Though it’s supposed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, many of us find Christmas tough on our mental health. In fact, a quarter of the population finds Christmas more challenging than the rest of the year, while about one in four of us have struggled with anxiety or depression over the festive season, according to a YouGov survey.
“This time of year can be overwhelming,” says psychotherapist Ruairí Stewart aka ‘The Happy Whole Coach‘. “The Christmas period comes with the expectation that we should be happy, carefree, merry, spending time with friends and family, but for many, it brings peak stress levels as we attempt to juggle responsibilities, meet expectations and cope with feelings of depression and anxiety.”
Ruairí explains that it’s common to feel tired, sad and disconnected at this time of year – particularly after a year of uncertainty.
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Here are his top tips if you are struggling at this time of year…
Ease financial worry by spending within your means
The pandemic has not been financially kind to many of us, meaning pressures around spending money might feel even more intense this year. If this is the case for you, communicate with those around you and express that although you would buy them the world if you could, this year will have to be toned down. Banish any feelings of guilt or shame and remember, most people are probably feeling the exact same and might be relieved to know the reciprocal pressure has been lifted. You could even suggest that instead of giving gifts this year – you will be donating to charity, and would love it if people could do the same for you.
Make a plan of action
Try to get your shopping done as early as possible and order online ahead of time to allow for any delivery hiccups. We all know that leaving things to the last minute causes unnecessary stress, so do your future self a favour and get organised early! Make a list of everyone you need to buy for and jot down some ideas of what they might like. Avoid blindly searching google/wondering round shops without a plan of action.
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Let go of unrealistic expectations
Everyone has their own version of Christmas and an idea of what the experience should be. For a lot of people, this means living up to certain expectations and that can be a lot to take on. If this year has taught us anything, it’s to focus on what’s really important in our lives. It might not be possible to host the whole family on Christmas Day, or to host your annual NYE party, but try not to focus on what can’t do, and focus on the things you can. Connect with the people around you, put some extra decorations up at home, try a new turkey recipe! Accept that this year might look a little different, and try to embrace it.
Schedule in time for self-care
December marks the end of a challenging and confusing year, so you might be in need of some self-care and alone time during your Christmas break – allow yourself time to unwind and chill out. If you’ve spent the best part of this year on a never-ending Zoom call with your work colleagues followed by virtual drinks with friends, communicate to those close to you that what you really need is a little breathing space to recoup. Burnout will be affecting a lot of people this year, especially those who have been working towards this end of year break.
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Connect with others
If you’re feeling isolated – perhaps you live alone or have been shielding this year – stay connected to friends and family using apps like FaceTime, Zoom or Skype. This is for your benefit as much as it others, so reach out to those you know will be finding Christmas difficult or spending this time on their own. You could even volunteer with organisations to help those most in need. Shaking things up and doing Christmas a little differently can bring feelings of joy and content.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you are feeling overwhelmed, ask a friend or loved one to help with some of your responsibilities. You don’t have to take everything on yourself – it’s important to feel supported but you will have to ask for this support in order to receive it – there is no shame in asking for help, it’s actually a sign of strength. If you don’t feel you have anyone you can turn to, there are lots of amazing organisations you can contact such as MIND and CALM.