Looking after your mental health over the Christmas period
The media portrays the festive season as a time of happiness, gifts, and great company. While this is some people’s experience, for others it can be a challenging and lonely time. The festive period can affect our mental health in many different ways.
Whether or not Christmas is part of your life, your mental health might be affected by it happening around you. It’s a time of year that often puts extra pressure on us and can affect our mental health in lots of different ways.
For example, if you:
- feel alone or left out because everyone else seems happy when you’re not
- wish you didn’t have to deal with Christmas or find it stressful because of other events in your life
- feel frustrated by other people’s views of a ‘perfect’ Christmas, if these feel different to your experiences
- want to celebrate with someone who’s struggling
Tips for coping during Christmas
If you find Christmas a difficult time of year, here are some tips to help you cope:
Be gentle, generous, and patient with yourself
- It’s ok to prioritise what’s best for you, even if others don’t seem to understand.
- Think about what you need and how you might be able to get it.
- Consider talking to someone you trust about what you need to cope
Think about what might be difficult about Christmas for you, and if there’s anything that might help you cope. It might be useful to write this down. For example:
- If you sometimes experience flashbacks, panic attacks, or dissociation, make a note of what helps during these moments, and keep it with you.
- If you’re going to be somewhere unfamiliar for Christmas, think about what you need to help you cope. Are there things you can bring to make you feel more comfortable? Or is there somewhere you can go to take a break?
- Certain places may feel very uncomfortable for you, for example, if they bring back difficult memories. Could you plan to spend less time in difficult places, or not go at all? Are there any reasonable excuses for you to stay away?
- Think about whether you really need to do things if you’re not looking forward to them. Can you do them differently or for less time?
- Make a list of any services that you might need and their Christmas opening hours. Our page of useful contacts has some suggestions.
- If you’re worried about feeling lonely or isolated this Christmas, think of some ways to help pass the time. For example, this might be doing something creative or spending time in nature.
- If you are in a hospital or a care home, see what activities might be running over Christmas that you might want to take part in.
- If you can’t be with the people you want to see in person, you could arrange a phone or video call to catch up with them on the day. Or try to arrange a visit around Christmas, if there is a time when it’s possible to meet.
- Try to plan something nice to do after Christmas. Having something to look forward to next year could make a real difference.
- If other people’s questions are difficult, you could think of some answers in advance so you’re not caught off guard. For example, about your plans or how you’re doing.
- Think about how to end difficult conversations. It’s ok to tell someone you don’t want to talk about something, or to change the subject. It might help to practise what you’ll say.
- Suggest an activity or an easy way to move on, if you want to help end an unwanted conversation. For example, this could be playing a game or taking a screen break if you’re on a video call.
- If other people don’t seem to understand how you’re feeling, you could share this information with them. You could also think about writing down how you’re feeling and sharing this with them if conversations are difficult.
Look after yourself
- Set a ‘start’ and ‘finish’ time for what you count as Christmas. Remind yourself that it won’t last forever.
- Set your boundaries. Say no to things that aren’t helpful for you
- Let yourself experience your own feelings. Even if they don’t match what’s going on around you, they’re still real and valid.
- Take time out. Do something to forget that it’s Christmas or distract yourself. For example, you could watch a film or read a book that’s set in the summer. Or you could try learning a new skill.
- Let yourself have the things you need. For example, if you need to take a break instead of doing an activity, or need a little bit of quiet time.
- If you can’t avoid something difficult, plan something for yourself afterward to help reduce the stress or distress you might feel.
Talking to other people
- Let people know you’re struggling. It can often feel like it’s just you when it’s not.
- It doesn’t have to be people who are already in your life. You could join an online community to talk to others who have similar experiences to yours. Mind’s online community Side by Side is a safe place to connect with others who understand what you’re going through.
- Tell people what they can stop, start or continue doing to help you. For example, you could let them know any activities you’d like to be involved in, and what they can do to support you during Christmas. Or you could tell them any questions or topics that you find hard to discuss, so they can avoid asking about them.
- You don’t have to justify yourself to others. But you might feel pressured to, especially if someone asks a lot of questions. It could help to let them know that certain situations are difficult for you and tell them what they can do to help. It might also help to tell them that you understand they may see things
in a different way.
- You might not be able to make others understand. That’s OK. It’s not your responsibility to convince other people or get their permission to look after yourself.
If you’re struggling this Christmas, you may want to find support for your mental health. There are a few ways that you can do this:
- Call Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone). They’re always open. They have a Welsh language line too.
- Text SHOUT to 85258. This is a free 24/7 crisis text service run by Shout