Mental Health In The Festive Period - How It Affects Us And What To Do
Christmas is usually seen as a happy and uplifting time of year. Christmas lights, family get togethers, giving gifts...it should be full of wonderful experiences, but it's not the case for everyone. In fact, a survey showed that a qurter of people said Christmas made their mental health worse. This time of year can be really difficult for some people, and with the added pressure of everyone expecting you to be happy, and being branded a Scrooge if you're not, things can get even tougher.
There's a whole host of reasons why Christmas might be a struggle for some people, including:
- remembering the loss of a loved one around Christmas
- being around family who you have strained relationships with
- struggling financially and feeling like you need to compete with others
- being alone without family and feeling isolated
- being reminded of a traumatic event which happened at Christmas
- feel a huge amount of pressure to organise family events
- struggle with SAD and find it difficult during the dark winter months
- worry that your mental health may deteriorate and the support might not be available
- find it difficult to deal with the added social situations which can happen around Christmas
- your mental health might be negative affected by the changes in routine
- pressure to eat if you have an eating disorder, or drink if you are teetotal
If you can relate to any of these situations, you're definitely not alone. There are many people out there who will be feeing the same, and you're not required to feel happy just because it's Christmas.
Being around family
Being around family could be difficult for a lot of reasons, from strained relationships, struggling with the increase in social situations, having family staying over or even having changes in your routine which can affect your mental health.
Just because it's Christmas, it doesn't mean mean you can't set boundaries. It's never easy to set boundaries if you're not used to doing it, and especially around the holidays when you're expected to just "suck it up" it can be harder to say no or avoid being in someone's company.
Remember to put your needs first and be kind to yourself, rather than putting yourself under pressure just because you feel you should.
If you have to be around certain members of you family and you know you'll find it difficult, try speaking to someone you feel comfortable with about it beforehand and arrange to look out for each other. Also set a time for yourself to leave so you only need to be around for a set amount of time; this will probably help you get through it easier!
Firstly, you need to decide if being alone is a choice. Some people prefer this, and maybe you've had invitations and turned them down. Are you happy to be alone, if you made the decision yourself, or is this a choice because you're worried about being around others?
If you're isolating because you're worried about being around others due to your mental health or that you might struggle, have a conversation. It might be that you feel much more comfortable attending an event if you've let the host know beforehand that you tend to struggle around Christmas, so you won't feel the pressure to paste on a smile if you don't feel up to it.
Maybe this isn't an option for you, though. If you don't have family to spend Christmas with, why not organise something with friends aka your "chosen family"? There could be others who are in the same situaion and would love some company over the holidays. If this isn't possible, look for events happening in your local area that you can attend instead. This could be a special meal you can go to or you might even choose to dedicate the day to volunteering for a good cause.
Even if you do spend the day alone, for whatever reason, you can still enjoy the day. You might find it useful to plan your day out and make sure you do lots of things you enjoy and have some Christmas treats. This could give your day some structure and make it easier for you. If you do need to speak to someone and you are struggling, there will always be services available for you to speak to, including us here at TakeTen.
Struggling with memories
Christmas can rake up difficult memories for some people. This could be because or a loved one who's missing around the table, or something traumatic which happened over the festive period.
The mind is great at bringing emotions to the surface when it's triggered by reminders, and it's going to be almost impossible to completely blank out any tough feelings that come to mind. Don't put pressure on yourself to simply "forget about it", because that's not how the mind works. Simply accept that the thoughts are there, and decide how you're going to deal with them.
Adding extra pressure on yourself to bury your feelings can only make things worse, so don't feel the need to fit into the expected moods or join in celebrations if you can't. Still practice self- care and be mindful of your mental health, even though it's Christmas.
If you know you're going to struggle, again it's important to share how you feel. Don't worry about "ruining" the festive atmosphere or anything like that; it's important to be as open as possible. If you're grieving for the loss of someone, why not incorporate them into your celebrations? You could include a photo of them, talk about your memories of them or do an activity they'd have enjoyed.
If Christmas is going to be tough because of traumatic memories, don't feel you need to isolate yourself if you do want to join in the celebrations. Just make sure you prepare yourself for the event, make a plan beforehand to ensure you can leave easily if you need or want to, and don't do more than you feel you can just to keep up appearances.
Mental Health and Christmas
Some people will find the Christmas period difficult purely because they suffer from a mental health issue or a mental illness in the first place. Having a change in routine and being part of more socialising that usual can have an impact on many. It can be physically and emotionally tiring and end up not being an enjoyable experience.
Remember that even though routines have changed and there's a lot more expectation on you to join in, be clear of your own boundaries and stick to them. If you don't drink due to medication, make sure there's plenty of alternatives available. If you know you'll feel anxious attending an event, but you decide to go, plan an exit strategy if you feel you might want to leave early. If you're worried about being around people and don't feel up to being overly sociable or talkative, try and take someone with you who you can hang with, who knows your situation.
Remember that "no" can be a complete sentence, and being mindful of your boundaries is simply caring for your own wellbeing. Don't feel pressured to go to everything you're invited to, and end up burning out. You can pick and choose what you'd like to do and end up enjoying it a lot more.
Remember the pressure
Everyone of us should be mindful of the additional pressures on our shoulders over the festive break. It can be tough if there's a large family, where everyone wants to see everyone else and spend time with those closest to us, but we live in a fast-paced and busy society where any free time is precious.
Christmas breaks can be very short, or even non-existent for some people, dependent on which sector they work in. Any time off work can be spent with family and friends, but as it's the end of the year, having some time to simply relax is just as important.
It's always good to reach out and check on people, especially if you suspect they may be alone on Christmas, but remember not to put too much pressure on them to get out and spend all of their time with others. There could be a good reason why they're not doing so.
How to get help
TakeTen Mental Health charity is open over the holidays, no matter what. We are always here to speak to you if you're struggling, whatever your issue, and always act with complete privacy and integrity. Nothing is too small. You can call us on 07368 989851. There are also other helplines available, including the Samaritans on 116 123 who are open 24/7, 365 days a year.
If you're having a tough time, reach out. Don't shy away behind expectations of Christmas, because you're certainly not alone.