While for many people, the festive period is 'the most wonderful time of the year', it is important to be aware that for many people, the Christmas period can be incredibly challenging.
People with disordered eating may struggle with celebrations that centre around food and drink; people with complicated home situations may have difficulty navigating the family expectations linked to the holidays; people with anxiety or depression may find it hard to 'put on a brave face' for social events; and many people report feelings of loneliness or financial strain... And this is not just the case for people who have diagnosed mental health conditions: in fact, one study found that almost 60% of people have experienced panic attacks over the festive period.
In part one of a two part blog post series, we explore different ways you can look after your own mental health during this time. Keep an eye out for part two, coming next week, which will explore things that you can do to make things easier for other people who might be struggling.
Stay in touch with your emotions (and know they are valid)
Take some time every day (even twice, three times a day - as much as you need), to think honestly about how you are feeling. This can take various forms - a mindfulness practice, journaling, or just thinking while you walk or cook or take a shower.
This means that if you are happy, or content, then you can recognise and appreciate it all the more. But if you are sad, or anxious, or overwhelmed, you can acknowledge it, process it, potentially address it. Validate your feelings - whatever they are, they are there, and you have every right to feel them.
Set some time aside to do nothing
During the festive period, it seems like social gathering and family activities can just stack up and the time can get away... even for the natural extroverts among us, it can start to feel overwhelming, or it might manifest in the form of feeling under the weather or more tired than normal. Particularly in the years since the start of the pandemic, many people have reported feeling that their social battery has diminished.
If this is something that you relate to, or experience year after year, try and tackle it for 2021 by being proactive - practice putting yourself first by saying 'no'. Just because you have a free space in your schedule, that doesn't mean you have to make yourself available for others. Give yourself a break, and schedule that time to do nothing.
Pay attention to 'boring' self-care
There are two different varieties of self-care. The 'fun' self-care is probably what we are most used to seeing online - bubble baths and scented candles and spa days and wellness retreats. Fun self-care is a brilliant thing, and potentially something that you could look at doing during that scheduled nothing time. However, fun self-care's less glamourous little sister, 'boring' self-care, is arguably far more important. Boring self-care is just the basics - eating fruit and veggies, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep - that can so easily go out of the window during the holidays. It's not about saying 'no' to bubbly and vol-au-vants and late nights - it's just about making mindful decisions. How we feel physically is so closely tied to how we feel mentally, so paying attention to the boring stuff might actually lead to a more enjoyable festive season.
Manage your expectations
One reason that the holidays can leave people feeling flat is due to the weight of expectation. Don't get me wrong, the build up to the festive seasons is arguably one of the best things about it - but if we enter it thinking that all mental health difficulties, personal drama, and life stressors will magically melt away for the duration of the Christmas break, we will inevitably be disappointed. This is not to say that we should go into it with a negative attitude - but we should try and be realistic. When we are realistic, we can be prepared... which leads us to our next tip.
Rather than ignoring any worries, or letting them run rampant in your mind, give yourself some time to come up with any anticipated difficulties. If you struggle with feeling anxious in social situations, have a script ready for if you need to leave one. If a family member always makes unwelcome comments on your body, think about what you will do if/when that happens (whether that be related to setting boundaries with them or managing your own emotional response). If you experience burn-out from social situations, be prepared to be more selective about the invitations that you accept, and think about how you can turn some down without causing offence. Dedicating a time to think about your anxieties and potential solutions can help minimise the time spent overthinking and leave you feeling more in control.
Let people know
This is not limited to the festive period, but let people know that you are struggling, or that there is a possibility that you will struggle in any given situation. If you are recovering from an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, let someone know that you might be triggered by being around a lot of people drinking. If you find family occasions stressful, let a family member know in advance that you may need to take some time to yourself on Christmas day. Even if you are not asking them to help you out in any way, just knowing that someone knows (and knows that you aren't being rude if you don't join in at any point) can help ease some stresses.
Ask for help
However, once you let people know, you might feel able to ask them to help out in some way. If you ask, a friend may be willing to cover for you if you need an excuse to get out of a social event. If you are feeling lonely, try asking someone if they have a spare hour or two for a chat. If you find it hard to stop drinking, you could ask someone to just check in with you halfway through a party. People care, and people will want to help out if they can do so (especially if it's just something little).
This tip also goes for seeking mental health if you find you are really struggling. There are helplines that operate over the holiday period, including Samaritans (116 123) and Drinkline (0300 123 1110). Click here for a longer list of helplines operating over Christmas.
Did you find this blog post helpful? Share it with anyone you think might benefit from reading it, or leave a comment and help us start an open conversation about mental health and wellbeing! Happy Holidays!
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