Christmas is traditionally associated with joy and happiness – but for many, this isn’t the case. For those who already struggle with mental health, Christmas can pose many challenges for them, while 1 in 4 people say the Christmas period even makes their mental health worse.
No matter how you spend the festive season, we don’t want you to suffer so here are some tips to help you look after your mental health this Christmas.
How can Christmas affect mental health?
Social Anxiety at Christmas
For those with social anxiety, the gatherings of friends and family at Christmas can be difficult and overwhelming. Here are some ways you can manage social anxiety at Christmas
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling before the party/gathering – getting it off your chest can massively help
- Prepare conversation topics in advance so you can feel relaxed and confident when socialising
- Plan for a safe space if you start feeling overwhelmed e.g. go outside for a break or take some time to yourself in the bathroom
- Know it’s ok to say ‘no’ – if you want to leave early or don’t want to go at all, it is perfectly ok to say no
Eating Disorders at Christmas
Christmas can be particularly challenging for those with eating disorders since there is a lot of emphasis on grand meals, snacks and festive treats. Here are some tips to help anyone with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder:
- Don’t make a fuss about the Christmas meal, make it as similar to normal meals as possible
- Opt for buffet-style meals rather than sit-down pre-portioned meals
- After planned meal-times, shift the focus to non-food activities like games that you can enjoy
- Try to avoid comparing yourself to others
- Also, try to avoid comparing this Christmas to previous years
Stress at Christmas
Christmas can be very stressful for many reasons whether it’s an increased feeling of responsibility, the financial burden of gifts and food, or a need to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas. Here are some ways you can manage your stress this Christmas:
- Set realistic expectations about Christmas – this can lessen the pressure you feel to make it ‘perfect’
- Take a break – no matter how small. Even 5 minutes to yourself can help you feel calmer and less stressed in the moment.
- Avoid comparing yourself to others, especially on social media – nobody is perfect.
- Challenge the thoughts you have that something ‘needs’ to happen over Christmas
- Create a ‘Christmas Routine’ that can help you feel more organised and focused even when out of your usual routine
Loneliness at Christmas
For those who spend Christmas alone, it can be an incredibly difficult time. If you’re feeling alone this Christmas, try some of these tips:
- Volunteer for a charity to help and spend time with others
- Say ‘yes’ when invited to gatherings – even if you’re unsure
- Give yourself a project to keep busy and distracted
- Treat yourself to activities you can only enjoy alone like reading or pampering
Read more about how to deal with loneliness
Depression at Christmas
Christmas can be a tough time for those who struggle with depression when everything in the world seems to be telling you to be ‘happy’. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can also be triggered around this time. Here are some ways to manage depression over Christmas:
- Avoid excessive alcohol and substances as these often intensify feelings of low mood
- Stay active – exercise, even a short walk, can help you release endorphins that help you feel good
- Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ or set boundaries with others
- Avoid comparisons to others or previous years
Grief at Christmas
Grief can be particularly difficult over Christmas. Recent losses can make you feel less engaged with the season than you usually would while even losses that occurred years ago can make you feel secondary loss. While you shouldn’t try to deny your grief this Christmas, there are some things you can do to help manage it:
- Be mindful of your triggers so you can plan for time to recover
- Manage your expectations – grief can make it more difficult to complete tasks so don’t worry if you can’t do as much as usual
- Talk to others – whether it’s friends, family members, or professionals
- Make time for your own wellbeing including sleep, exercise and fun
Read more about supporting your mental health during grief
Nobody should have to suffer with mental health this Christmas. At Shawmind, we recognise that half of all mental health problems start in school so we’re on a mission to improve mental health support for young people and reduce their mental health struggles as adults. Help us in 2022 by connecting us with the head of your children’s school, donating or learning more about our #Headucation campaign.
Want to learn more about some common mental health conditions? Sign up for our online mental health courses.