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Monthly Archives: December 2016

Santa Claus: Myth or Lie?

Santa Claus chocolate figurines in metallic foil, lined up macro shot

Santa Claus: is he a myth or a lie? And should we be honest about him?

Santa Claus is alive and well!  Myth or lie?

I recently reviewed a research report by a psychologist who claims that it may be dangerous for parents to ‘lie’ to their children about the existence of Santa Claus.

The article went further; it adopted the bold standpoint that parents run the risk of taking away a child’s trust in them by lying about the existence of Santa. The argument is, if we lie about Santa and children later learn the truth, how then can we ever be trusted?

Centuries ago, Plato believed a myth is a noble lie. Myth is a concept that unites a culture or tribe. Myth is a process that bonds us together as people. In these difficult times, it’s true to say we need cohesion and connection more than ever before.

It’s true one should never directly lie to a child. Engaging in and enjoying the Father Christmas myth is totally different to the practice of lying. The continuance of age old myths is precisely that which bonds us together through and across generations. Is the tooth fairy a lie? Are Apollo and Neptune lies? Is Hans Christian Anderson a scoundrel? Or is JK Rowling guilty of destroying trust? No – each of these is either a myth or a creator of myth.

There needs to be a clear distinction made between myth and lies.

A lie is an untruth, told to hide the reality of a situation for many reasons. Usually it is to deceive someone or to escape punishment. Sometimes it’s a ‘good’ or utilitarian lie, as described by Kant, told with the intention of preventing hurt. Nevertheless, it is still a lie and, in Kant’s view, wrong. A matter for one’s own conscience perhaps. My grandmother always said, “It’s better to be hurt with the truth than made a fool of with a lie”.

Myth is a different concept. It really does not fit into these categories.

Santa Claus, St Nicholas and Later Myths

Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Papa Noel, emerged from the character St Nicholas of Myra, a bishop believed to have originated from what is now southern Turkey. Popular culture morphed him into Santa Claus in America and then Father Christmas in the UK. He has been visiting children since the 1700s.

It’s interesting to note that in the first illustration of Santa Claus by Nast, in 1883 (during the American Civil War), he is wearing a star-spangled jacket and striped pants.

The myth has powerful social elements. It’s great how talk of Father Christmas bridges the gap between the young and the old, between social class and between faith groups.  Father Christmas is a common denominator between us. He binds us all together.

Myth Binds Culture

If we now remove myth from culture, we destroy common threads that bind us. We throw away imagination and we discard tradition. More worryingly, children lose childhood and memories. They also lose powerful generational models of parenting.

So much of ethics, conscience and morality is contained in myth. Lose a myth and the fun reduces. More importantly, the ability to think abstractly reduces.

Ask any child who no longer believes in Santa Claus whether they felt deceived by their parents over the issue. I think I know their response. What’s your view?


Guyer. Paul, (2006), Kant. New York: New York, Routledge.

Moravcsik.J, (1992) Plato and Platonism: Plato’s conception of appearance and reality in ontology, epistemology and ethics and its modern echoes. Oxford.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology ( 

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PTSD at Christmas: Hyperarousal

ptsd and Christmas

Christmas is the season of fun and good will, but having PTSD at Christmas means the reality is often very different. The Christmas countdown can be one of the worst times of the year. The reasons for this are many: an expectation of the perfect day, having to shop in packed malls, thoughts of entertaining… all these things can lead to feelings of being out of control. This is especially true when there is already constant overthinking going on in your brain. Christmas often feels too much. For those with hyperarousal, the run up to Christmas usually increases trauma triggers. A rise in triggers is associated with more frequent acts of self-harm and increased suicidal thoughts. This is very frightening.

For those with PTSD at Christmas, the season can and does ramp up perceptions of powerlessness. This may lead to increased numbing and depersonalisation. At worst, it can feel as if the Amygdala can’t and won’t take any more. In these moments, you may feel like fighting, running like hell or freezing. Sometimes, it’s all of these things together.

It’s also common for those with PTSD to increase their alcohol or substance use as triggers rise.  This not only hurts the person with PTSD, it causes unintentional pain to loved ones. It is crucial that you put some control into Christmas to prevent feelings of helplessness escalating.

