Looking after your mental health during the festive period


by Bianca Barratt

Looking after your mental health during the festive period

There’s a reason the festive period is often dubbed ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ - cosy nights in, snow, parties, presents and an overflow of wine and affection - what’s not to love?

The reality, however, isn’t always as rosy. Research from the mental health charity, Mind, shows that 1 in 5 of the 1,100 people surveyed have called a helpline over Christmas, 60% have experienced panic attacks and over three quarters have had trouble sleeping over the period. Thanks to the extra pressure to have fun, be sociable and spend more money at this time, people who struggle with issues such as anxiety and depression can find Christmas particularly difficult to navigate. 

You’re not alone

Christmas is such a “happy” time that it can be so easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re the only person who’s feeling anything other than 100%. The statistics from Mind, however, remind us that this isn’t actually the case. So many people suffer with mental health fluctuations at Christmas - in fact, the NHS found that 1 in 4 people in the UK are likely to experience them in some form or another at this time of year. In those moments when negative thought patterns begin and when you berate yourself for not being able to just enjoy it all “like a normal person” it’s worth remembering these statistics. Take a look around you - if the statistics are correct, you’re unlikely to be the only person in your workplace, your friendship group or even your family working through poor mental health.

From overcoming loneliness to overindulgence, here are some suggestions for looking after your mental health over Christmas. 

Loneliness

What with Christmas being one of the most sociable times of the year, it can also be one of the most isolating. Though statistics show that loneliness is particularly pronounced in the older community at this time of year (around half a million people in the UK expected to feel lonely last Christmas) it’s common in young people too - in fact, it was found in 2018 that young people actually feel loneliness more often and more intensely than any other age group. If you’re finding it hard to stave off feelings of isolation, either because you’re away from family and friends or suffer with social anxiety, ensure you make time to do the things that are meaningful to you - making time for hobbies or volunteering to help others in need can make a huge difference. Of course, the idea of ‘bringing down’ someone else’s mood by telling them how you feel at this time might not sound like an appealing prospect but the truth is, the people who care about you wouldn’t want you to suffer in silence. 

Bereavement 

The idea of going through Christmas when you’ve lost someone you love can seem unbearable - even if it’s not the first Christmas you’ve had to endure it. It can be one of the hardest times of the year if you’re bereaved, in no small part thanks to the pressure to be having a good time and the knowledge that other people get to celebrate with their friends and family. If you’re dreading December 25th for this reason, remember not to put pressure on yourself to have a good time. Finding ways to share memories of the person you lost without it feeling overwhelming can actually be helpful, whilst accepting help and avoiding isolation, though perhaps not initially appealing, can be hugely beneficial in the long run.

Health 

Thanks to a greater intake of alcohol, a propensity to overindulge and not sleep enough, the Christmas period can trigger dips in both mental and physical health. Considering the significant links we see between the gut and the brain, it’s little surprise that the food and drink we are consuming can leave us feeling under the weather mentally. Though it might seem like a good idea in the moment to turn to alcohol to calm the nerves, studies show that it can alter your brain chemistry, leaving you feeling worse than you did before. Focusing on balance and moderation (ensuring you continue to eat a nutrient-rich diet in between occasional festive indulgences and staying hydrated) will help keep your brain and body at optimum function, as well as help you avoid the fluctuation of bingeing (which is also known to be both a cause and effect of mental health issues).

Social Anxiety

Those who suffer with social anxiety can end up dreading the festive period. From parties to family gatherings, the whole thing can seem somewhat overwhelming. Whether you suffer from social anxiety or not, it’s important to remember that your mental health should take priority over any feelings of social obligation. If you are heading into a social situation that you’re not that keen on, however, go in with a contingency plan. Marking out a place to take time out quietly if the pressure gets too much and knowing what your exit strategy will be can be particularly helpful. If it’s the conversations that you’re worried about - perhaps your shyness is crippling or you find small talk excruciating, having topics of conversation planned out can help you feel more relaxed in the moment, as you won’t be casting around for things to say. 

Finances

It’s been reported that around five million people worry about money at Christmas. The pressure to spend more on gifts, events and clothing can become too much. Though the best thing to do is always to plan ahead and set aside money for the Christmas period, if you find yourself feeling anxious about it when the time arrives, try cutting back by making your own gifts, setting spending limits for each present or opting not to go to every party. 

If you are suffering from mental health issues and need someone to talk to, we suggest seeking the advice of a medical professional or calling a mental health helpline, such as any of those listed by the NHS.

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Post author

Bianca Barratt

Bianca Barratt is a freelance journalist specialising in lifestyle, culture and business features. She has written for titles including the Evening Standard, Independent, The Sunday Times, Refinery 29, Euronews, Sheerluxe and Forbes.com.