Christmas is a time of year associated with reconnecting with family and friends, exchanging presents, and having fun. But this can also be a difficult time for those living with mental health conditions. Increased commitments, family pressures and financial issues can all become stressful and exacerbate mental health difficulties. So, here are some tips on how to cope this Christmas from PhD student Tom and placement student Tilly.
Firstly, take care of your body. Try to exercise, get enough sleep, and watch what you are eating and drinking. Maintaining your physical health will help support your mental health throughout the holidays. However, it is not always possible to keep up with all of this on a daily basis, let alone at Christmas. So go easy on yourself, even though it may be hard to focus on your wellbeing at this time, just adding a small activity can go a long way. For example, going for a walk can provide you with fresh air, time to think, and exercise which can all ease the burden on your body and mind.
During Christmas it can be difficult to maintain the balance between not planning enough and over-committing yourself. For some the festive season can be overwhelming, with parties, buying presents, and family gatherings taking up a lot of their time. Firstly, remember that this is a holiday for you too, so it’s okay to say ‘no’ if you already have too much planned. Taking time to yourself is a great way to check in on your mental health and take a break from social commitments. It could be useful to set some time each day to be alone, catch up on some sleep, or make your favourite meal.
“Taking time to yourself is a great way to check in on your mental health”
However, Christmas can also be a time where usual routines are disrupted, resulting in a lack of structure and periods of little activity which could have a negative impact on mental health. Spending a little time each day doing an activity you find rewarding can help you maintain a routine in the absence of your usual work or school commitments. For example, meet a friend for coffee, watch a movie, or do a hobby you enjoy. If you feel able, another way to provide yourself with structure, purpose, and achievement, is through volunteering (1). While volunteering, especially in mental health areas, you will often be surrounded by those who understand your situation and will allow you to build up confidence at your own pace. It can also be a place to make new friends and talk to others. To find volunteering opportunities near you, go here.
There can be a lot of pressure to be happy at Christmas, after all, it’s meant to be the most wonderful time of the year. However, it can also be an incredibly lonely time for those without family or friends, or where relationships have become strained. If you need to talk to someone, the Samaritans are available through their 24-hour phone line on 116 123. While it can be difficult to open up about your experiences, Samaritans will talk through any issues you are having without offering unwanted judgement or advice. You could also visit your local community centre. Many community centres are open on Christmas Day and offer a place for people of all backgrounds to chat and share a Christmas meal. If you want to read more about what loneliness is, and how to combat this, you can read this EDIT Lab blog which goes into this topic in more detail.
Finally, remember that it’s okay to ask for help. If you are having people round, you could ask everyone to bring something to avoid doing everything yourself. Or, simply tell people if you are feeling too overwhelmed to buy gifts this year. Making gifts instead of buying them can be fun, allow you to practice a hobby such as crafting, baking, or painting, and help avoid financial stress. Your mental wellbeing is more important than gifts or parties, so it’s not selfish to focus on this.
“Remember that it’s okay to ask for help.”
If you don’t enjoy Christmas, remember it’s just another day, and you don’t have to feel pressured to have fun or join in the festivities. Your mental health is the most important thing this festive season, and taking time to focus on this can really help.