«It’s the most wonderful time of the year» — as we usually say about Christmas time with parties, celebrations, and social gatherings with family and friends. But there’s a flip side that coin — the pressure and high expectations to have a «Merry Christmas» which can highlight feelings of depression as people become more aware that they aren’t feeling happy but «should» be.
It can be easy to become stressed, anxious, or depressed in the lead up and during Christmas period, as are too much triggers for that: spending more money than usual (for presents), having more social or family obligations, pressure to maintain happiness or be in the «holiday spirit», or even the impossibility to see your family and friends. So what can you do when the world around you is turned into a festival with red – green colors whilst you’re feeling blue?
Firstly, recognize that you’re not a Scrooge and you’re most definitely not alone. The «holiday blues» are real and much more common than you think. Secondly, be kind to yourself. Don’t ignore your emotional state and don’t force yourself to be happy because of the holiday. And thirdly, take a few minutes to read our 10 tips for managing stress and anxiety over the holidays.
- Stick To A Budget
Christmas can be really expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. So, the best way to avoid unnecessary costs is budgeting and planning your spending. Out of control present buying in attempts to make everyone happy, creates a huge stressor and whilst controlling your spending can be hard — you should create a list of presents, trying to be realistic about what you can afford and stick to this plan. Also don’t forget about online shopping that can be a good alternative for avoiding the crowds and resist the temptation of panic buying. And whatever your skills lie, there always be a way of giving to others without spending money you might not have.
- Plan Ahead
Festive stress increases pretty rapidly from shopping to decoration to organizing Christmas dinner. But you can prevent it by planning as much as possible in the run up to Christmas — set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and planning your menus to make your shopping list. And being careful to not take on too much — you’re not being selfish by saying «no» to some things or asking for some help. For example, if you are hosting a Christmas dinner, you can ask some of your guests to bring a starter or dessert.
- Take Care Of Yourself
At Christmas it can be too easy to get swept up into other people’s ideas of fun, forgetting about yourselves. So it is important to make sure that you do something you want as well — this is your holiday too! Finding meaningful ways to spend your time can help you reconnect with things you are passionate about and doing things you love can help you feel better. It is essential to prioritize things that make you happy — just because it is Christmas, does not mean you need to sacrifice your mental health!
- Talk About Your Feelings
If you are feeling stressed during the holidays, talking to a friend or family member about your concerns is more important than ever. Instead of hiding yourself away and avoiding friends and family, try to reach out with a text, a call or a video chat — sharing your feelings can help you unravel your thoughts, feel support and be less alone. Remember: people care about you and there is always someone to listen to. And perhaps the single most thing we all need to have at Christmas is somebody to talk to.
- Get Away Social Media
Social media can be a damage for our mental health at the best of times, so during the festive period — when people are sharing pictures and posts of their «perfect Christmas» — it is recommended to stay away. If seeing everybody seems to be having more fun than you do on social media causes increasing anxiety — have a social media detox for a few weeks and give yourself permission to switch off. But if you decide to use it over the festive season, avoid comparing your experience to those of your friends, and remind yourself that most people only share the best bits of their lives online and you actually do not know what is going on behind the smiling selfies and pretty pictures!
- Drink Sensibly
While a bit of alcohol can make you feel relaxed, don’t forget that drinking too much can leave you feeling irritable and low. Drinking within the recommended guidelines means you’ll get to enjoy a Christmas tipple, while reducing the negative effects on your mood. Alcohol can also play a big part in arguments and disagreements, so it’s sensible to drink in moderation.
- Make It Social
Unfortunately, some people do find themselves alone at Christmas. Perhaps they have lost contacts with family, or are living abroad. Being alone at Christmas, a time which we are taught is for being together, can contribute to feelings of depression. But whatever your circumstances are, there are many ways to make Christmas social.
There are always charities, soup kitchens and shelters who are grateful for extra help over the festive period, and not only does this give you an opportunity to spend the day with others, it will also give you an extra boost for volunteering and helping others.
- Keep active
It’s no surprise that cold weather and short days are not the greatest motivation to get you out of bed and on a 5 km run! But researches show that doing exercise releases chemicals in your body that can make you feel good. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you
to concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Exercise also keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy. So use that Christmas spirit for physical health as well as mental health – you might even enjoy the crisp air (again everything in moderation!).
- Eat Well
Christmas is typically a time of overindulgence, but what we eat can sometimes impact how we feel. For example, too much sugar can have a noticeable effect on your mental health and wellbeing in the short and long term. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a little bit of overindulgence, but a good tip is trying to keep your diet balanced as much as possible, with lots of fruits and vegetables over the festive period.
- Accept Who You Are
Some of us make people laugh, others cook fantastic meals. Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live very differently. If you have mental health problems, don’t feel pressured to do more than you feel up to. Remember Christmas is just one day of the year! So whether alone or with others, this Christmas celebrates who you are.
Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness have the biggest impacts, so don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are OK. If you are not coping and need support, don’t hesitate to ask for help. These resources are available for you throughout the year, but especially during what can be one of the most difficult times of the year.
- American Psychological Association. (November, 2016). «Making the most of the holiday season»
- American Psychological Association. (2007). «Holiday Shopping Brings On More Stress Than Bargained For»
- American Psychologist Association. (November, 2020). «Speaking of Psychology: The holiday blues, with Elaine Rodino, PhD»
- Eir Nolsoe (December, 2019). «How does Christmas impact people’s mental health?». YouGov
- Jennifer Casarella (September 2020). «Holiday Depression and Stress». WebMD
- Michael Kerr (February, 2017). «Holiday Depression». Healthline
- Caroline Moss (December 2020). «I’m Depressed and It’s Christmas. What Can I Do?». Today