Christmas songs, family gatherings and an array of parties seem to be what Christmas is about for many. But with 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing mental health problems each year, the festive period could be a time of anxiety, financial pressure and loneliness.
The increase in demands and pressure to have a ‘perfect Christmas’ is causing at least 1 in 10 people struggling to cope according to Mind UK. With a hectic schedule and so much to do in the run up to the big day, we can forget to prioritise ourselves. The reasons why our mental health may get worse can be very personal to each of us, but there are a few common things that might be triggering these feelings too.
Reasons Why Our Mental Health Can Suffer at Christmas
Although the festive period is a time for celebration, the increased demand of our time and energy may take its toll on our mental health. The expectations surrounding Christmas may be causing us to have high stress levels, further increased by comparing ourselves to others and what we see on social media.
Financial Pressures – Shopping and gift-buying can cause financial and emotional stress - the pressures of meeting expectations can make Christmas a difficult time of year. The Independent has reported that nearly 6 in 10 households make sacrifices to buy presents and that 1 in 10 will postpone their rent or mortgage payments. With such a financial strain, a great deal of anxiety could occur over Christmas.
Loneliness – Although loneliness isn’t a mental health problem, it could have a negative impact on our mental health. At Christmas there is more pressure to spend time with people, but this could make feelings of loneliness feel even bigger. Often people that are experiencing loneliness will separate themselves further from others and spend more time alone, which could make things worse.
Alcohol – Drinkaware states that alcohol is a depressant and it can disrupt the chemical balance in our brains which means that it could affect our thoughts, feelings and actions. While in the spirit of Christmas and New Year, we may consume more alcohol than normal. Although we could feel more relaxed at that time, it’s important to note that Drinkaware warns about alcohol causing our emotional responses to be negative, narrowing our perceptions of situations or fixing our focus on something that makes us anxious.
Diet – At Christmas it may be tempting to indulge on all the tasty treats but, as a result, our motivation levels could drop and we may feel bloated, sluggish and unwell. In addition, too much sugar and caffeine could negatively impact our mood.
Tips to Help Maintain Your Mental Health This Christmas
Expectations – Being realistic about what can be achieved and what you can afford could prevent us from feeling disappointed or overwhelmed. Filling our diaries with Christmas events and trying to do what everyone else wants may give us extra stress or worry, try to prioritise what’s important. Making lists, sticking to a routine and sharing out the responsibilities could help.
Taking time for yourself – Saying ‘yes’ to something when we want to say ‘no’ could leave us feeling resentful and overwhelmed. It’s important to allow time for ourselves over the Christmas period (regardless of what’s going on) to do something we enjoy or to relax. Being mindful could also help us to cope with the festive stress and keep us calm.
Rest – Not having enough sleep could have a negative impact on our mental health. It could cause us to have negative thoughts by leaving us less able to rationalise our worries, could also make us feel lonely or feel overwhelmed. By keeping a good sleeping pattern, we could feel more able to cope with stress and have more energy.
Diet – over-indulging on Christmas treats could make us more irritable and contribute to the feeling of losing self-control. Maintaining a healthy diet could help to keep our moods stable and prevent us from feeling lethargic.
Drinking – Although alcohol may help you to relax and enjoy yourself, drinking could increase feelings of depression and make anxiety worse. Not exceeding the recommended number of safe units could help us to sustain good mental wellbeing. If you want to drink try alternating an alcoholic drink with a soft drink, or do something while you drink rather than sitting and remember not to be pressured into drinking more (it’s okay to say ‘no’).
Stay active – In the winter months, it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise, but exercise may have a significant positive impact on our mental health. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins which can help to calm us down and lift our mood. Regular exercise could also help to boost our immune system, keep our organs healthy and allow us to sleep better.
Connect – Admitting you’re not feeling great may be difficult, but talking about our feelings could improve our mood and make our problems easier to deal with. Other people may be able to offer a different view or help to keep us grounded. In addition, helping others may be a good way to improve our mental health.
Get support – When you’re down it’s important to talk to someone whether that be in person or online. If you are still feeling low after making your best efforts, it’s recommended that you contact your GP and see what additional support is available.
Whether or not you have a mental illness, the festive period may increase feelings of loneliness, financial worries and put more pressure on you to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas. Caring for your mental health shouldn’t be paused due to the time of year, it’s important to make time for yourself and to have realistic expectations.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.