It’s that time of the year again, it seems as though we simply blinked and Christmas is already in full swing. People around the world are rushed off their feet going from event to event, visiting family and friends, going to work parties with little time to relax. While trying not to take anything away from the much needed festivity and being referred to as the Grinch (there are worse people to be compared to lets be honest), I wanted to take some time to discuss the difficulties that those with Mental Illnesses may face this Christmas and some tips on managing it.
Now it might come as a surprise, but although many people (not all! major respect to those working the holidays) are taking time away from work and education for Christmas, Mental Health doesn’t get the privilege of taking a break. There seems to be so much pressure around this time, even if you do not celebrate it, everywhere you turn you are reminded of Christmas, and how it is a time to celebrate and be the life of the party. From songs, to TV, to film, to decorations you are shown what the perfect Christmas should look like surrounded by loved ones having the time of your life, after all it’s the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ isn’t it? Christmas may be a time of festive cheer and celebrations but it can also bring along stress and anxiety, particularly for those experiencing mental illnesses so it is important to ensure that people suffering are given the same level of care as those with physical diseases. It is no different than if a loved one had diabetes or an allergy that you know about, it is accepted and understood and it is accommodated, this should be no different with mental illnesses.
Thankfully we’ve gone over the tipping point that is the shortest day of the year and days will only get longer and brighter from here. However, in the lead up to Christmas there is the additional struggle of ‘Winter Blues’, the days are short, the hours are dark, motivation plummets and everyone sinks into hibernation mode which can worsen a persons mental health. Then you’ve got this sudden pressure to be a ‘social butterfly’, the numbness making you feel cold-hearted and finding yourself relating to Ebenezer Scrooge, negative self-talk becomes louder and not to forget the type of ‘loneliness’ felt despite being surrounded by loved ones. It’s overwhelming, debilitating and just really quite scary. You get so caught up in this expectation of what the season should be like, rather than allowing yourself to appreciate the holidays and taking some time for self-care.
MIND carried out a survey involving 1100 of their supports; this found that 36% of people with mental health issues have self-harmed during the holiday season. It also showed that more than half of those surveyed had considered harming themselves at Christmas, while 45% have considered taking their on life. Further to this 76% stated having problems sleeping at Christmas and 60% reported panic attacks over the holidays. The reasons for this vary from person to person, but within the survey 41% discussed financial difficulties, 83% stated feeling lonely and 81% found their stress levels increased.
It is so important that we all look out for one another and show each other that we care. It takes a lot of strength for someone to say ‘I need help’, however it doesn’t hurt for you to bring up the subject and ask how your loved one is coping this Christmas. This doesn’t have to be ‘directly’ talking about mental health, but simply spreading love, understanding and peace. By listening, being appreciative and spending time with loved ones.
Not to forget the importance of looking after ourselves too! I think the most important thing that someone said to me this week was “Putting yourself first does not make you selfish, in fact it makes you selfless for acknowledging that you are not in the best position to provide support right now” and I think that is really important to understand – after all you can not pour from an empty cup. It doesn't make you a bad person for prioritising yourself; it simply means you’re allowing yourself to show self-love. I have included some tips for Christmas wellbeing below that I hope can help.
Tips for Christmas Wellbeing
It is okay to admit that you are struggling and that you are not okay. Nobody is expected to be okay 100% of the time, and although it may seem as though the rest of the world is in this huge 'Happy Festive Bubble', that is not the case and you are not alone in your struggles and it is very common to be experiencing increased stresses over this time.
2. Take a break
Give yourself time to take a moment to yourself. The run up to Christmas, buying presents, writing cards, wrapping presents, sending cards, buying food, buying drinks, cooking food, serving drinks.... gosh it is hard work... but what will make it even harder is not allowing yourself a break, you will end up overworking yourself and becoming run down and flagging before Christmas arrives. On Christmas, I don't know about you guys, but my house is... well chaotic to say the least, presents everywhere, gift wrappers all over the place, food and drinks on every table, all the family visiting... It is okay to take yourself away, go to a quite room for a bit, you don't have to be in the 'centre' of all the goings on for the entire day.
Do I really need to give an explanation to this one? Pyjamas are awesome okay, they are like clothes (okay they are technically clothes), but more comfy, cosy and relaxing! Allow yourself to feel relaxed and dare I say it be a couch potato (for a bit, don't get too comfortable in one position).
