Christmas is coming. And while for some the season brings festive cheer, laughter and happiness, for others it can be a real struggle. Christmas is a challenging time for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons. They could have lost someone around this time of year. They could have a bad or strained relationship with their family, and seeing them all at Christmas causes a lot of stress. They could be struggling with a mental illness like depression or SAD, which makes the holidays a tough thing to get through. They could struggle with anxiety, which makes the pressure of cooking and baking, hosting, gift-giving and socialising difficult to manage. Or they may have no one to share the happy days with, feeling lonely. Whatever the reason, Christmas isn’t always a time for joy.
If you’re one of the people who struggle with the festive season, you aren’t alone. If you know you struggle, now is the time to start putting strategies in place to help you cope, and find the right kind of support for you.
The Festive Effect
Did you know that the ‘holiday blues’ affect many more people than you think? In all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons? According to a recent survey done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
- 24% of people living with a mental illness found that the holidays made their symptoms ‘a lot worse’
- 40% of people living with a mental illness found that the holidays made their symptoms ‘somewhat worse’
- Roughly 755 people in the surveys reported that the holidays added to them feeling sad or dissatisfied
- 68% felt financially stressed
- 66% felt lonely
- 63% experienced too much pressure
- 57% felt there were unreal expectations put on them
- 55% found themselves remembering happier times in the past and comparing them with their present
- Nearly half couldn’t be with their loved ones
That’s a huge amount of impact. And it can affect anyone at all, not just those struggling with a mental illness. But it does tend to make existing mental illnesses worse, and if you don’t look after your mental health over the festive season, these feelings can develop into clinical anxiety or depression. So even if you don’t struggle with mental health problems yourself, you may find Christmas is a difficult time for you.
Strategies to Help
There are many things that can bring down your holiday spirit. But while some of them are out of your control, there are some things you can do to manage your mental health throughout the festive season. Some of the strategies we suggest include:
Set Realistic Expectations: Try not to compare this holiday season to last year, or the Christmases from your past. Life changes, and you can’t recreate the past. Instead, focus on what’s important to you now, and set yourself realistic goals to make this festive season the best you can.
Don’t Rely on Substances: It’s incredibly tempting to rely on substances like drugs or alcohol to manage when you’re feeling low. But alcohol is a depressant, so while you may feel relieved at the moment, it won’t help you long term. In fact, it will likely make things worse for you within a few hours. It’s best to avoid relying on substances to get you through tough times and instead focus on healthier coping strategies.
Plan Ahead: Knowing what’s coming can be incredibly helpful in managing your mood, especially if you struggle with anxiety or worry. Try to space out your responsibilities so that you don’t have too much to do, or need to rush to complete things. Set aside a day to shop, a day to plan your food, a day to cook it. Establish any travel plans well in advance. Planning ahead gives you a level of control, and will help ease the stress a little.
Say No: The holidays are an incredibly busy time, and the pressure to do everything is high. But it’s OK to say no to things. Give yourself permission to say no, and grant time to relax and decompress when you need it.
Acknowledge your feelings: The holidays are a challenging time, and there are many reasons to feel upset. It’s OK to feel this way! Acknowledging your feelings and validating them will help you feel in control of your emotions, and speaking about them with someone else can help ease the burden. The more you bottle the feelings up, the worse they will be.
If You Know Someone
Mental health isn’t just for those who struggle. If you have a friend or a family member who you know struggles with their mental health, or with this time of year, make sure you’re checking in on them regularly. Its not easy, but there are a few things you can do:
Know when something is wrong: Different mental health conditions manifest in different ways, and everyone can react differently. You know what normal is to your loved ones, so if they start to act differently, it could be a signal that they are struggling. For example, if they are usually laid back and they have started acting angry or stressed. Or if they are normally social and have started to pull away from people. Take the time to notice changes in their behaviours and be proactive about offering help.
Don’t make assumptions: Many people jump right to ‘fix it’ mode when their friends or family are struggling, sometimes assuming they know how to help or what will make them feel better. But it’s not your job to ‘cure’ their condition – just to support them through it. Giving advice can often come across as judgemental, so even though you may be tempted, it’s best to listen to them, let them lead discussions at their own pace, and don’t second guess their feelings. Acknowledge what they are feeling and offer support in the way they need it.
Keep up a routine: Routine is incredibly important for mental health, and Christmas does a lot to disrupt normal routines. Expectations to have a good time and cope with an increase in social engagements can be incredibly difficult for those with anxiety and depression and can lead to a spike in anxious thoughts and feelings. Try to help them keep up their routine as much as possible, and offer to do those things with them if it would help. It might mean you go for a few early morning jogs with them, but that routine can be a huge help.
Be aware of triggers: Everyone has their own triggers, but for people with mental health issues being exposed to them can be incredibly difficult if not traumatic. This can be anything from a particular family member to alcohol (which is very common at Christmas) or even certain foods. Try to be aware of what triggers your loved one, and avoid having it around, indulging in it or speaking about it around them. At the same time, let them be aware of their own limits, and decide what is the best approach for them.
At The Holistic Healthcare Group, we understand just how challenging Christmas and New Year can be. In fact, some of us struggle with it ourselves. The important thing to remember is that you aren’t alone, and if you feel you’re struggling reach out for help. Friends, family or your GP are support access areas, also the samaritans are avalible 24/7 to talk.