or support a healthier lifestyle. Nutritional therapy can help support you in managing chronic health conditions (alongside other support), setting and working towards specific goals, or making general healthy habits that are sustainable.

This can include:

Discussing what you define as ‘healthy’.Learning more about how to have a balanced diet.Changing your attitude towards food.Assessing your current eating habits, lifestyle choices, and exercise routine.Weight management, weight gain and weight loss.Looking at how your diet can support your physical and mental health and wellbeing.How your relationship with food can help boost your self-esteem and confidence.How to eat healthily.

It is important to remember that there are many different kinds of nutritional professionals, each with different qualifications and areas of expertise. While some titles may be used interchangeably, nutritionists, nutritional therapists, dietitians, and registered dietitians can all refer to different professionals. Nutritionist Resource explains more about the different kinds of experts, their qualifications, and how they can help you.

25 counsellor-approved questions to build emotional intimacy in your relationship

Over time, people – and relationships – change. But what happens when, little by little, it feels like you’ve lost your sense of togetherness? Try these questions to encourage emotional intimacy and break the bedroom silence

How do you know when you’re no longer in love with your spouse? It seems like something you should just know, doesn’t it? But… what if it isn’t? What if, slowly, over time, you find yourself losing little bits of the bond that created your togetherness?

For some couples, there is no big fallout. You may not be able to pinpoint when it happened, but over the weeks, months, or even years, you may have reached a state of ‘silent divorce’.

What is a silent divorce?

The phrase ‘silent divorce’ refers to a relationship where you are still together, but have drifted apart. There may be no obvious conflict, but there’s also nothing else clearly happening in your relationship: no passion, no excitement, no overly strong feelings towards your partner either way. For some couples, this can make the breakdown in your relationship feel that much more frustrating, as there’s no clear issue to tackle or big change to be made.

To find out more about the importance of communication and emotional intimacy in our relationships, we turned to integrative counsellor and psychotherapist Julie Howard.

“Relationships don’t just happen, they take effort in maintaining them. It’s all too easy to just settle into a routine, it can evolve without either person becoming aware,” Julie says. “I feel relationships rarely break down for no reason. Usually, there are warning signs, it just depends whether we recognise them. Sometimes, we put off facing up to unsettling feelings through fear of the unknown. However, on occasion, a person is completely blindsided by the sudden announcement that their loved one isn’t happy anymore.”

What are the warning signs?

Being able to enjoy comfortable silence can signify intimacy and connection. But when the silence comes from a lack of things to say, or lasts for a long period, it can be a sign that you are growing apart – you exist in the same space, but are not sharing the same ‘togetherness’ in a meaningful way.

Julie explains that there can be many early warning signs that something may be wrong in your relationship – you just need to know what to watch for. “Some things to look out for could be small, intimate gestures that were once normal are now becoming infrequent, such as kissing and cuddling, or holding hands while out. Little communication at mealtimes, or even silence. More time spent on devices – it’s easy to zone out on social media – or choosing to spend more time away from the home.”

One big warning sign that many of us can overlook, Julie shares, is a feeling of something being wrong. “Sometimes we can just ‘feel’ that something is wrong in a relationship. Often that uneasy feeling can be brushed off during a busy day, but can be more prevalent at bedtime when you don’t have any distractions.”

Making a conscious effort

For many of us, we have grown up with this idea that love (and relationships) should be easy. Isn’t that what our happily ever afters are meant to be? But the reality of life, and love, is that things are busy. They take time – and effort – to maintain.

On this topic, Julie says: “Relationships don’t just happen, they take effort and maintenance to keep alive. Relationships can be taken for granted, like a shiny new car. Initially, it’s gleaming and perfect, however, if neglected, over time shows signs of wear and tear. Without upkeep, things start to go wrong, and in the end would probably break down.”

How to reconnect with your partner

Spending quality time together talking, having fun, listening, and supporting each other is key to rekindling the intimacy you once had, and even improving on it.

Julie says: “Being heard is different from listening. Anyone can listen, but being heard allows us to feel understood. It helps the natural flow of communication without fear of judgement. Emotional intimacy creates a peaceful and constructive communication to explore how you both feel.”

