I wrote a post last Christmas about the pressures and stresses of what is supposed to be a happy time of year on those with mental health difficulties. I wanted to write another to reiterate that if you are struggling, you are not alone, and you certainly shouldn’t feel bad about it!
It’s such a beautiful, magical time of year. Many of us probably have fond memories of incredible Christmases as children, when we could appreciate the full effect of it all.
However as adults, contrary to the trials and tribulations of daily life being put on hold for a few days, those problems continue or are often exacerbated as the festive period nears. Whilst most people love Christmas, a fair few will admit that they struggle with it more than they let on. In general for the whole population, there are increased financial pressures with copious amounts of food and gifts to buy and parties to attend, plus the worry of the Christmas diet deterioration. In addition perhaps you have had a difficult year, a bereavement, a break-up, job loss or financial worries and the coming celebrations only serve to remind you of happier times or of what you have lost rather than what you have.
For those with anxiety, depression or an eating disorder however, Christmas poses a number of difficulties and can be an incredibly stressful time. An onslaught of social situations and works dos with an accompanying barrage of small talk, alcohol and food coupled with the pressure of appearing to be happy and to enjoy yourself when that is the last thing you feel like doing is often hard to deal with. Feeling alone when you’re surrounded by people is often one of the worst forms of loneliness.
Here’s a few of my own tips for getting through the Christmas period if you are struggling:
- Try to make time for yourself. Take time to read a book, browse Pinterest, light some candles, watch some telly or have a long shower or hot bath.
- Go for a walk. Take some time out in nature. Spend time with animals or pets.
- Avoid getting blind drunk. It only serves to make you feel worse afterwards.
- Keep your routine. Routine is important for good mental health and recovery. It can sometimes be disrupted around Christmas with parties and impromptu shopping trips. If you have an eating disorder, explain to your family that it would be helpful if your general and meal routines were kept as similar as possible and make sure that they are aware that eating out unexpectedly may still be difficult and stressful for you.
- Push yourself. Not too much, of course; but just out of your comfort zone. This is how you grow and recover and develop – chances are if you go to that gathering you’ve been invited to, you’ll have a lovely time and won’t have to feel guilty for turning the invitation down, as well as missing out. You’ll form new or closer relationships with others which helps with social anxiety. Don’t be scared of using this time as an opportunity to do ‘scary’ things and push your boundaries.
- Give to others. It’s the time of giving! Whilst it shouldn’t be your motivation for doing so, giving to someone else will help you feel better about yourself. If you find yourself with spare time, why don’t you take some food to the homeless shelter or help at the local old folk’s Christmas party? Buy a stranger a coffee, or offer to help a friend. You’re helping others but you are also inadvertently helping yourself.
- Don’t feel bad for feeling bad. You can’t help how you feel. If you’re making positive changes then you are making an effort and trying your best – don’t be hard on yourself if you are finding it difficult to enjoy yourself and don’t let others make you feel bad either (it’s easier said than done, I know).
- Try to live in and appreciate the now, the small things. A hot chocolate in Starbucks, a few flurries of snow, seeing a relative you haven’t seen in years. The little things are the best things. You only get so many Christmases; and even if it’s not a time you enjoy, it’s minutes, hours and days of your life. Try and enjoy this time in any way you know how. You might just surprise yourself J
It’s important not to forget that whilst we should never trivialise or compare problems of our own to others as it is always relative, some people are completely alone at Christmas. Many elderly people, as well as those who are depressed or live alone can feel very down and very isolated over the festive period. If you are able to, please try to reach out to someone you know who may be struggling at this time, and please don’t berate them for not being full of festive cheer.