Tips to protect your mental health this Christmas

Christmas as we know can be a wonderful joyous time. It’s a time for giving and receiving, spending time with our families, friends and loved ones. However, with Christmas, there can be a lot of expectations, assumptions and psychological stress.

It is expected of us to be festive and cheerful and it is assumed that we are these. There is also an assumption that Christmas is loved and treasured by one and all. Psychological stress may be another factor perhaps stemming from financial crises, in particular if we are parents of young children who are looking for the latest, costly craze for Christmas.

Christmas can impact our mental health in a number of ways including emotionally, physiologically and psychologically. We may not have fond memories of Christmas growing up and therefore may not enjoy this particular time of the year. As Joan Mill’s famously said ‘Christmas is the keeping place for memories of our innocence’. We may have lost a love one or a family member and Christmas for us can bring about a sense of loneliness. We may be struggling financially and the added financial pressure may be overwhelming. We may feel under social pressure to be joyous and to express Christmas wishes. With the hustle and bustle of Christmas it can be very difficult to withstand all the celebratory music on the radio and in the shops along with the numerous festive TV ads and the decorations in the shop windows and on the streets. It can seem like there is no escaping this festive season, which can add to further despair, frustration and general negative, overwhelming thoughts and emotions.

What can we do to make ourselves feel better and mind our mental health at this particular time of year? Unfortunately, we cannot do anything about the fact that it’s Christmas. The fact is that it is Christmas. We can however try to change how we feel about it, not necessarily embracing it just accepting that yes it is Christmas but I don’t have to like it. Remind yourself that it is only for a short while, it is a season and seasons last for a particular period of time.

If our memories from our childhood aren’t the most pleasant and are upsetting it is important to be kind and gentle to yourself. Allow yourself some quiet time to reflect on past experiences and explore any upcoming emotions. Remind yourself that it is now in the past and return to the here and now and go about your day as usual. Reflecting on past experiences can be painful and upsetting so it is beneficial to increase your self-care at this stage, such as doing something you enjoy, meet or speak with a friend or even enjoy a nice sweet treat. It’s not going to change or take away anything that has happened in the past but being kind to ourselves as non-judgementally as we can is very beneficial to our mental well-being. The same can apply if we have been bereaved. Spend some time reflecting and remembering the deceased person. You may decide that Christmas now is a time for new traditions such as visiting the raveside on Christmas day.

From a financial perspective, it is important to try to keep your budget as realistic as possible. Getting into debt is never a good idea. Having debts can be an added stress and worry and can increase our anxiety levels. If we realistically cannot afford to purchase certain gifts then perhaps a cheaper alternative or a different gift option may have to be considered. In a study done by Tim Kasser and Kennon Sheldon in the Journal of Happiness titled ‘what makes for a merry Christmas’ (2002) it was reported family and spiritual activities at Christmas made people more satisfied while the materialistic aspects of Christmas undermined wellbeing.

In general, it is assumed that everybody loves Christmas and it is a time to be embraced and celebrated. However, not everyone is a fan of the festive season, for various reasons. It is helpful to remind ourselves that we have a choice. We can choose to celebrate Christmas in a way that makes us feel happy and comfortable. If hanging decorations isn’t for you then don’t do it. If attending parties or social outings is not something that you look forward to and genuinely don’t enjoy then don’t attend. You may decide to meet some friends for a coffee or have lunch with family members. If being around certain people at this time of the year is upsetting then try to limit the time you spend with that particular person.

However, you decide to celebrate Christmas it is important to mind your mental well-being. Do something nice that YOU enjoy, some quality ‘me time’. Stay connected with people whom you enjoy communicating and being with. Try and get some exercise, go for a walk, yes it is cold outside but nothing a warm coat and hat won’t fix. Fresh air and exercise can have such a positive impact on our mental health. Meditation is also very beneficial. It can help to reduce stress and promotes emotional health. The following links may be helpful for those interested in pursuing meditation.

Sinead Fahy