Christmas. In theory it should be the happiest time of the year. The reality is often rather different. What with wrangling with relatives over who’s hosting the Christmas dinner, over-indulging way, way too much and the prospect of being in debt for the next 10 years to pay for all the partying and presents that will likely be met with a luke warm response. It’s little wonder the minute we hear a Christmas song in the supermarket we feel stressed.
But for many of us, feeling blue during the festive period can have very serious consequences with recent research from Mind revealing that Three quarters (76 per cent) of us have had problems sleeping at Christmas, while nearly 60 per cent of people have experienced panic attacks over the holiday period.
Reasons people gave for struggling at Christmas included getting into debt (41 per cent), feeling lonely (83 per cent) and just generally finding Christmas stressful (81 per cent). Er, yep!
“Coping with a mental health problem can be difficult at any time of year but at Christmas there are special demands that can leave you feeling worse than usual,” explains Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind. “People are struggling due to the stress, financial impact and pressure to join in when everyone around you seems to be having fun.”
“Christmas can also make existing problems seem even bigger – especially if you are unhappy, and everyone else is having fun,” he continues. “While people can turn to less healthy ways of coping when struggling at Christmas – smoking, drinking too much or eating comfort food – this can also have a serious impact on our health.”
But Christmas shouldn’t be all about the stress. So if you’re prone to feeling here’s our expert guide to keeping the Yule blues at bay.
Make A Plan
“One of the reasons that we might feel stressed or overwhelmed during the holidays is because we start doing everything at once: shopping for presents, planning a meal or booking plane tickets, all of which can become overwhelming,” explains David Brudö, CEO and Co-Founder at personal development and mental wellbeing app Remente. David suggests properly planning the Christmas countdown could have a positive impact on your stress levels. “If you know that you are prone to feeling overwhelmed during the holidays, make sure to plan for this in advance – allocate days on which you will do Christmas shopping (dedicating a set budget for this can also reduce stress), set aside time for cooking, or booking tickets for any necessarily travel. Once all of this is laid out in order, you are likely to feel significantly less stressed.”
That argument you had with your sister last week, it could be time to sort it out. “Another reason which can cause us to feel unhappy or anxious during the holidays is any unresolved issues that we might have with family members,” explains David. “If possible, try and openly discuss any issues ahead of the holiday, to ensure that all grievances are left behind, before you are spending time with someone that you might have an issue with while drinking alcohol (which can work to fuel conflict).” Been there, done that, got the tear-stained Christmas jumper to prove it. David also recommends trying to head-off any potential clashes in advance. “If it isn’t possible to resolve the issue, think about the ways in which you can avoid conflict and keep calm. Anticipating any situation will make you feel more prepared and in turn, significantly less stressed and worried.”
Can you wrap that present for me? Fancy helping me make the Christmas pud? Drink tonight? Gah! Sound familiar? “For most people, the festive season is an incredibly busy time – work parties, family commitments, shopping for presents and preparing for the celebrations, all of which can make us feel overstretched,” says David. “Because we might feel bad for saying no to things, we might lose out on essential things like sleep, which can cause us to feel sad, grumpy and frustrated. Before the holiday season begins, try to have a list of priorities and events you have to go to, saying no to those that aren’t on the list.” Just say no, people. Just say no.
Carve out some me-time
When you’ve got presents to buy, people to please and parties to go to, its little wonder you-time slips down the to-do list. “As the holidays get into full-swing and you have more and more commitments, it is important that you don’t forget to look after yourself,” advises David. “Getting enough sleep, exercising and taking the time to do the things you love is important in maintaining your mental health over the holidays.”
With so much build up and expectation weighted on Christmas, it’s hardly surprising it can often feel like one big let down. “Many of us will have an ideal of what Christmas and New Year should be like – who we would like around us, how the food should taste, and the presents we give and receive and even how we should feel in the moment,” says David. “However, it is important that these expectations are managed, as when high expectations fall short, it can lead to upset. Accept that sometimes things can go wrong and focus instead on the positives that you have achieved in the last year and the things that have made you happy.”
Let yourself feel blue
So busy are we worrying about everyone else, that how we feel gets pushed to the bottom of the pile. But now isn’t the time to bottle up your feelings. “If the holidays are a difficult time for you, whether it is because you lost a loved one, you feel lonely or you may suffer from depression, it is important that you acknowledge these feelings and don’t force yourself to act happy, just because it’s the holidays,” advises David. He suggests talking to your friends and family, and if necessary, seeking the appropriate help.
‘Happy’ Christmas everyone!
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