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  • Writer's pictureLeanne Goff

Coping with Christmas

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

“Give yourself permission to do less, don’t overlook your own needs, and leave plenty of breathing space so that you can fully enjoy the festive season” - (Image Magazine, 2021)

As the Christmas period is just upon us, in a time where everything seems to pass us by at an ever-increasing pace, this year comes with the extra mental load of yet another COVID Christmas, let’s just take a moment to think about the myth of this “most wonderful time of the year” and the reality of what that actually means for so many people.

Despite the festive cheer that Christmas can bring for some people, it can, at times, bring its own challenges, especially for the many people who find this period actually quite difficult. Let’s be honest here - for a lot of people, Christmas is a struggle. Christmas is lonely and sometimes it’s made all the worse by the presumption you should be feeling or acting a certain way. You should have people all around you who love you to bits and everything should be marvellous. But the reality is that life isn’t really like that for everyone.

Christmas is emotional for better and for worse. It is a time that brings families and friends together. It highlights the generosity of people. It can be humbling, loving and special but it is also a time where we need to mind our mental health. During a month where energy, bank balances and “happy appearances” are overstretched and heavy food and alcohol tend to be in no short supply, it’s quite understandable if your mental health can tend to waver.

Everything is exaggerated during this time. Our expectations can increase which in turn can lead to greater disappointment. We can put more pressure on ourselves financially and emotionally and we can even find ourselves expecting too much from others or denying ourselves what we truly want. Not to mention if you have lost a loved one and are facing into your first Christmas without them, or if you often have conflict with your family that can flare up when you’re forced to spend extended time with them.

All of this combined can have a very strong effect on our mental health and enjoyment of this holiday. We are more susceptible to triggers and pressure at this time. Anxiety and low mood can be increased. Our self-esteem and inner confidence can be challenged. The reality for a lot of people is that Christmas is a season with the potential to feel absolutely blissful or absolute torment with varying degrees in between and it can feel like navigating through a mine field of feelings and emotions. Negative thoughts combining with an expectation to enjoy ourselves can cause confusion, inner conflict and forces us to perhaps put a fake smile on our faces when all we might want to do is scream.

What to do to protect your mental health this Christmas…

1. Look out for each other and never assume how anyone might be feeling.

2. Don’t compare your life or your Christmas to other peoples (maybe give social media a break).

3. Lower your expectations, of others and yourself.

4. Spend within your means.

5. Limit alcohol, eat well and keep active.

6. Get out and go for a walk.

7. Be mindful that this time may trigger loss or grief.

8. Keep things in perspective.

9. Do one thing at a time.

10. Take time out for yourself.

11. Live in the moment.

12. Write stuff down in a journal.

13. Talk about your anxieties.

14. Sleep well.

15. Finally…Don’t forget to Breathe!

Just remember you’re not really much different from anyone else and if you are struggling this Christmas chances are tons of other people are too. Be kind to yourself. Stop the self-criticism that says you aren’t as good as others and that you are the only one whose life is crap – that just isn’t true.

So, whatever your plans this Christmas, ensure your mental wellbeing first and foremost on that all important to-do list, give yourself permission to do less, don’t overlook your own needs and leave plenty of breathing space so that you can fully enjoy the festive season.

Depression and anxiety can affect anyone at Christmas, regardless of age, sex or social status. It is not a sign of weakness and any of us can experience low mood, depression or anxiety at any stage in our lives. If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of depression or anxiety, start a conversation.

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