How to survive Christmas...
We all see the adverts on TV of the perfect Christmas and what it should look like – family all together, laughing, hugging, dancing, eating their bodyweight in turkey, mince pies and quality street and opening gifts that most of us struggle to afford. We see our ‘friends’ on social media sharing images of their perfect tree, mounds of presents and family selfies in matching pyjamas. The reality for most is a much different picture; financial pressure and debt, stress and disappointment of not meeting expectations, relationship breakdowns, loneliness, the anxiety of attending social events, sadness for loved ones who are no longer with us, disruption to routines, forced family interactions…the list goes on.
You may already be suffering with a mental health issue such as stress, anxiety or depression and wondering how you’re going to cope. With the year ending, you may be reflecting on life and feeling that you’re not living how you would like to be but don’t know how to make change. If you’re one of these people, these tips to survive the Christmas period could help…
Don’t be afraid to say no
It can be easy to give in to the pressure of going along with family plans, even if we feel it’s the last thing we want to do. Give yourself permission to say no to things you don’t want to do and let go of any guilt.
Connect with people
Even if you won’t be going out over Christmas or seeing people face to face- try to stay connected by phone, text or email. It can make a huge difference in helping you to feel less lonely and isolated.
If you suffer with social anxiety, avoiding social interactions altogether can make your anxiety worse. Challenge yourself, go with an open mind – you might surprise yourself and have fun. For most people the fear of an interaction is far worse than the reality!
Take a break from social media
If being on social media isn’t making you feel good – take a break. Comparing ourselves to everyone else can be really damaging to our self-esteem and we can find ourselves getting caught up in it too – feeling that we need to post the perfect picture rather than simply enjoying being in the moment. Temporarily delete the app from your phone to help you if you find yourself on social media by habit.
Stay active and get outside
Physical activity is like nature’s anti-depressant – when we exercise our bodies release feel good hormones called endorphins which boost our mood and reduce our perception of pain. Being active doesn’t have to mean a high intensity workout; it could be a local walk, a bike ride, dancing around to music or even cleaning or gardening. Being outdoors has also been proven to have positive effects such as; a good dose of Vitamin D, lessening the symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), boosting energy and restoring focus.
Taking a breather can be really helpful for those suffering with stress, anxiety, anger and sleep issues. Deep breathing exercises can help you to relax because they make your body feel the way it does when it is already relaxed. If you google 'breathing exercises' you can find lots of different techniques but I’d recommend starting with a basic exercise that takes just a few minutes. You could also try Meditation or Mindfulness – Apps such as 'Headspace' are a great introduction and 'The Mental Health Foundation' website has free wellbeing podcasts you can listen to to get a taste of what's involved.
Do something you love
Whether it’s reading, drawing, writing, listening to music, watching tv, films or youtube, walking, running, cycling, relaxing, talking or bathing…whatever your thing is…do it! You don’t need to feel guilty for doing normal things over the Christmas period. Having time off work could also be the perfect time to try something new.
Watch your drink
It’s undeniable that one of the key features of the Christmas period is alcohol. If you’re someone who has an issue with alcohol it might be more difficult than other times of the year to feel in control. Try and spend the majority of your time with friends and family who are supportive of your recovery and have an exit plan for occasions when being around alcohol is avoidable or overwhelming.
For those who can enjoy a festive drink; remember that even though we associate drinking with having a “Merry Christmas” alcohol is a depressant, lowers your sleep quality and can increase anxiety. Hangovers can be a killer too! Don’t be pressured into drinking for the sake of Christmas spirit; volunteer to be duty driver, avoid alcohol on an empty stomach, drink plenty of water between drinks, opt for non-alcoholic options or even order or pour yourself a non-alcoholic drink without letting anyone know.
Volunteering has benefits that go far beyond the impact for those who are being helped, whether that’s animals, adults or children –the impact on our own mental health can be huge. Volunteering your time to help others can help you to increase confidence, feel less isolated, give you a sense of purpose and meaning, reduce stress by distracting you from your worries and pressures and make you happier. Christmas is the perfect time to look for an opportunity to volunteer as there are extra projects running to get involved in. Look for opportunities in the local paper or local Facebook groups and forums.
Talk about how you’re feeling
There’s the old saying that a problem shared is a problem halved. Most people will agree that opening up to talk about how they feel with someone who cares and listens helps. Talking with partners, friends and family helps to build communication and strengthen relationships. Letting someone know you’re struggling and talking through how you feel could help you to feel much better.
Sometimes, friends and family can’t help us and we need to look for a professional to help. Counselling could be really helpful for you to talk through the issues you have make sense of how your feeling. Look for a counsellor/therapist in your local area on a trusted directory such as the Counselling Directory or the the BACP directory. If you live in Nuneaton or surrounding areas check out the Clarity Wellbeing Clinic website for qualified and experienced therapists.
I have some availability for new clients with sessions over the Christmas and New Year period – you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Remember, the Samaritans helpline is available 24 hours a day/365 days a year and can be called free on 116 123.