Figures from YouGov and the Mental Health Foundation show 25% of people experience a downturn in their mental health over Christmas, and 54% of people are worried about someone else’s mental health over Christmas. In addition, 83% of people feel lonely, while 81% feel stressed and 47% of people are worried about debt. As this research was carried out before the current squeeze on the cost-of-living, those worried about debt are likely to have increased in number.
In the light of those shocking figures, we approached Mental Health First Aid trainer, Andy Elwood, to suggest ways to help make the festive season more manageable for those not looking forward to it.
There are a number of reasons why people may not be looking forward to Christmas, are worried about it, or find Christmas a difficult time of year. Some are being forced to spend time with friends and family, possibly in a place that they don’t want to be, or for a length of time that they don’t want to be.
For others, someone is missing from their life who they used to really enjoy spending Christmas with. Also, it leads up to the end of year, and the start of the new year. That can be a very reflective time, which can add to the difficulty. These are some of the common issues, so I will suggest some ways to navigate this potentially difficult time best, either for yourself, or if you’re supporting someone else who finds this time of year difficult.
The main message I want to pass on is, this is really common. You’re not alone in feeling like this. Talking about it, realising others are feeling this too, helps people to normalise the situation. If this is how you feel, talk about it and appreciate you’re not odd or showing a sign of weakness. So, however you’re feeling about Christmas, here are a few top tips that may help you cope better with it.
First of all, pay attention to how you’re feeling. Don’t always put yourself last. And make time to check in with yourself. Am I feeling good? Do I have enough energy? Be kind to yourself. If you’ve not slept well, or you’re feeling low, if you’ve not got much energy, that is okay. Choose an option that suits you that day. When we start to keep a track of how we’re feeling on different days for different reasons, we start to build more self-awareness. And that’s really positive for learning more about ourselves and what helps keep us well.
There’s also the potential for a lot of excess at this time of year. So, a key suggestion for many people is, have a little bit of everything in moderation. Don’t do things to excess. If you are feeling vulnerable, not on top of your game, be kind to yourself. Try and strike a balance. If we’re thinking about food, have some healthy options as well as all the treats that are out there.
Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water as well as the alcohol you may be offered. Too much alcohol can put us on a downward spiral when we are experiencing poor mental health. There are plenty of non-alcoholic options out there now that are fantastic. We can socialise, feel as if we’re part of the mix, have a relaxing, delicious refreshing drink, but without the alcohol.
If we’re paying attention to ourselves and how we’re feeling, the next thing is scheduling some time. Putting time aside for ourselves and what helps us feel good and well. If that means having some quiet time in the day, schedule that in. If you’re staying with other people, or if people are staying with you, let them know you need that time, and that you’ll enjoy being with them later on.
It could be that you need some exercise. Perhaps you need to get out for a walk by yourself, or just some quiet time in the bath. Staying with other people, or having them staying with you, can be disruptive, so schedule some time for what you need to help you feel good.
The five ways of wellbeing are also important to remember at this time of year. Based on research, the five things that give us positive mental health are:
- Connecting with people who give us an uplift. So, connect with those people.
- Exercise – move more. Have some movement in your Christmas. Plan to do some exercise on Christmas morning before the big meal.
- Mindfulness or relaxation. Live in the moment. Use your senses. We can do that when we’re preparing and enjoying meals together. Use our senses of smell, taste, touch.
- Give something back. That’s not just about giving presents. It might be giving a smile, or a special thank you. Giving our time to help someone out. A lot of us volunteer at Christmas and that can be really good for us, too.
- Keep learning. Learn something new. It doesn’t have to be something formal, it can be a new recipe, how to use, play with, or enjoy a Christmas present you’ve been given. Or watching a nature programme on the box. There are lots of educational things out there that we can do to learn something new.
Setting boundaries is also important. Remember it’s okay to say ‘no’sometimes. There’ll be lots of invitations, and people saying, ‘Oh, go on. You’ll enjoy it. You need to be there.’ But it’s okay to say ‘no’ and make that choice for you.
It’s helpful to plan ahead and identify what situations, people, or events, might be difficult for you, and choosing which ones you want to go to. By planning that ahead it can help to take the pressure off.
If you’re finding that difficult, you can do it in the cold light of day, maybe with a supportive friend, or family member. You could try making some notes ahead of time if you need to manage someone who can make you feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Or if there are some make or break issues that will determine whether you go or not, try writing down some questions. They will help you when you’re having your conversation around setting expectations of what your boundaries will be.
Most importantly, realise that, even if Christmas does seem difficult, nothing will last forever. It is a relatively short period of time. It starts whenever you want to say it starts. And it ends whenever you want to say it ends. And when it’s done, you can get back to what is a more manageable everyday life. Whatever that looks or feels like for you.
If you’re on your own on Christmas Day, comedian Sarah Millican has a hashtag campaign called #joinin
For parents of young people who may be struggling there’s Young Minds
For older people there’s The Silver Line which also has a helpline 0800 470 8090
Samaritans helpline 116 123, is available 24/7
Award winning Stay Alive app has resources for people thinking about suicide or for people supporting someone with suicidal thoughts
‘Why has nobody told me this before?’ by Dr. Julie Smith. She also posts on Instagram, Tik Tok and YouTube
Andy Elwood is a Mental Health First Aid instructor and an ambassador for Movember. He creates safety and trust by sharing his own vulnerability and gives a unique ‘behind the scenes’ insight into life and death situations from his 20 years’ experience working in the emergency services as a paramedic on search and rescue helicopters.