Those songs playing on loop in department stores tell us ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’. Christmas generates a lot of hype and excitement, and it can seem like everyone else is merry and bright. However, this is not the case. For many of us Christmas can be a stressful time. It can bring feelings of sadness, loneliness or anxiety. Here are some tips and ideas for looking after your mental health during the festive season.
Keep perspective/ be realistic
Given that Christmas is only one day out of three hundred and sixty five in the year, there can be a lot of pressure to get it right. Seeing the photos of beautifully decorated homes and matching pyjamas on our social media feeds, we can have a sense that everything needs to be perfect. We want an amazing meal, fantastic presents, the family to let go of arguments. However, take a step back and recognise that it is just one day. Try to take some of the pressure off yourself and those around you.
Try replacing ‘should’ or ‘have to’ thoughts with ‘it would be nice if’. For example, instead of ‘Everyone should get on’, try ‘It would be nice if everyone got on’. Instead of ‘I have to do an amazing turkey with all the trimmings’, try ‘It would be nice to have an amazing turkey with all the trimmings.’ BUT, if these things don’t happen, it’s not the end of the world.
Keep a routine
With holidays from school or college and bank holidays from work, as well as a hectic schedule of festive events, our routines can often go out the window over the Christmas period. However, maintaining a level of structure can be helpful for our mental health.
Try to pay attention to your sleep schedule and spread out your late nights across the week. Don’t be tempted to start napping to catch up on sleep as this can be a hard habit to break when things get back to normal in the new year.
Most of us indulge in a few treats over Christmas, however, be aware of the ‘boom and bust’ cycle that comes with too much sugar. Aim to keep a regular meal schedule as much as possible to maintain your energy levels throughout the season.
Exercise can significantly help enhance our mood, but the usual outlets can close for the holidays. If your regular exercise or training sessions aren’t on, try to incorporate a different form of exercise such as running or a youtube work out over Christmas.
Whether it’s playing mine craft, baking or face timing a friend, there are things we can do that help us feel good about ourselves. Think about the things that you usually do during the year to support your wellbeing, and try to set aside time to keep these up. If these aren’t available to you over the Christmas period, try to identify alternatives, but don’t forget to prioritise your mental health needs.
Dealing with loneliness
Not everyone will be able to spend Christmas with people they love for a range of reasons, including family separation, travel restrictions and bereavements. Even if we are with family and friends, we can still feel isolated and alone over Christmas.
There is no easy solution to this, but it can be helpful to try to distract yourself. Find an activity that you enjoy that takes a bit of concentration and focus on that. If you are alone, perhaps consider volunteering on Christmas Day and being around others for a while.
If feelings of isolation are ongoing throughout the year, think about opportunities that offer connection or a space where you can potentially find your tribe.
Dealing with arguments
With spending more time in each other’s company and the pressure that can build over Christmas, it is unsurprising that arguments become a feature in many households. Be aware of your triggers and tune into the signs that your patience is beginning to fray. You might notice increased tension in your body, or your heart rate starting to rise. You may notice your thoughts becoming more irate or extreme.
When you notice these things, take a step back. Ask yourself whether this is worth getting upset about? In a week or a month, will the thing you are getting annoyed about matter? Try to take some time for you (and other people involved) to calm down. Let people know that you need some space. Get out for a walk and clear your head if you can. You can always come back and address the situation assertively when you feel more relaxed and in control.
Beware of the booze
Most of us like to have a few drinks over Christmas and that’s ok. A few can easily tip over into a lot however, and we know that alcohol is a depressant. Even if it makes us feel tired, alcohol can stop us from reaching the deeper, restorative stages of sleep, meaning we feel low in energy the next day.
If you choose to drink over Christmas, perhaps keep a log of how much you are actually drinking. Note any impact on your mood and energy levels, and if your mood is starting to dip, consider reducing your alcohol intake or taking a night or two off.
If you find yourself struggling over Christmas, don’t be afraid to reach out. Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Make an appointment with your GP to discuss options for professional support, or get in touch directly with Way Ahead Therapy. Try a helpline: the Samaritans, Text 50808 and Pieta House all offer 24/7 support. However you are feeling, support is available to help you through the Christmas season and beyond.