Here, we share 25 counsellor-approved questions to help you get started on your journey towards emotional intimacy and being heard.

1. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

2. What do you think your perfect day would involve?

3. How are you really doing right now?

4. What would your ideal work-life balance look like?

5. What was the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself?

6. When have you felt most confident?

7. Do you think that your values have changed?

8. What do you most want to get out of life?

9. Is there anything you are worried about? (At home, work, with friends, family, healthwise.)

10. Has our relationship taught you anything about yourself?

11. How do you like to show/be shown love?

12. Is there anything you would like to change in your life/day-to-day-routine?

13. What is your favourite memory of us spending time together?

14. Do you have a memory that makes you feel most loved?

15. If you could go back and recreate one experience together, what would it be?

16. Is there anything you would love to try together for the first time?

17. Do you feel able to talk to me when you’re upset?

18. What’s the best give you’ve ever received?

19. What three things do you most admire about yourself?

20. Is there anything you miss. that we used to do together?

21. Is there a smell or sound that always makes you smile?

22. Do you have a bucket list? What would you put on it?

23. Which fictional couple do you think has the perfect relationship and why?

24. Is there anything you wish you had more time for?

25. What does family mean to you?

No matter what their answers are, ensure you are listening and reflecting on them. Avoid interrupting or talking over each other, give yourselves space to talk about how you are feeling without distractions. Really listening to each other shows that you value your partner’s experiences and feelings, that you care and are invested in their wellbeing. Showing empathy, understanding, willingness, and interest in them, can all be important factors in creating a new, stronger sense of emotional intimacy.

For more relationship support, visit the Counselling Directory or speak to a qualified counsellor.

A third of Brits ignore health problems so as ‘not cause a fuss’

Adults across the UK are missing out on vital care for fear of making an unnecessary fuss

A survey of 2,000 UK adults, conducted by Benenden Health, has uncovered that 32% of Brits ignore health symptoms, with just 35% reporting that they regularly monitor their health.

So why is that? Well, the survey found that, among those who ignored symptoms, the most common reasons they gave for doing so were ‘being unable to get a healthcare appointment’, ‘thinking others required the medical attention more’, ‘not wanting to cause a fuss’, ‘believing that the NHS is too overstretched and wouldn’t have time to see them’, and ‘because they were too scared to find out what the issue was’.

Though worrying, it’s easy to see how we’ve got to this point. With the news stocked with stories of overflowing waiting lists, burnt out healthcare workers, and NHS services cuts, thinking twice before reaching out for help is becoming the new normal. But at what cost?

In the survey, results found that only a quarter of the population monitors their blood pressure, one in 10 check their cholesterol, and 7% perform regular checks for cancer. Additionally, 8% said that they do not check or monitor their health, because they don’t know how to. All this together results in potentially serious medical conditions being missed.

In a bid to tackle the problem, Benenden Health and Channel 4 have launched the ‘Time for a check in’ campaign, to encourage people to tune in to their health, and learn about when and why it’s important to reach out for help.

“I know first-hand how when things get busy, our health can be the first thing to take a backseat. I’ve definitely been guilty of taking my physical and mental health for granted at times and have only realised this at times when my body hasn’t worked in the way I’ve wanted it to,” says AJ Odudu, presenter and face of the campaign.

“I believe that good health is of core importance to our happiness and that’s why it’s so important to make sure we’re checking in and looking after ourselves. If you’ve noticed some changes and something doesn’t look or feel right, talk to someone, see a professional and put your health first: it’s no fuss at all.”

Benenden Health has created an online hub, where you can find information and guides, but there are many ways that you can stay on top of your health.

You can sign up for free text or email reminders to check your breasts by signing up on coppafeel.org, you can also try running through a mental health check-in, or visit the NHS website for information on an A-Z on health conditions and symptoms. Plus, a key way of staying on top of things to have a good understanding of the things to watch out for, such as regular chest pain, sudden weight loss, a change in bowel habits, and a change to an existing mole.

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to giving your body the once over and seeking medical advice if you notice something that doesn’t seem quite right,” says Cheryl Lythgoe, matron at Benenden Health.

