The Christmas period.
Often advertised as a warm, cosy and busy affair, filled with joy, family, friends and mountains of food, but that is not always the reality. An unintended side effect of the most wonderful time of the year is loneliness. The constant bombardment of images of couples shuffling around the shops, groups of friends laughing at Christmas markets, and families gathering around the table for a festive meal can understandably lead to feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, anxiety and depression.
When there is so much focus on togetherness, it can also highlight the people who may be missing in your life. The feelings associated with grief are amplified at this time of year, which can make the holidays feel daunting. The first thing to always keep in mind is that you are not alone. This is actually a very common feeling to have. Search engines all over the world report an increase in searches around mental health, stress, and the wellbeing of family members around the Christmas period.
Whether it’s not wanting to spend an extended period of time in close quarters with family members or feeling like you don’t have anywhere to go on Christmas, there are a whole host of complicated emotions that come with the season. From being constantly surrounded by people to financial stresses and strains to complex feelings around eating and drinking, Christmas can bring more stress and anxiety than joy.
Here are some tips to help you make it through the mental health labyrinth of the season.
1. Don’t feel like you have to participate
First off, don’t feel like you have to take part in any Christmas festivities. In the same way that you can say no to any party that you don’t want to go to at any other point in the year, you don’t have to go to Christmas parties, nights out, markets, or any other festivities.
Christmas is all about appreciating what you have and reflecting on the good things in your life. If going to family dinners is going to stress you out and end in an argument or awkward silence, don’t feel like you have to go. Looking after your mental health is not selfish, it’s a necessity.
2. Connect with people
On the flip side, Christmas is a good time to connect with people. By and large, people are in a more generous mood which is always good, and science tells us that being social helps us to improve our mood and well-being. This obviously depends on the people and your relationship with them. Make an effort to go on a walk with a friend, family member, or colleague.
If you don’t have anyone to ask, go for a wander and strike up a conversation with a barista, or call a helpline that allows you just to chat with someone socially. This helps to stave off loneliness and boost the production of feel-good chemicals in your brain.
3. Prepare your expectations
When we’re anxious, stressed, or prone to depression, we tend to think ahead and create scenarios of what we think is going to happen. Often they’re wildly inaccurate and only serve to rile us up or stress us out with hypotheticals. You need to take time to prepare and manage your expectations.
If you expect everyone to ask invasive questions about your personal life, you’re going to enter with your guard up and you’ll be really tense, meaning that any slight thing might set your off on a spiral. That’s not the headspace you want to be in.
Instead, be more realistic and think about why they’re asking these questions. It’s probably because they love you and they’re concerned about you. It’s coming from a good place even if it feels a little hostile in the moment. Prepare yourself for the good and the bad, and bring all the strategies and techniques you’ve learned in Leafyard so far. You’ve got all the tools to manage these scenarios, now you just need to put them to good use!
4. Unpack your feelings and thoughts with a journal
Speaking of tools and strategies at your disposal, when you start to feel overwhelmed, sad, lonely, or any kind of way, turn to your Leafyard Journal. Unpacking why you feel the way you do is going to help you take steps to address these feelings, flip them on their head, and rationalise. This is how we continue to build those healthy habits and how we’re able to handle those difficult situations when they arise.
5. Get outside
It’s a classic mental health technique at any time of the year, but at Christmas, getting outside is really important. Fresh air and nature are known to help with the symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, so take a wander around the block or further afield.
When you spend hours cramped indoors, facing a screen, nature can be medicinal. The reason we urge you to go outdoors today is that it’s proven that even looking at images of nature has a calming effect on your brain.
When it’s cold and wet, we don’t want to leave the warm cocoon of our house or flat, but if we stay in one place and start to ruminate, things tend to spiral out of control pretty quickly. Doing something active helps to keep negative thoughts at bay, and you can appreciate the warmth of your flat or house when you return from your frosty walk. That first sip of tea after you’ve been on a chilly walk is going to taste extra delicious!
6. Avoid social media
Look, we all know that social media isn’t exactly great for your mental health. Comparison culture is strong, especially at Christmas when everyone else seems to be having a tremendous time – even if that’s just a small snapshot of their lives, not necessarily the reality. The best thing to do is to have a social media detox and focus on yourself and the present. Social media is not an accurate portrayal of most people’s lives, it just shows off the best parts, leaving us feeling inferior as we scroll from our sofas. Give yourself a break.
7. Give yourself time afterwards to wind down
That leads us nicely to our last tip. After the festive period, a lot of us can feel deflated. No one knows what day it is, we’re in a cheese-induced coma, and we’ve got what’s being called “social jetlag”. When we’re around a lot of people all the time and then return home or are suddenly back by ourselves, it can take some adjustment. You might feel exhausted from having to be social or travel around different friends or family members. Give yourself the time, space, and permission to relax and reset for the year ahead. Do things that make you feel good, not anyone else. Go for a walk, watch a movie, have a stretch, or read that new book. Relax.
Some useful links and resources
Leafyard is a self-help web app that works out a personalised, structured approach to help you reduce stress and build better mental resilience. It takes the form of a journey, training and motivating you to take action, so you actually do the things that are scientifically proven to make you feel better.
The Mix offers free confidential help for under-25s to get support online and via a helpline:
- call The Mix free on 0808 808 4494
- text “THEMIX” to 85258
- visit The Mix website for a free online chat service
Silverline is a free 24-hour confidential telephone helpline offering information, friendship and advice to people over 55:
- call Silverline on 0800 470 80 90
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)
- 0800 58 58 58
Cruse Bereavement Care is designed to offer support for anyone who’s had a bereavement or who is dealing with grief.
- 0808 808 1677
Student Minds is a mental health charity that supports students.
- Text STUDENT to 85258