Mental Health at Christmas
Because there is no “out of office” for your mental health
As a child growing up I loved Christmas. The time out from school, gifting and receiving presents, making Jamie Oliver’s mince pies with my sister and mum, carol concerts and of course the roast potatoes. Actually, the latter hasn’t changed at all (my husband is on the quest for the perfect roast potato recipe this year, fingers crossed); but as i’ve become older I’ve definitely noticed a shift in my overall experience of the festive season.
This year I’m somewhat ill at ease; something about the ever changing instability in our society perhaps… It must have been August when I first noticed certain shops bringing out their christmas products, coming across articles telling us to ‘get it all done ahead of time’ and to ‘be quick before it’s too late’. These sentiments are not new and many of us are quite used to seeing and hearing such rhetoric.
However, what a world of contrasts we reside in. Our shops are bursting, beaming, bulging to the full with a plethora of toys, gifts, decorations, food and drinks. Our TVs, radios, social media feeds and day to day interactions are saturated with consumerist chatter. All this alongside our growing homeless communities, poverty, stretched and broken NHS resources, social care underfunding, discrimination to name but just a few. As a society we are encouraged to spend and spend, to displace our feelings and emotions into physical objects and are congratulated for “getting it all done” at this one particular time of year.
For many, the ability to exert control and mindfully appreciate the festive period beyond all this is associated with a genuine kind of joy. However for others it can be a deeply stressful and anxiety provoking time whether or not you live with illness. In terms of mental health, Christmas has long been recognised as a difficult period and potentially triggering for many reasons. Painful memories, intense pressures, familial conflicts, excessive eating and drinking, a heightened awareness of loneliness, self comparisons, heightened expectations, feelings of inadequacy, a need to ‘put on a front’ are just a selection of factors.
These are honest and frank conversations we often have in clinic especially leading up to the festive season, and so here I share some suggestions that you may also find helpful:
Be realistic about yourself- setting firm but kind boundaries to consciously recognise from the outset what you can and can’t do or afford is vital to take control.
Be realistic about your family- one thing I’ve always found fascinating about Christmas is the special significance we place on it being a ‘time for family’. Unfortunately this expectation can put additional pressure on already strained relationships especially when being together is not always the norm. Being realistic can help avoid disappointment.
Don’t compare- easy as it sounds, it’s actually not so easy in today’s technology driven world. Social media in particular has a sneaky habit of drawing our attention to and comparing ourselves with others that can lead to unrealistic expectations lowering our self esteem and mood. If you need to switch off then think about taking a break from social media, uninstall the apps and disconnect.
Get out of the house- as much as the cosy indoor life might appeal at this time of year, being in confined spaces for several days will increase most people’s anxiety levels- it goes against our habitual instincts and getting some daylight exposure is vital for our physical and mental wellbeing.
Eat well, sleep and drink in moderation -feeling overly stuffed or hungover is going to take its toll. Alcohol is a depressant after all.
Talk to someone- if you do find you are struggling then let someone know. As straightforward as it might sound, the simple act of sharing some of your burden can greatly help alleviate some of the mental distress you might be experiencing.
Time out- Christmas really can be overly stimulating and an intense time on the socialisation front especially with family or friends. Don’t be embarrassed to take time out from it all if you need to. Sometimes letting others know why you are doing it can help them to support you in doing it.
If you think you need to talk to a professional this Christmas then please consider the following:
The Samaritans - a free, confidential, 24 hour a day, 7 days a week telephone support service on 116 123.
111- if you need to see an out of hours GP, then phoning 111 can help identify your nearest service.
999- if you think you need urgent help, then A+E might be the quickest way of being assessed out of hours.