Mental health and... Christmas
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or, is it, really?
One thing is for sure, while many people can’t wait to deck their halls and string their tinsel - sometimes weeks before the big day - for others it can be a painful and lonely time.
Sometimes this can be because you’ve lost someone dear to you, and Christmas triggers that sense of loss and grief. For other people, it might be because family relationships are difficult, or even the source of stress or anxiety.
Add to this the weight of expectations and the pursuit of perfection (my family need to look like they’re stepped out of a magazine and not bicker all day; Christmas will be ruined if we don’t find the perfect gift; Christmas dinner needs to be as Instagrammable as a TV chef’s….)
Throw into the mix an excess of social occasions, worry over your festive finances, children high on a sugar rush and adults over-indulging in a Christmas tipple, and it’s no wonder what you actually have is a recipe that doesn’t always add up to the picture-perfect day.
For those who struggle with depression they might feel this even more keenly at a time when society seems to demand you have a smile on your face and are the life and soul of the party. And, if you suffer from anxiety, the thought of all those people in all those packed places can be overwhelming.
We asked some of our mental health ambassadors to share their thoughts on Christmas - and some of their coping mechanisms.
Grief and loss or family feuds can mean that for some, Christmas isn't always the heart-warming joyful time of year the adverts would have you believe. Losing both the people I grew up and spent Christmas with meant that for a long time, I really struggled to get into the festive spirit. For many years come December 1st my heart would be full of dread and anxiety, fear of the overwhelming sense of depression I felt washing over me - here we go again, Christmas. I would end up feeling numb and wanting to hide away from the world under my duvet until it was over. Christmas can actually be a very lonely time if it feels like everywhere you turn is a constant reminder of those who are missing.
Make sure you don’t put too much pressure on yourself, it can be all too easy to say ‘I’m fine’ when you’re truly not, but the best thing I did was be honest with the people around me. It made me feel like a dark cloud had been lifted and that I didn’t have to go through it alone. A simple checking in text, call or invite can make all the difference at what can be a really difficult time.
These days I try to avoid over-indulgence whether with food or especially alcohol it can be really easy to over-do it, especially when you're struggling at Christmas. They felt like an easy solution to numb and escape from the negative emotions I was feeling; but really all it did was made me feel worse. Instead of binging on food or alcohol, allow yourself time to feel and honour your feelings, good and bad but don't get consumed by them. Do something you enjoy, spoil yourself this Christmas - self care is key.
Christmas can make people stressed or anxious because of the excess of family events it usually brings along. And, while we love them, sometimes family members know how to push our buttons and ignore our feelings.
A good way to help manage this is to plan at least an hour each day for yourself - whether that is going for a walk or drive to be able to sit quietly without anyone else around. In my case I like to book a private yoga session each morning (including Christmas day) as gentle exercise helps calm my mind and helps me to be forgiving.
My top tip of what NOT to do at Christmas is to not try to control everything; you can’t, and it won’t work anyway as no-one will listen to you and it will turn into a competition. Accept the flow and have a mantra to keep yourself in a calm protective bubble. And try not to drink too much because you will almost certainly say things you’ll regret or promise to do something you don’t want to just in order to please people.
And the final word goes to...
Christmas can be a wonderful time, but it can also be pretty stressful!
Try not to force yourself to live up to any contrived image of what the holiday should be - often the stress of forcing it stops you from enjoying all the good times that come along naturally.