Christmas and the festive period is meant to be a time of celebration, and for many it is. Eating, drinking, and spending more than we should so we enjoy the festive period. However, for those among us who suffer from mental health issues, this time of year can be difficult.
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Lots of people with, and without, mental health conditions can struggle over the festive period, especially in the run-up to Christmas Day. It is a very stressful time of year, especially due to the high expectations that come with this festive holiday.
So please remember, your feelings about the festive period are valid, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
According to a study conducted by Mind (2015), more than a third (36%) of people with mental health problems have resorted to self-harming to cope with Christmas. Hopefully, the advice in this post will help reduce that figure.
How Can Mental Health Get Worse At Christmas?
There are a lot of reasons why this festive period can be difficult for both those with and without mental health conditions. The following is a list of some of the reasons as to why our mental health can get worse due to Christmas.
The festive period can be a lonely time of year if you don’t have anyone you can celebrate it with. That’s because Christmas is promoted as a family get together. You’re bombarded with stories, songs, movies, TV shows, cards, posters, etc. all showing people coming together to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is probably the most important and most celebrated holiday of the year.
So if you don’t have anyone to celebrate this coming together holiday, then you could feel especially isolated.
We all know how expensive Christmas can be and read stories of people going into debt to try and provide a perfect Christmas. The number of gifts you can find yourself having to buy can soon add up, and then you have the food, drink, and social gatherings on top of that to pay for.
Six out of ten of us make sacrifices at Christmas in order to pay for presents, while 34% of us put Christmas on credit cards and loans because we have no other option - National Debt Advice Click To Tweet
The pressure to join in
There’s a lot of pressure to join in. You often have secret Santa, office parties, family gathering, obligations to see your friends, New Year’s Eve celebrations, and buying everyone and their dog a present. It can be a very demanding time of year.
Family can be a huge source of stress at this time of year. If you’re not fighting to get the ‘must-have’ presents for the kids, then you’re having to deal with huge crowds in the shops. Then there’s Christmas Day itself, where family members you might not have seen or spoken to all year, all come together on this day and get drunk. The result of which is often some sort of argument, because no one knows how to push your buttons like your family does. Because they created most of those buttons in the first place.
This one’s more applicable to those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, than our southern hemisphere summer Christmas people. As the weather gets darker and colder, the lack of light and vitamin D can make us more depressed.
This time of year can be especially bad if you’re recovering from addiction issues. The festive period is all about excess, be it food, gifts, or drinking. Pretty much everyone you know will be overindulging at this time of year. This could cause your cravings to work overtime during the festive period.
Loss can be heightened at this time of year, due to the nature of the festive period being the time you spend with all your loved ones. This is especially true if you’ve lost someone really close, and this is your first Christmas without them.
My friend, who I tried to help get over addiction and domestic abuse, really struggled with this time of year due to guilt over their father’s death (Abuse: Female Perpetrators, Male Victim).
Social media encourages us all to believe we should have a perfect Christmas. Piling on the pressure and stress as we compare ourselves to others and their preserved superior Christmases, which will affect our self-esteem.
How To Manage Your Mental Health
There are a number of options available to you to try and better manage your mental health over Christmas and the festive period. The following isn’t a complete list, so feel free to add more suggestions in the comments section below.
The festive period is no reason to put yourself in debt, especially if you’re then going to be spending the next 11 months paying it off. With us then repeating the cycle when Christmas comes back around.
Christmas doesn’t have to mean expensive gifts. Set a budget and stick to it. One of the ways my partner and I cut back on Christmas expenses is to only buy gifts for each other, and not our other family members. This is something I’ve pretty much always done, due to growing up in a poor single-parent family (I have a large extended family).
In the run-up to Christmas and over the festive period (especially New Year’s Eve), you might be invited to a lot of social engagements. From friends parties, the office Christmas party, and the New Year’s Eve pissup, you could have a lot on your plate. But you’re not obligated to do any of it.