“By educating ourselves so we can identify and understand the signs and symptoms of common medical conditions, regularly checking in with our friends and family and seeking attention if we do spot something, we can increase peace of mind, get appropriate and timely treatment where necessary, and improve the nation’s health.”

8 low-cost things to do with friends

Laughing with our friends is one of the best things we can do for our mental health, but how do you navigate spending quality time with them in the current economic crisis? We share eight low-cost and free things you can do together

The current economic climate has seen many of us take to money-saving hacks and low-cost spending as we try and negotiate the colder months. During this period of uncertainty, it is important that we continue to support our mental health. One of the best ways we can do this is by socialising.

Laughing with our closest friends releases feel-good endorphins, which is just what we’re all in need of right now. So, how do we balance meeting up with friends whilst still setting boundaries for our spending? The good news is that there are many free and low-cost things you can do whilst still enjoying some quality time with your pals.

A dinner party

Rather than going out for a meal, why not try hosting a dinner party instead? Ask each of your friends to bring a plate of food, whether that’s something cooked or just some nibbles. If you don’t fancy trying your hand at cooking a meal, you could try cooking together, with each of you bringing an ingredient.

A movie night

This is guaranteed to be a night of giggles. With October just around the corner, you could get together for a series of Halloween films complete with snacks and cosy drinks. If you’re struggling for some inspiration, here’s our top Halloween movie recommendations for a spooky night in:

Halloween (1978 / 2018)Hocus Pocus (1993)The Shining (1980)IT (2017)Ghostbusters (1984)

A spa day

Rather than paying for a day out at the spa, why not bring the spa to you? You could get your friends to bring lotions, foot scrubs, face masks, and anything else that may make you feel pampered. Complete the day with some snacks and fizz and enjoy a relaxing time full of laughs.

Do some outdoor activities together

Whether that’s getting together for a game of football, going out for a walk or just spending time in nature with a picnic, getting outside with your friends is a great way to reap the benefits of both socialising and the outdoors. Getting fresh air and taking a moment of mindfulness to embrace the beauty of nature will do wonders for your mental wellbeing.

Volunteer together

Giving back to the community is a great way to boost your feel-good hormones, drive positive change and build social connections. Even better, get your friends involved and make a day of it, or schedule time to make it a regular occurrence. Try and decide on a common interest and something you’d all like to do together. If you can’t commit to volunteering regularly, you could go to a local organisation or food bank and ask if they need any one-off help.

Visit a local town

Another great low-cost activity to do with your friends is to get up a map and pick a local town that you’ve not visited before. Perhaps there’s a historic monument you could visit or you can do some window-shopping and stop for a coffee. By chipping in on fuel and spending the day taking in the sights of your local surroundings, you can have a great day out without spending too much money.

Bake together

For keen bakers, you could get together and each bring an ingredient to bake a cake, cookies or any other sweet treat you fancy. What’s more, once it’s ready, you can have a good catch-up with a cuppa and sample your delicious bakes!

Games night

Getting together for a games night is a great way to connect with your friends, have a laugh and spend some time away from screens. All of which will benefit your mental health. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Cheating MothsMonopolyHeads UpCharades

Our finances aren’t generally something we’re comfortable discussing, even with our closest friends. While these ideas will go somewhere to help you spend time with your friends without breaking the bank, it’s important to set boundaries and have a conversation with them about money. Being clear that you’re on a budget and can’t afford to spend money on pricey activities will help maintain friendships whilst keeping costs down. Be honest, suggest alternatives and don’t let money stop you from having fun together.

Empty nest syndrome: how to unruffle your feathers and spread your wings

We explore the signs of empty nest syndrome and how you can manage this big life transition

Raising children and being a parent sets us up on a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute you’re feeling the joy and pride of seeing them thrive, the next you’re filled with worry, doubt, and frustration as they veer wildly off-track. A lot can be said about parenting… but no one can say it’s a boring endeavour.

Throughout the journey, there are a number of transitions. One that may take you by surprise is the day your child(ren) leaves home and, suddenly, you’re alone again.

“Some parents may find the departure of their child to school or university a relief, time to get their space back, and get on with the goals they’ve been holding back on during the years of parenting,” life coach Geraldine Macé explains. “For some, however, it leaves a big empty space that they have no idea how to fill – an empty nest.”

