Longer nights, Christmas lights, and jingles in the shops. T’is the season to be jolly – or is it? Christmas is a time of togetherness and joy for many, but for some, it brings challenges that affect mental health and wellbeing. If you’re less “All I want for Christmas is you” and more “All I want for Christmas is for it to be over” then you may be surprised to learn that you’re not as alone as you might think.
Indeed, a recent study found that life satisfaction dropped between November and December 2021 whilst there was a surge in anxiety and depression. Yes, during the holidays, people tend to suffer from low mood, with a spike in alcohol-related death, over the Christmas and New Year period.
So it’s an important time to come together and acknowledge the importance of coming together and seeking support if you’re struggling with your mental health at this time of year. Just know you’re not alone and help is available.
Even if Christmas and New Year’s are not important to you, they can still affect your mental health as they happen around you. Whether you’re trying to manage your mental health or someone else’s, this article aims to offer you some tips to follow over the festive season and beyond.
In What Ways Can The Festive Period Impact Mental Health?
- Some people feel excluded during this time of year, noticing others enjoy the holiday season as they struggle. I have a client whose Christmas has taken on a new meaning because of the loss of loved ones. It serves as a reminder of what’s missing because the absence of loved ones is especially felt since Christmas is always a time of coming together.
- For some Christmas adds pressure; they may not have enough money to cover costs which makes them feel guilty. This along with money worries can impact mental health and wellbeing.
- Another problem for some people is things like arranging childcare. And, if they must work, they may feel guilty they cannot spend time with the children.
- Travelling, busyness, and parties during the holidays can disturb sleep which can affect mental health.
- For others Christmas can be a grim time because of related life events. For example, if you had a difficult or traumatic experience during a previous Christmas because of the loss of a relationship, death, or other trauma. One of my clients suffered a horrendous experience which culminated in a very difficult festive period, bringing back reminders for him during this time, ever since.
- Some people feel lonely during the holidays and this is further heightened because of the abundance of happy images of people being together on social media and TV.
- Some people also feel overwhelmed because there is so much they have to do around the holiday period.
- If someone close to you is having a challenging time emotionally, the holidays may prove to be a challenge for you as well.
- You might get annoyed when others see Christmas in ways that differ from your experience and view of it. For instance, if others see it as a joy-filled time but you don’t.
- Christmas can be tough when pressure is applied, especially if you have ideals about how it should be. This can mean it feels forced rather than enjoyable. Or you might worry about it not meeting your expectations in some way.
- Some people use Christmas as a distraction from life. They may revel in the anticipation of Christmas and eagerly await the day but have difficulty once it has passed.
- Reduced access to services due to the holiday season can make it more difficult to cope. This is especially true if you’re already struggling or feeling bad because of Christmas.
- Some may be struggling this Christmas because of how they experienced lockdown.
- Being in hospital can make Christmas difficult as people can feel isolated and left out. This is exacerbated by visitation restrictions and not enough staff in hospitals.
- Your current mental health state might mean you are unable to experience Christmas the way you would have liked to.
- Some people like routine, especially when they are trying to manage their mental health. Christmas can disturb the usual structure in place, making the management of mental health harder.
- Non-Christians or those of other beliefs may not appreciate the emphasis placed on Christmas.
- The New Year can feel like a struggle for some people. This is especially true if they are ‘stuck’ in the past, and do not feel they are moving forward in life. This also makes the year ahead feel worse because one is feeling dissatisfied with where they are in life.
- Christmas can be stressful and difficult due to some of the above, this can exacerbate mental health problems, especially if you have a psychiatric disorder.
How To Make Christmas & New Year's Easier
- It can help to try to understand what makes the holiday season a difficult time for you. For practical problems, there are often practical solutions. If for instance, you’re struggling financially there are things you can do, like creating a budget, looking for financial support, and being honest with others. All of these can help reduce stress.
- If you’re having trouble around Christmas because you’re going through a breakup or have lost someone close, you may feel lonely. So, reaching out to friends or family (even over a video call), an online community, or a local organisation can help.
- It’s also helpful to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself. You could plan something nice for yourself, this might be an activity by yourself or with others. It’s also a good idea to plan something to look forward to, after Christmas.
- Some people do voluntary work because it can feel good to help others who may also be struggling in ways.
- Another option is therapeutic support. This may help you work through complicated issues that relate to this time of year or are heightened because of it. It’s okay and important to seek help from a professional if you’re feeling this way.
- If you’re unable to do any of these things, you can always contact services like The Samaritans to talk – or other similar services in your area. Do look online to see what’s available. It is important to realise that you may be struggling, but you don’t have to be alone.
So even though for many Christmas is a time of joy, filled with magic, wonder, food, and fun with friends and family, sadly this isn’t true for everyone. For some, the festive period can feel overwhelming or exacerbate an existing mental health problem, or remind them of things they’d rather forget. For others, the build-up to and during the festive period can be a welcome distraction from life and mental health difficulties, but when it’s over, the come down occurs.
So, I encourage you to reflect on the tips offered and explore what might make Christmas less daunting and more manageable. Take small steps, and with time, you might find yourself not just coping but even stepping up from this. Remember that you’re not alone, and help is always close by and if you think therapy could help you, reach out to us today.
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