While many of us think of Christmas as the most magical time of the year, there are those who find the holiday season to be a very difficult period. Some of the reasons why people may struggle with this time of the year include Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), having reminders of unpleasant memories, feeling lonely, or feeling exhausted with social events. It’s important to remember that it is not uncommon to struggle with your mental wellbeing at some point throughout the festive period.
Our mental wellbeing is a priority all year round, but if you find you struggle more during this time of the year, then it’s important to take extra care of yourself. This period can be busy for many, and it can often lead to us losing track of our self-care. In this blog, we’ll discuss 7 psychologist-approved ways to look after your mental health this Christmas so that you can stay safe and well this holiday season.
Prioritising your mental health at Christmas can come in many different forms depending on what you need. It could mean carving out time for yourself, or carefully planning your time and sharing your energy in a way that works best for your wellbeing. Using these tips may help you establish what makes it easier for you to navigate through the holiday season.
Setting boundaries is a great way to help you look after your mental health at Christmas. There may be more demands than usual on both you and your time during Christmas, and for many, this can feel draining and even cause distress. To look after your mental health in these scenarios, it can help to set boundaries and manage expectations with your friends and family.
If you find that there is more demand for your time over this period, for example work gets busier or your social life requires more time, try to take a step back and review just how much time you have for these extra commitments and how much time you need for self-care. Try to practice saying no (where possible) when you need to take a break and recuperate.
In addition, with COVID-19 still impacting our lives, you may feel more comfortable simply declining invitations. Work out what you need for your mental wellbeing and what will relieve some of the pressure on you, and set those boundaries where you need to.
It might help to set a start date and an end date for what you consider to be the Christmas period. Defining a specific festive period – that can start and end when you like – can help you to take more control in terms of how long the Christmas period is in your life. While some might start getting ready for Christmas in November, you might decide that the holiday season lasts from 24th December to 1st January, for example. By shortening the time frame, it can feel easier to manage.
There’s no question that this is one of the most hectic times of the year for many – you might have gifts to buy, family dinners, nativity plays, decorating, and many more things to take up your time. Alternatively, it might be a time that can feel quite isolating, or a reminder of upsetting past memories. Whatever your circumstances are that make this time of year difficult for you, try to challenge this by setting aside time to refocus your attention from what is causing you distress. This could be a 5-minute meditation practice at different points throughout the day, an hour-long walk, or a full day at the weekend to decompress and relax.
Try to make your self-care plans non-negotiable. If something else comes up that takes priority, instead of missing out on a self-care activity, reschedule it so that your mind knows it is simply being delayed for a short time. Schedule your remaining events and to-do lists around your mental health break. Having these breaks can help give you more energy to do the things you enjoy, and can help to relieve stress and anxieties.
During the holiday season, alcohol can be more readily available and socially acceptable. If you already know that you’re struggling, alcohol can seem like a way to dull the feelings. However, substances like these can make your mental health worse in the long run. This is because once the stimulant effect wears off, alcohol begins to have a negative effect on our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, often making us feel worse. You might trust yourself to know your limits, but if you’re at all concerned about your drinking, or what will happen when you drink, it might be easier to try to avoid it altogether.
There is a perception that during Christmas, everyone is happy. This can begin to feel lonely if you don’t fit into that well-known image. Sometimes when we are down and around others, we worry about how our mood is affecting others’ experiences. We might also worry that others won’t quite understand how we are feeling, and may judge us negatively.
However, when we don’t share how we feel, we can feel misunderstood and more isolated. Sharing with someone we trust can be a helpful exercise for many as it can often encourage us to challenge our feelings and feel better understood and supported. You might first decide to talk to a trusted friend, or perhaps a therapist or counsellor. A therapist can offer advice or tips and help support you in any decisions you make to look after your mental health, helping alleviate some of those negative emotions that come up around the holidays.
Sometimes, looking after yourself and your mental wellbeing means going all the way back to basics. When you’re finding ways to look after your mental health at Christmas, consider whether you’re looking after your body. This means eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and moving your body with regular exercise. During the holiday period, it’s easy for these things to fall to the wayside, with parties, late nights and a busy schedule getting in the way of your normal routine. If you’re starting to notice that you aren’t feeling as good as usual, ask yourself whether you’ve been looking after your body and whether there is more you can do.
If you can’t miss certain obligations, you want to push yourself out there a little more, or you’re proud of how you managed with feeling lonely or isolated, give yourself a reward for powering through. Think about something you’d like to do by yourself or with others, or have something booked into your schedule as a treat after a difficult period. It could be as simple as buying yourself an edible treat or taking an afternoon off to read your favourite book. Whatever it is, it’s important to set out time for yourself, and acknowledge your efforts by rewarding yourself. Having something fun to look forward to can help you power through tough or stressful situations and improve your mental wellbeing.
Book an assessment and attend your appointment from the comfort of your home.
Do you need support managing the mental health symptoms dominating your life?
Get in touch today to have a no-obligation call with one of our medical secretaries.