Your Action Plan to Deal with PTSD at Christmas

  1. Limit engagements. Accept invites only to those events that you really want to attend. Make sure you know what the set up will be. If there is a strong feeling of not wanting to go, listen to yourself. If you want to stay at home, allow yourself to. Banish negative self-talk about being weak by not going.
    If you do attend and feel the need to leave early, do just that. The people that matter will understand. Disregard the views of others.
  2.  Structure plenty of downtime during the celebrations. Listening to music, walking or jogging are three undervalued and powerful tools.   Recent research findings are clear – activities that involve a strong rhythmic focus are proven to reduce hyperarousal in the Amygdala. These activities calm the hyperarousal element of PTSD much more effectively than the use of talking therapies which often do little to reduce core feelings of rage and distress. It is thought this maybe one reason why EMDR is so successful in treating PTSD.
  3. Maintain a routine of meditation, progressive relaxation, yoga and visualisation. These tools can be truly lifesaving in an emergency, which may happen if you’re dealing with PTSD at Christmas.
  4. Limit alcohol.  Alcohol is a depressant. It might feel as if it makes it easier to get out of the door. The reality is hyperarousal and depression are increased after the initial buzz goes. If you don’t want to go out, stay home and do something genuinely calming. Things will get better as hyperarousal reduce.
  5. Lower expectations.  Having PTSD is very hard. Most people haven’t a clue what you are living. You are a survivor and a warrior.  Allow yourself to be discriminate in your wishes.  You are your ultimate cure.  Respect that.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard  PsychD, MSc, BSc Chartered Consultant Psychologist and Chartered Scientist. Dr Tizzard has over 20 years experience working with the emergency services, the military and civilians who have experienced PTSD in their lives. She has researched, lectured and developed training programmes pertaining to PTSD vicarious traumatisation and post traumatic growth.

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Autism at Christmas – Top Tips for Reducing Sensory Overload

Silver bauble in hands of woman wearing winter jumper, representing Christmas and sensory stimulation - a worry for children with Autism

Christmas is special, but it’s also full of overwhelming sensory stimulation for autistic children. Credit: Bridget Tohm.

Christmas can be great fun: it’s a time for good old-fashioned family time, when the usual routines follow Santa back up the chimney and melt in the snow.

Yet this is not usually the case if you have a son or daughter with a diagnosis of Asperger’s or Autism. You’ll know managing Asperger’s or Autism at Christmas can be a challenge for the whole extended family.

The change of routine – the carefree get-up-when-you-feel-like-it, and eat-when-you’re-hungry policies – usually cause havoc. That havoc leads to a visit from the Autism bad elves: Anxiety, Meltdown and Sensory Overload.

Kids with Asperger’s and Autism can have a great Christmas, too, but it takes a little preparation. The first consideration is to start planning early; this allows the child to take on board the necessary information that he or she needs to prevent a spike in anxiety as Christmas draws nearer.

How to Reduce Autism Sensory Overload at Christmas

  1. If you visit  friends or family, take food you know your child will like. This also makes you a great house guest, as it minimises effort for your hosts, who will understand the need for you to give your child reliable favourite foods.
  2. Don’t present your child with new clothes during the holiday: only use clothes that are well-worn and comfy. If necessary, bribe grandparents not to buy clothes as presents. Your son or daughter needs familiarity, but a new fabric or pattern will only increase sensory overload at an already stressful time.
  3. Make a mind map of the Christmas celebrations with your child. Design the main days with him or her. Pens, coloring pencils and Post It notes are a must! Explain in full how things will work.  It’s a good idea to devise a strategy for the lack of structure which other family members need. You do this by describing the kind of things that might happen: Grandpa might fall asleep after Christmas dinner. Everyone might plan to go for a walk, but be too tired in the end. Mention that family members may get involved in a range of activities. This allows a mental map to be made in your child’s brain, and reduces anxiety.
  4. Provide a safe space, free of sensory overload. Allow your child to take ‘time out’ there, especially when you notice their stress levels rising. There should be no decorations or trees in this place at all. It is fine to allow him or her to eat cheese straws or jam sandwiches in this den on Christmas Day. 25th December is not the day to press your child to eat different items.
  5. Have a few of your child’s favourite activities ready. This is just as important as chopping the veg in advance. You might think this is boring at such a fun time, but the child will appreciate the familiarity and the routine.
  6. Take your sensory kit wherever you go. This will reduce the chance of overload, whether you’re in a traffic jam on the way to see relatives, or you’re walking in the park.
  7. Scale down expectations. Think: ‘It’s a normal day, with injections of joy’. Christmas can be magical, but it may not be the best day ever, and that’s perfectly okay.

Each of these little things will reduce sensory overload and help you all to enjoy the festive season. Have a very merry Christmas.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology ( 

We  are providers of  independent autism assessments throughout southern England, via Treetops.

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