How can Christmas affect your mental health?
For many, Christmas is a time of celebration, eating, drinking, spending time with loved ones, and generally enjoying the festive spirit. However, for those who struggle with a mental health condition, the yuletide season can be difficult.
In this blog, we outline the impact that Christmas can have on your mental health, especially in relation to some of the most common mental health conditions that people may experience. We will also provide some top tips for coping during the festive period, and how you can minimise the effects that this time of year has on your mental health.
Addictions and Christmas
It’s undeniable that one of the biggest features of the party season is alcohol. It’s also a time for parties and social gatherings, such as work Christmas parties, family get-togethers and New Year’s Eve, where the alcohol is likely to be flowing.
For people who are in recovery from addiction, the increase in temptation at this time of year can be extremely difficult to deal with. Not only does alcohol seem to be everywhere, but people are more likely to want to persuade you to get ‘merry’ and have a drink with them. With all of the festivities, it’s possible for you to find yourself ‘swept up’ in the yuletide spirit, and what can start off as one innocent drink, can soon lead to relapse.
This is why it’s so important to take steps to stay sober, abstinent and in control of your recovery over the festive period.
- Try and spend the majority of your time with friends and family who are supportive of your recovery
- Watch out for alcohol hidden in cakes and puddings
- If you must attend an event where alcohol is being served, have a plan in place to leave the moment you start to feel uncomfortable
- Remember that Priory offers a free addiction assessment, should you need professional help
Depression and Christmas
Society drums into us the idea that Christmas is a time of joy, laughter, cheerfulness and partying. However, for people who struggle with depression, the constant reminder that you should be happy can make you feel even worse.
The symptoms of depression, including intense sadness and feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, can be especially hard to deal with at Christmas, when everyone around you seems to be in a good mood. This can make you want to withdraw from other people – which again, can be difficult during a season filled with parties, social events and get-togethers.
If you have depression, it’s so important to be kind to yourself over the Christmas period, and try not to let everyone else’s high spirits make you feel even worse about yourself and your condition.
- Speak to a family member or friend about how you’re feeling. It is often the case that a problem shared is a problem halved, and they may be able to shield you from the expectations of the season
- Avoid alcohol and drugs - you may want to take these substances to try and make yourself feel better in the short-term, but in the long-term, they can make you feel a lot worse
- Try and be positive - write down three positive things about your life every night before going to sleep and reflect on these when you wake up in the morning
- Get yourself ‘out there’ – try attending a gathering or other form of social event over Christmas, especially with your closest family and friends. Go with an open mind, and you might find that you enjoy yourself
Anxiety and Christmas
Everything seems to be heightened and more intense at Christmas – from music and lights to traffic and crowds. We also put greater expectations on ourselves and others. This can be daunting for most people, but especially if you struggle with anxiety.
People with social anxiety disorder may find the prospect of having to attend festive parties and gatherings overwhelming. If you struggle with panic disorder, the intensity and frequency of your panic attacks may increase at this time of year, with so much going on around you. Generalised anxiety disorder can mean that all of your usual worries are intensified during the festive period, and you may find that you’re anxious about a huge range of issues, meaning that you’re unable to relax.
- Try making a ‘problem list’ of all of your worries, and then try to tackle each one in turn rather than allowing yourself to become overwhelmed. Ask yourself: “what is the worst thing that could happen”?
- Challenge your negative thoughts - ask yourself whether your anxious thought is a ‘fact’ or an ‘opinion’. If it’s an opinion, you may be getting anxious for nothing
- Breathe! Whenever you’re feeling anxious, simply breathing in and exhaling, slowly and deeply, can help your body settle down to a more natural, resting state, and reduce your feelings of anxiety
Stress and Christmas
There’s no doubt about it; Christmas can be stressful. Cooking, buying presents, keeping children entertained, decorating your home, going to events, cleaning up after family gatherings – the list of tasks is endless, and for people who struggle with chronic stress, this time of year can be overwhelming and exhausting.
Not only is Christmas an incredibly busy time, there’s also the added pressure of financial worries and feelings of guilt if you can’t afford to buy your children or loved ones the presents that they really want.
Social media can also play a role in exacerbating your stress during the holiday season, as comparing yourself to others’ seemingly ‘perfect’ Christmas can leave you feeling like a failure for not having the best decorations, tree, food or presents.
Overall, the festive season can be a major catalyst for stress, which is why it’s so important to take steps to look after yourself and try and minimise this.
- Stop trying to please everyone – it’s OK if you don’t try to be everywhere or do everything
- Set yourself a budget for Christmas shopping and stick to it
- Spread out your diary – try and schedule events in November and January instead of focusing them all in December
- Take a break from social media and stop comparing yourself to others
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and Christmas
For people who struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the change in routine and the general level of activity that goes on at Christmas can make your symptoms even worse.
For example, if you experience obsessions that centre around germs and contamination, coming into contact with more people over the festive period, and being in new surroundings such as other people’s houses and parties, can make these intrusive thoughts more frequent and severe.
Similarly, if you experience irrational beliefs that you are going to harm another person or say something inappropriate, these intrusive thoughts may be heightened due to being in more social situations at this time of year.
If your OCD compels you to make sure that certain objects are arranged in specific ways, the general change in your usual environment due to Christmas decorations, presents and wrapping, as well as people visiting and potentially rearranging things, can also be incredibly difficult to deal with.
- Talk to a relative or friend about how you’re feeling, and agree on ways in which they can support you throughout the Christmas period
- Eat as healthily as possible, make sure you get plenty of rest, and surround yourself with positive influences
- Try and let your intrusive thoughts pass you by, without becoming overwhelmed by them. Also, try to challenge your negative beliefs and the meanings you attach to your obsessions and compulsions. These are some of the techniques used in mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – two of the most effective ways of treating OCD
Christmas is exhausting, and can be overwhelming for all of us. However, if you find that the pressures of Christmas are getting too much, and are having a negative impact on your health and wellbeing, it’s important to seek specialist help.
Our expert teams of psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses and other mental health professionals at Priory are dedicated to helping you every step of the way towards overcoming your difficulties, and enjoying the festive season as much as possible.