The festive season is often considered a time of joy and celebration. However, for many people it can also be a source of stress, anxiety, and even loneliness. A recent study showed that 64% of people with mental health difficulties report the holidays can make their mental health worse. If you’re living with a mental health condition, the pressure and stress of the holidays can also contribute to worsening symptoms.
Christmas and the holidays can be a time where loneliness and social isolation can be more deeply experienced and felt, due to the pressure from media and those around us to be with family, friends and community. Remember, this Christmas could be the first that a person is spending alone. It could be the first Christmas following the death of a loved one, or it could be the first Christmas following a relationship break up. It could be a time without family members who are unable to get home to spend the festive season with their loved ones. Family disputes may be happening for various reasons, resulting in loneliness and isolation within families, or past hurt coming to the surface. All of these reasons, including many more, can make the holidays a difficult time for many people.
Here are some insights and practical tips for maintaining mental well-being during the festivties:
Acknowledge and Manage Expectations: Thanks to the media and social media, it is very common for people to have high expectations for the holidays, imagining picture-perfect gatherings and flawless celebrations. However, reality often differs from these idealised scenarios, as life is not as perfect as it appears on TV or online. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Embrace the imperfections that come with the holiday season, whether it's a burnt dish or a less-than-perfectly decorated tree. Focus on the positive moments and the joy of being together. Recognising and adjusting expectations can help reduce stress and disappointment.
Plan Ahead for Stressful Situations: Anticipate potential stressors and plan coping strategies in advance. Whether it's a family conflict or a crowded shopping centre, having a plan can empower you to navigate challenging situations more effectively. Think to yourself “what are my stress signals? What are effective coping strategies when I'm stressed?”, have your mental health tools ready to go e.g. a mindful moment, taking a break and a breath
Self-Care Practices: Amidst the hustle and bustle, make sure not to neglect self-care. Allocate time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation. It is important to keep the Big 3 in mind - Sleep, Nutrition and Movement. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, balanced nutrition and some movement. Our routines often get mixed up over Christmas, and this is OK, but ensuring you are not loosing too much sleep, eating a balanced diet (along with the Roses and Christmas cake!) and getting some movement every day is important for our mental wellbeing. Remebering to take a mental break when needed. If you are someone who gets overwhelmed by crowds of people, which festivities often bring, make sure you build in some alone time (e.g. going to the bathroom, offer to make tea/drinks for a pause in the kitchen). Whether it's reading a book, taking a walk, or practicing mindfulness, prioritise self-care to recharge your mental and emotional batteries.
Set Realistic Boundaries: The holidays can bring a mountain of invitations and commitments. It's crucial to set realistic boundaries to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of festivities? Listen to your body, recognise when it feels to much and allow yourself to say no when necessary. You may need to prioritise certain events over others. Ensure you are aware of your personal boundaries and self-care to maintain a healthy balance.
Connect with Loved Ones: While the holidays can be a busy time, make an effort to connect in a meaningful way with family and friends. For some, the holidays can amplify feelings of loneliness.. Engaging in activities that foster connection can help combat loneliness. Social support is crucial for mental well-being. If physical gatherings are not possible, perhaps technology can be used virtual meet-ups and maintain open communication. When you are connecting with others, make sure you stay present by logging off from phone, and engaging in conversation. Is there someone you haven’t spoken to in awhile? Perhaps the holiday season is a perfect time to reconnect. If you find yourself alone, consider volunteering, joining community events, or reaching out to support groups.
Financial Awareness: Financial stress is a common concern during the holidays, and the pressure can exacerbate underlying mental health issues. Establish a budget early and stick to it to prevent unnecessary strain. Consider alternative gift-giving strategies, such as homemade presents or shared experiences like Secret Santa, to alleviate financial pressures.
Monitor Alcohol and Substance Use: The holiday season may involve increased social events where alcohol is present. Be mindful of alcohol consumption and its potential impact on mental health. Seek support if you or someone you know is struggling with substance use.
Seek Professional Support: If the holiday season brings significant distress, don't hesitate to seek professional support. Therapists, your GP and support hotlines (find Mental Health support numbers here) are available to provide assistance and guidance when things are difficult and feel overwhelming. If you wish to book a session with a Psychologist, you can book online here
By approaching the holiday season being mindfully aware of the difficulties that can arise, having realistic expectations, and a commitment to self-care, we can navigate the festivities with greater ease and protect our mental health. Remember that it's okay to prioritise your well-being and seek support when needed, ensuring a more positive and fulfilling holiday experience.
If you are struggling with worries or stress as the holiday season approaches and can’t seem to shake it no matter what you do, please reach out. We can explore this in a safe space in therapy and find ways to protect and improve your wellbeing over the festive period.
Wishing you and yours a peaceful and happy Christmas and New Year.