Coping at Christmas - 5 top tips to look after your mental health
We understand the pressure that Christmas can put on your mental health. The season’s expectations can take their toll on many of us, so you’re not alone. We’ve outlined five tips to help you cope with this time of year during the coronavirus pandemic.
The pressure to have a good time during the festive season can feel overwhelming if you are dealing with poor mental health and emotional difficulties. In addition, navigating through Christmas during the COVID-19 pandemic may bring lots of additional stresses that make it even more difficult to relax and enjoy the holidays.
Here are five suggestions for ways to deal with Christmas in 2020:
1. Avoid unhelpful social comparisons
Comparing ourselves with other people can have a big effect on how we feel. Sometimes this can be a good thing, motivating us to do better when we’re inspired to achieve the same as those we admire.
However, if we don’t think we measure up to those we see online, it can have a negative impact on our self-esteem. Social media and consumer advertising can make this worse, leading to a treadmill of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, especially at Christmas.
Limiting exposure to social media and television adverts over the Christmas period can help to reduce this. This is particularly key in 2020, as we have come to depend more on the online world for connection and entertainment.
2. Have realistic expectations about family gatherings
The best-selling psychologist Dorothy Rowe, who has written many books on depression and mental wellbeing, points out that we put special significance on Christmas as a ‘time for family’. In 2020, this significance may be even greater, as it has been a year when many people have had to spend less time with loved ones.
If COVID restrictions mean that you aren’t spending time with certain family and friends this Christmas, we understand that this will be hard. There are ways to manage this distance, however. Use technology to schedule get-togethers and catch-ups over video, perhaps playing games and opening presents over Zoom. And remember, this too shall pass – Christmas is only a short time and the New Year looks hopeful for many people being able to see each other again at some point.
If you are spending Christmas with a small family group as per government guidelines, the expectation that the festive season is a ‘time for family’ can add further pressure on already strained relationships, particularly among people who don’t see each other often and aren’t used to spending so much time together. Being realistic about what you can expect from this time will help to avoid disappointment and arguments, which might then make it easier to heal family rifts.
3. Participate in your local community
For even more people than usual this year, Christmas can be a time of increased isolation. This loneliness can be particularly painful for those who have suffered bereavements, which many people have struggled with as a result of the pandemic.
If you’ve lost loved ones in 2020, we understand that it is likely to feel extremely difficult coping with the first festive season without them. However, many organisations offer support at Christmas, so finding out what is available in your local area may provide you with a powerful source of support.
Local libraries, community centres and newspapers are good sources of information.
Volunteering can also be a good way of reducing loneliness and giving you a sense of purpose if you’re spending Christmas alone this year.
If you feel like you need to talk, The Samaritans also provide free, confidential, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week support on 116 123. For more information, visit: www.samaritans.org.
4. Take a break
Allow yourself to take time out if you find your stress levels rising. You may want to head out for a walk, go out for a coffee or listen to music - whatever will help you to relax or unwind. Of course, we understand that this can be hard to do if you have a lot of responsibilities, so plan your opportunities for breaks in advance. For example, you could arrange with your partner to take the children out for a few hours to give you a break, or manage relatives’ expectations by saying that you have planned some downtime.
Saying no can be difficult if you feel pressured by family and friends; however, setting limits is crucial for your own wellbeing. Sometimes having a ‘script’ can be helpful – try and anticipate how others might respond to your request for some distance and think about how you can express your feelings in a way they will understand. For example, you could say: “That sounds like a lot of fun, but I’m quite tired and would prefer to get an early night.”
This applies to socially-distanced catch-ups too – even Zoom calls can be draining on our energy and you might prefer to spend your precious time at Christmas staying offline.
5. Everything in moderation
It can be tempting to over-indulge at Christmas, particularly as we navigate our way through spending time largely at home. However, there can be negative side-effects from too much excess, such as feeling guilty afterwards, feeling physically bloated and unwell, increased negative emotions from alcohol, which is a depressant, or interference with prescribed medication.
Try to avoid overindulgence, whether you’re home alone or in the company of others – don’t be afraid to politely decline if you’re a guest at someone’s house.
Try to do some exercise too, outdoors if possible, as evidence increasingly suggests that outdoor activity can provide endless benefits to our health and wellbeing, which is truer than ever this year as our time outside of the home has largely been reduced.
For further information and support, see the following links:
- Dealing with bereavement at Christmas
- Eating disorders at Christmas
- General mental health information