Mental health and Christmas: how to look after yourself and your loved ones during the festive season
While the holidays are a time of joy and giving for many, for some they can be stressful, sad and even depressing. Here’s how to take care of your mental health this Christmas – and the mental health of those around you.
It’s not all celebrations at Christmastime
Not all people enjoy Christmas. Why? Put simply, it’s a time of year that can highlight aspects of our lives that we’d rather not think about.
Things like grief, isolation, missed opportunities, failed relationships and family conflict can all be under the spotlight, bringing up negative thoughts and feelings.
The festive season can also be a time of financial pressure, with increased spending on gifts, outings and food. Stress associated with additional planning, organising and social expectations also peaks around this time, creating a ‘perfect storm’ for people who suffer from mental health challenges.
Depression and anxiety: know the signs
According to Beyond Blue, one in seven Australians will experience depression in their lifetime, and one in four will experience anxiety. When we consider family makeups and friendship groups, it’s incredibly likely that you or someone you know will have experienced one of these conditions.
The holidays can be a time that these conditions are triggered by the thoughts and situations mentioned above, so it is extra important to know the symptoms.
Symptoms of depression can include:
- Low or down mood
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem
- Reduced energy or activity
Symptoms of anxiety can include:
- Excessive worry
- Physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling and muscle tension.
Tips for people with mental health challenges during the holidays
Looking after yourself and being realistic about what you can achieve, either socially, financially or in terms of your time and energy, are all key to maintaining mental wellbeing during busy festive times like Christmas.
Look after your mental health and wellbeing during the holidays by:
Sticking with your regular routine in terms of sleep, diet, exercise, social and work commitments.
Drinking in moderation, as alcohol can have a negative impact on our mental state.
Planning healthy meals. A healthy body can help maintain a healthy mind.
Acknowledging your emotions but not dwelling on them. If there are happy moments, enjoy them and celebrate your achievements, whether big or small.
Scheduling some ‘me time’: go for a walk, listen to music, get a haircut, go to a café – emotionally recharge. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try to bring yourself back to where you are, slow your breathing down or try stretching and then relaxing your muscles.
Saying no sometimes. Neglecting your own needs is not a good way to help others.
Being realistic. Concentrate on what’s really important. It’s not about the perfect table layout, the best gift and the number of activities planned.
Trying to manage your expectations of other people. Attitudes or behaviours of relatives and friends are unlikely to change but how you respond to these can.
Seeking additional help. It’s perfectly reasonable to reach out or ask for extra support at times of stress. Have a ‘stay well’ plan – who can you contact? What services are available?
Spending time doing things you love, either alone or with positive, supportive people who care about you.
If you are going to be alone, do it on your terms
If you’re spending Christmas alone, ask yourself what you would like to do, and plan a day that’s perfectly suited to you.
If you enjoy being out and about, take yourself on a walk to the beach or park. If you are more of a homebody, stay in and cook your favourite foods or plan a movie marathon.
If you’re not alone by choice, it’s important to remember that one Christmas solo doesn’t mean you’ll spend every Christmas that way. Make it a day to be kind and loving to yourself.
If you or someone you care about needs help, reach out
The Albert Road Clinic is a private specialist practice located close to the Melbourne CBD. The clinic offers a broad range of inpatient, outpatient and community based mental health care and specialises in assisting people with mental health concerns.
For immediate support, you can also contact:
Lifeline (24hr support) – 13 11 14 or webchat
Kids Helpline (24hr support) – 1800 55 1800 or webchat
Beyond Blue (24hr support) – 1300 22 4636 or webchat