Empty nest syndrome is a term used to describe the grief, anxiety, and sadness some parents and caregivers feel at this time. Here are some signs to look out for:

Loss of purpose

A feeling some empty nesters may resonate with is being ‘redundant’. Geraldine notes, “Parents may be feeling incredibly sad with a loss of focus, spending hours on their own thinking back to the times they had with their child. Sometimes that can be with a sense of regret for the things that they did or didn’t do while their child was at home.”

Becoming a parent or caregiver changes your life in a huge way, often having an impact on your sense of identity. So it makes sense that, once you don’t have kids in the house to look after, you may feel a little lost.

Languishing

Some empty nesters may also feel generally ‘off’, noticing a lack of motivation. Perhaps you think you should feel exhilarated now that you have more time to dedicate to yourself but, instead, you struggle to focus and lack the energy to do what you used to. The term languishing is used to articulate this sense of listlessness.

Using numbing techniques

“Other signs to look out for are using things to distract themselves so that they don’t have to think about how they feel, such as with food, drink, shopping, watching TV, gaming, or exercise,” Geraldine says. If you’re trying to distract yourself from the difficult emotions you’re feeling, this could be a sign of empty nest syndrome.

Restlessness

For some parents and caregivers, having an empty nest paves the way for some true relaxation, however, those experiencing empty nest syndrome may find this a struggle. Instead of being able to switch off, empty nesters may find themselves worrying about their child(ren) excessively, and unable to concentrate.

More emotional

There are a range of feelings that can come up during this time, so you may notice your emotions are close to the surface. “As parents try to negotiate this transition, they may find themselves feeling more emotional than normal,” Geraldine explains. “Tears come readily, or they may find that they get angry more easily.”

Relationship conflict

Raising a family will likely have an impact on your romantic relationship, so it may take a little getting used to once the nest is empty. If you live with a partner, and the two of you are now alone, you may find yourself navigating some new territory as you remember what it’s like to be a couple away from the kids. This may bring about some arguments, especially if you have different ideas about how you should be spending your time. Remember, people can react to the same situation in different ways.

How to navigate empty nest syndrome

If you recognise these signs, know you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. “It’s important for parents to know that, whatever they are feeling, it is a perfectly normal and natural reaction to what is a huge change,” Geraldine says. It can be easy to compare our experiences with others, whether that be our partners or friends who have gone through it, but Geraldine explains that this wouldn’t be the best idea.

“We are all unique and individual in the way we experience loss and change, so comparing ourselves to others in the same situation would not be helpful.”

Instead, Geraldine says it can help to focus on self-care. “I would say, above all, that parents try to be kind to themselves during this transition. Look after themselves as they would their own best friend in the same situation.”

Take this time to focus on you, ensuring you’re keeping up with any wellness routines you have in place, such as exercising and prioritising sleep. If you’re finding it hard to get stuck into the hobbies and interests you once had, start slow. Take small steps forwards, and acknowledge that it may take time to feel ‘back to normal’.

Bringing awareness to how you’re feeling is also a helpful tool to manage the transition. “If they feel sad, many parents try just to get on with things as normal, and stuff their emotions down, but it’s OK not to feel OK,” Geraldine explains.

“There are some parents that feel a sense of freedom when their children leave, and then feel guilty. Whatever feelings come up, it’s important to acknowledge them and allow them to be there. It can really help to do some journaling around how they feel at this time. Also, although sharing how they feel with others might feel a bit scary, most close friends and family will welcome the chance to offer support.”

Acknowledging how you feel and finding a way to process it is key. This may be journaling, speaking with friends, or even working with a professional.

Finally, Geraldine suggests making a plan and setting some goals to regain a sense of direction. “Any kind of transition can bring up feelings of uncertainty and loss, but taking some kind of action can help bring a sense of control. Make a plan, set some new goals, visit some new places, learn something new – now is the time to concentrate on you!”

Empty nests may seem like lonely places, but perhaps they can offer the space you need to spread your own wings.

If you would like to find out more, visit the Life Coach Directory or speak to a qualified counsellor.