Christmas is supposed to be a time of cheer, but we all know that the reality can look a little different.
All too often, the festive period is marked by stress, loneliness, and the triggering of mental health issues – and that’s all the more likely this year, as Omicron brings up uncertainty and the anxiety of lockdown limbo.
Admitting that is the first step – there’s a lot of pressure to be happy at Christmas, so it’s a relief to acknowledge that actually, this can be a tricky time.
Then, it’s key to take steps to prioritise your mental wellbeing amid all December and New Year celebrations.
Handy, then, that the expert team at Mind, along with singer-songwriter Ella Henderson, have shared their advice for looking after mental health throughout the festive period.
Here’s what they suggest.
‘Christmas can sometimes get a little overwhelming, especially when social media constantly shows people being together and happy 24/7,’ says Ella. ‘I find sometimes just switching off completely and turning your phone off for a day, or even a couple of hours, can be a really helpful way to focus on the present and to stop yourself from living through social media and the lives of others.
‘It helps me focus on quality time with my loved ones too and reminds me that I am exactly in the right place.’
This doesn’t just go for social media. Make sure that you’re properly switching off from work, too. You deserve a break.
‘Think about what might be difficult about Christmas for you, and if there’s anything that might help you cope,’ suggest the team at Mind. ‘It might be useful to write this down.
- If you’re going to be somewhere unfamiliar or different for Christmas, think about what you need to help you cope. Are there things you can bring to make you feel more comfortable? Or is there somewhere you can go to take a break?
- If you’re worried about feeling lonely or isolated this Christmas, think of some ways to help pass the time. For example, this might be doing something creative or spending time in nature.
- If you sometimes experience flashbacks, panic attacks or dissociation, make a note of what helps during these moments, and keep it with you.
- Make a list of any services that you might need and their Christmas opening hours. Check out Mind’s page of useful contacts for support.
- Think about whether you really need to do things if you’re not looking forward to them. Can you do them differently or for less time?
- If you can’t be with the people you want to see in person, you could arrange a phone or video call to catch up with them on the day.’
Ella backs this up: ‘I find it helps me to plan ahead so that if I end up feeling really anxious or overwhelmed, I have things to help and I’m not panicking about what to do.
‘For example, breathing exercises, a quiet place I know I can go to and sit for 10 minutes if I need, or a friend I will call.’
An important reminder: you don’t have to do anything that you don’t enjoy at Christmas, no matter the ‘tradition’.
It’s okay to admit that you struggle with spending long periods of time with your family, and thus set the boundary of, say, having lunch with your parents but going back home for dinner.
It’s okay to ask for some space, or time, or to simply say ‘no’.
Be kind to yourself
Don’t beat yourself up for finding this time difficult. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, ensuring self-care remains a priority.
‘It’s ok to prioritise what’s best for you, even if others don’t seem to understand,’ say Mind. ‘Think about what you need and how you might be able to get it.
‘Let yourself experience your own feelings. Even if they don’t match what’s going on around you, they’re still real and valid.
‘Let yourself have the things you need. For example, if you need to take a break instead of doing an activity, or need a little bit of quiet time.
‘If you can’t avoid something difficult, plan something for yourself afterwards to help reduce the stress or distress you might feel.’
Take time out
Related to all the above, it’s a smart idea to give yourself some time away from all the Christmas fuss.
Perhaps schedule in a walk outside, or tell your loved ones you’re going to take some solo time to watch a film.
A little bit of breathing space can make all the difference.
The hardest part of the festive period to navigate, for many, is interactions with friends and family in a pressure cooker environment.
- Think about how to end difficult conversations. It’s ok to tell someone you don’t want to talk about something, or to change the subject. It might help to practise what you’ll say.
- If other people’s questions are difficult, you could think of some answers in advance, so you’re not caught off guard.
- Suggest an activity or an easy way to move on, if you want to help end an unwanted conversation. For example, this could be playing a game, or taking a screen break if you’re on a video call.
- If other people don’t seem to understand how you’re feeling, you could share this information with them. You could also think about writing down how you’re feeling and sharing this with them, if conversations are difficult.
Talk to someone
‘When I’ve struggled with my mental health in the past, I’ve found that talking to people and sharing my experiences can really help,’ says Ella. ‘It’s important to let people know you’re struggling as it can often feel like it’s just you when it’s not.’
Open up to someone you know – or someone you don’t, perhaps in an online community like Mind’s Side by Side, or our Facebook group, Mentally Yours – about how you’re feeling. It can help to just vent for a bit, plus you might get some genuinely helpful tips from people who are going through similar struggles.
‘Tell people what they can stop, start or continue doing to help you,’ adds the Mind team. ‘For example, you could let them know any activities you’d like to be involved in, and what they can do to support you during Christmas.
‘Or you could tell them any questions or topics that you find hard to discuss, so they can avoid asking about them.
‘You don’t have to justify yourself to others. But you might feel pressured to, especially if someone asks a lot of questions. It could help to let them know that certain situations are difficult for you, and tell them what they can do to help. It might also help to tell them that you understand they may see things in a different way.
‘You might not be able to make others understand. That’s OK. It’s not your responsibility to convince other people, or get their permission to look after yourself.’
To chat about mental health in an open, non-judgmental space, join our Mentally Yours Facebook group.
Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.
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