If it’ll make your life less stressful to avoid some of, or even all of, these gatherings, then do so. Your wellbeing is more important than overextending yourself.
Keep your commitments to a level that is easy to manage and something that you’re comfortable doing. There’s a Christmas every year, so you can always do stuff with different people on alternate years.
Also, set your festive period boundaries and stick to them. No one should have to search for a secret Santa gift for someone from the office they know nothing about.
First, stop trying to please everyone. It’s an impossible task and it is okay if you don’t try to be everywhere or do everything. Christmas should be fun for you as well, not just everyone else you’re trying to make happy.
Setting yourself a budget for your Christmas shopping will also make your Christmas less stressful. For other tips on how to manage your stress, visit my post 17 Ways To Manage Stress.
Furthermore, don’t feel obligated to do anything, whether it’s your family or your friends. Only do what will make your Christmas be fun, but not overly stressful. Even if that means avoiding your family altogether.
Don’t forget to practice self-care, even over Christmas. The festive period is meant to be fun, so make sure to keep it that way. Instead of working yourself to the bone, make yourself a hot chocolate with whipped cream and sprinkles, put your feet up, and watch Die Hard, the best Christmas film ever made (if it’s set during Christmas, it’s a Christmas film).
Share your thoughts
Don’t keep your depression and loneliness to yourself, reach out and talk to someone. If you’re feeling stressed by trying to create the perfect Christmas, then talk to your family, they’ll help you reduce the stress and share the load.
Eating and drinking
You don’t have to go overboard with drinking and eating just because it’s Christmas. Instead, eat and drink in moderation, then you won’t feel guilty for how much you’ve consumed or how much you’ve spent in order to consume so much.
It’ll also mean you’ll spend less, have to shop less, have to cook less, won’t be hungover, and will help you avoid going into debt due to Christmas.
Keep/get in touch
Reach out to neighbours, family, friends, online friends, support groups, meetup apps, and community centres in order to help you feel connected over the festive period.
You don’t have to physically be there in order to spend time with people over Christmas and the festive period. You can talk online, through a messenger service or video chat.
If you’re still feeling lonely, you could also try one of the many support options I’ve listed on my Global Crisis Lines And Support page.
Taking vitamin D during the colder and darker months might help reduce the depression associated with this time of year.
Volunteering on Christmas Day and over the festive period is one way you could avoid feeling lonely, whilst also doing something good for the community.
Instead of spending money on buying decorations, you could make your own instead. You could also make it a family and friends activity.
For the last few years, my partner and I have been making donations over the festive period. We find out what’s needed for both our local food banks, and then buy a load of stuff from that list to donate to them. We also add baby supplies and feminine hygiene products as well.
Lower your expectations
If you want to be happier over the festive holiday and on Christmas Day, then lower your expectations. Perfection is impossible, so seeking perfection will only increase your stress and make the festive period a miserable one.
Take a break from social media if you think it will make you feel down over the festive period. You don’t need the external pressure to have the kind of experiences people are pretending to have on their social media accounts.
Blood may be thicker than water, but you can pick your friends, whereas you can’t pick your family, or can you? Pick the family you want to spend the festive period with, and by that, I don’t mean your blood relatives. Often the people we’re closest to, and who care about us the most, aren’t blood relatives but are the friends we’ve made over the years. Therefore, create a family from your friends to spend the festive period with.
Furthermore, you don’t have to spend time with people that are bad for your mental health, even if they are blood-related to you. I know I don’t.
If you’re recovering from addiction then there are a number of steps you can take to make the festive period easier to handle. You could try being honest with the people you’ll be spending the festive period with, that way they won’t try to pressure you into drinking.
If you’re not comfortable with telling the people you’ll be spending the festive period with about your addiction issues, then just tell one person to help and support you.
