Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to StumbleuponSubmit to TechnoratiSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn


By Angie Willcocks, Mining Family Matters psychologist

For families around the world, Christmas is a time of eager anticipation. I know that for many FIFO families, though, the countdown to 25 December involves preparing to spend Christmas away from your family and friends – and perhaps for the first time.

It can be tough sometimes when you're away from loved ones for major family celebrations like these, so here are my tips to help you cope with working away at Christmas:

  • Get organised ahead of time. Don’t use working away as an excuse to get out of present buying! Get pressies and cards organised ahead of time for the people who are most special to you. This isn’t just about the gift; it’s about feeling connected.
  • Think about what Christmas really means to you. If you’re a practicing Christian, take some time out on Christmas Day to watch a Christmas service on the television or online. If the religious stuff isn’t what makes Christmas important to you, move the family celebration to another day.
  • Make firm dates and plans to catch up with your loved family and friends when you’re next home. Prioritise the people you really want to see. This will give you something to look forward to.
  • Spoil yourself. Take a little bit of your favourite food or drink with you so the day feels a bit special.
  • Connect with others on site. Don’t be tempted to just shut yourself off from others. You’ll feel a bit better, and the day will pass more quickly, if you’re with others who are in the same boat.
  • Think ahead of time about what will work best on Christmas Day in terms of Skyping or calling home. Obviously this will depend on your roster for the day, and the family’s plans, but it should also depend on what’s easiest for you all emotionally. There is no 'right' answer to this one.
  • Watch your thinking and try not to feel too sorry for yourself. Don't fall into the trap of thinking "poor me" and imagining everyone else in the world laughing merrily with their families. This way of thinking is unhelpful as well as unrealistic. Plenty of people have to work Christmas Day (like hospital staff, pilots and those in hospitality to name just a few) and not everyone is laughing happily with their families Christmas Day!
  • Don't be tempted to drink more alcohol to help you 'cope' with your feelings of sadness or loneliness. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This means that too much will have you feeling sadder, not happier. If you’re finding your feelings particularly hard to cope with and don’t want to upset your partner or friends by telling them how bad you're feeling, call Lifeline to chat with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor: 13 11 14.
  • Concentrate your thoughts on the things you have to be thankful for: like having a job to go to and family and friends to miss.
  • Give. Think about a charity, organisation, family or individual you know who is having a hard time. Send a donation, card, letter or text to show your support at Christmas.

Tips for those at home

  • Make a plan to celebrate Christmas with family and friends on another day. A lot of FIFO families tell me that they actually like doing this, because the alternative ‘Christmas Day’ is always a bit more relaxed than the actual day. Plus, all the Christmas stuff is much cheaper after 25 December!
  • Watch your thinking and remain positive. Try not to keep thinking about what you’ll be missing out on, but think instead of what you have to look forward to when your partner is next home.
  • On this note, plan and book in something extra special for when your partner is next home. Put it in the diary.
  • Get organised well ahead of time to send your partner a 'care package' with some Christmas bits and pieces to open on the day. You can either post your package up to the site, or stash it away in your partner’s bag.
  • Model positive coping for your children by acknowledging your feelings, but then finding things to do that help you feel a bit better (like putting together the care package: this is something special that kids love to help with).
  • Talk with your partner ahead of time about what will work best for you all on the day. When and how you can connect will depend on their roster obviously, but you should also have a think about what will be easiest for you all to cope with.
  • Surround yourself with positive people who understand your lifestyle. It’s unhelpful to keep hearing how terrible it is that your partner/the kid’s mum or dad is going to be away for Christmas. Avoid the 'what are you doing at Christmas?' conversation with those people.
  • Ask for (or pay for) practical help around the house to reduce the pressure on you and your partner around the Christmas period.
  • Practise gratefulness. In the lead up to Christmas, practise thinking of three things each day that you’re thankful or grateful for.
  • Give. Think about a charity, organisation, family or individual you know who is having a hard time. Send a donation, card, letter or text to show your support at Christmas.

Mining Family Matters aims to break down the barriers of isolation and the stresses of living away from family and friends. Although this website provides general advice from a psychologist, the content should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. Always speak to your doctor or specialist provider for advice on a specific medical condition. If you are depressed and require urgent assistance, call 9-1-1 or visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website at

Psychologist Angie Willcocks is an expert at helping families deal with the pressures of life in mining, oil and gas. To ask Angie a question, write via our 'contact us' page. It’s free! And to read other Angie articles, please click here.