4. Fresh air
Had your Christmas dinner? If you are able to, why don't you go for a walk, as short or as long as you'd like. Good to walk off all that turkey, and getting outside can provide some much needed calmness! Please dress for the weather, do not want to be blamed for any hypothermia (although maybe the above tip could come in handy here - I think my neighbours are past the point of judging me for being outside in my PJs).
5. Don't believe the hype
Ah the good old media! Not just films and TV shows, but social media too often depicts everyone to be having incredibly wonderful and happy Christmas surrounded by loved ones. Please remember that what is published online is simply what that person is allowing you to see, this may not paint the whole picture, I mean it might well do, in which great you go Glen Coco (did I just make a mean girls joke... oh dear!). Please do not compare yourself to others and do not compare your Christmas experience to that of others.
Get yourself to bed early Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is likely to be a long and tiring one and for those with or living with young children you will know that a nice lay in will not be part of your Christmas presents because there is too much excitement of what Santa has left. If you need a little power nap in the day, you blooming well have that power nap, I undoubtably will be!
Speak to your loved ones, if you are with them have a nice conversation over dinner. If your loved ones are distant give them a quick call to send your love and wish them a Merry Christmas. Small acts of kindness go a long way.
8. Treat yourself
YOU'VE SPENT HOW MUCH?!?!? - A direct quote taken from my bank account to me. I am sure there are many of you in the same boat, realising how much you've spent over Christmas. How many of you though have brought yourself a little gift? I'm not talking about buying a car here, something simple maybe a nice face mask, your favourite chocolate, a dvd to watch? You have probably brought presents for family and friends but not worried about yourself. Go out and treat yourself (to an extent, please do not drain your bank accounts).
9. Limit alcohol
The holidays bring along a lot of celebratory spirit (and spirits) no okay that wasn't funny... anyway... This time of year tends to involve a lot of 'social drinking', although you may not feel as though its an issue for you and you feel more comfortable and relaxed after a glass or two it is important to remember that alcohol is a depressant and drinking in excess can cause low mood, irritability and behaviour changes.
If possible try to keep up with any exercise routine you have, or try and add a little into your day. The activity will release endorphins, the feel good chemical, which will lead to a boost in your mood. This can be something like taking a walk after Christmas dinner, or get into the winter feel and head to an ice-skating rink!
There are plenty of volunteering opportunities out there and Christmas is a great time to volunteer for a charity or local organisation. By doing do you will be providing essential support and encouragement to others in need. Helping others is also known to be good for your own mental health and wellbeing, reducing stress, improving mood, increasing self-esteem and happiness and in some cases even benefits your physical health!
11. Learn to say “No” or “Yes” more often.
Vocalise your needs. Which leads me to the final point
12. Let go
Don't try and do everything and please everyone, you need to be your priority. Put yourself and your own wellbeing first. Please do not stretch yourself so thin that you have nothing left for yourself. You are important.
Extra Support over the Holidays
Samaritans has launched its #RealChristmas campaign to encourage us all to be more honest about our feelings over Christmas. As part of the campaign, the charity has created vouchers you can download and print from its website, offering loved ones “the gift of listening”. The charity’s phone lines will also remain open over the holidays, for anyone who needs to talk.
Feelings of loneliness can feel stronger at Christmas. If this is something you’re struggling with, you might find MINDs tips on coping with loneliness helpful. Christmas time can also bring up a whole lot of practical and emotional issues, which can be really stressful. MINDS also have some info on coping under pressure, which may help. MINDs info on eating problems, how food affects your mood and alcohol may be helpful for people who are struggling with the amount of food and drink around in the coming week. The pressure to spend money on presents, decorations and travel can also trigger a lot of money issues. Check out the info from MIND on managing money here.
You can also see my 'Additional Support' page for more signposted support.
That’s all from me, but for now enjoy your Christmas-eve, watch some good(trashy) TV. Get some sleep. Eat some mince pies. Communicate with others. Keep your shining like the star you are and allow yourself to enjoy whatever kind of Christmas you’ll be having this year without comparing it to anyone else’s Christmas.
A final note from the Queen that is J.K Rowling "Remember, Christmas Day is, in the end, just a day. It isn’t a test or a scorecard of you or your life, so be kind to yourself".
Sending Positive Vibes