If you’re not even comfortable with telling one person, then work out a plan to manage the situation. You should do this even if you do tell one or more people about your addiction issues.
- Create a list of what you can do if you feel a craving coming.
- Practice saying no when offered a drink (think of a few excuses for why you’re saying no if that’ll help).
- Make sure there are enough alternatives to alcohol.
- Have a plan to leave if it becomes too much to handle.
- Check for hidden alcohol in cakes and desserts.
Planning ahead can help reduce stress and make Christmas and the festive period a little easier to manage. This is especially true if you’re recovering from addiction. Organising and prioritising what needs to be done will make getting ready for Christmas a far easier task.
For example, when buying food for Christmas dinner, make sure you buy food that is easy to cook together according to their cooking times and temperatures. Then work out which shelf and what time in the cooking process everything needs to be added during the cooking. That’ll save a lot of stress when trying to work it out on the day.
However, remember that things outside of your control can affect your planning, so add some extra time for the unexpected to be accounted for.
More than a third of Britons surveyed (34%) have already borrowed, or plan to borrow, money to cover the cost of Christmas presents this year – a figure equating to an estimated 16.9 million people - Money Advice Trust Click To Tweet
Boundaries are important to have regardless of the time of year. But make sure you have boundaries set up to make Christmas and the festive period as stress-free as possible. This time of year should be fun for everyone.
Prioritise your wellbeing, let your friends and family know what your boundaries are, find a balance between your obligations and your self-care, learn to say no, and take relaxation breaks whenever you need them.
Don’t take on looking after Christmas like a one-person army. Delegate to others who’ll also be joining you over Christmas and this festive period. Share the burden and reduce your stress.
How I’ve Celebrated Christmas Over The Years
Because I have a borderline personality disorder, I have very poor attachments to other people. I’ve never missed anyone and I’ve never felt homesick, even as a child. Although nowadays, due to my anxiety disorders, I always want to be at home, home on my own.
As a result, since I stopped living with my mum, I’ve basically skipped celebrating Christmas with other people. I’ve spent more Christmases on my own than I have with other people. This has always been done by choice, and I’ve turned down many invites from friends, family, and my mum in order to spend it alone.
Everyone else would normally leave to be with their family, allowing me to be on my own to celebrate Christmas. Which I celebrated by doing sweet fuck all. Bliss. Just me in my PJ’s, stuffing my face with chocolate not having to worry about anyone else but me.
The idea of spending Christmas with my mum is the worst thing I can think of. It’s hard to be around my mum because of her views, and as a result, it doesn’t take long for us to argue with each other. Stress I don’t need. Even talking to her on the phone is bad for my mental health, due to her sheer lack of empathy.
Nowadays I have little choice in the matter, since being with my partner. The first few years of being together, and when we were friends, they would come to mine for Christmas because they wanted to avoid spending it with their family. Also because I never stayed over at anyone else’s place.
The last few years I’ve been going to my partners so that their family could drive down on Christmas day, have dinner, and generally spend time together. But they’d only come down for the day, otherwise, I’d probably find a way to avoid it.
This year, however, it’s going to be just the two of us for Christmas Day. However, we have to visit my partner’s family a couple of days after instead.
I still hate sleeping over at other people’s places, even my partners. I don’t tend to have a good night’s sleep, I feel awkward being in someone else’s place, my anxiety runs high due to worrying about breaking out in spots, and I can’t drink alcohol because the day after it often causes a spike in my anxiety which makes it hard to leave.
Anyway, the point of me sharing my Christmas experiences is to highlight that it’s ok to do nothing for Christmas and it’s ok to spend it alone. You do you this Christmas and enjoy kicking back, watching movies, and stuffing your face.
I hope you all get to enjoy a wonderful, stress-free Christmas and festive period
Happy Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences of trying to enjoy Christmas and the festive period in the comments section below as well. Plus, let us know what your festive plans are and how you plan to make the festive period as stress-free as possible.
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