Christmas can be an isolating time for everyone, and it’s okay to prioritize yourself in a time of giving.

The Christmas and New Year might seriously affect mental health, the pressure and expectations can be grave, which is why coping strategies are as important as ever.

We are delighted to share this guest blog post from UK-based Rehab4Addiction and their latest infographic with a seasonal theme, i.e., that of Christmas.

This infographic aims to visually present the scale of negative mental health issues faced by some people during this time of year, together with common reasons why people may be negatively impacted by Christmas.

Lastly, the infographic offers some useful tips to help alleviate the situation:

 


The New Normal

Despite mental health being an ever-growing topic of debate, the binary feelings at Christmas are meant to be joyous and exciting, but this isn’t the case for everyone.

If you have suffered from ill mental health, it’s easy to be overwhelmed quickly by social gatherings, money issues, and the new Covid pandemic.

The weight of having a good time can often lead to anxiety.

Individuals prone to anxiety are experienced in this feeling; the worry about events surrounding Christmas can suck all the joy out of the holidays.

Avoid comparing yourself to others, this can have a tremendous impact on how we view ourselves and how we manage expectations.

Occasionally, comparison can be a motivator, inspiring us to achieve.

The only thing we want to achieve this Christmas is the management of mental health.

Limiting exposure to exaggerated social media and television can help reduce this. Adverts and Christmas films are a key to the Christmas spirit, but they also unlock to door to self-judgment.

The reality is that Christmas is about celebrating what you have, however much that may be.

Covid-19 has been a catalyst for the downfall of mental health. Many of us spent months cooped up inside and are expected to suddenly re-join society and gatherings.

For many extroverts, this may be an easy re-settlement back into life, but for introverts and those will ill-health, it has proven to be more difficult.

One survey found that 1 in 4 suffers from ill-mental health each year on average. [1]

The lack of time with loved ones this year places greater emphasis on family time this Christmas.

You mustn’t also forget to be patient with yourself, we have all been through a lot this past year or two.

If you have become akin to working from home, then managing your social life from zoom or WhatsApp is equally as special as meeting friends at the pub.

Life has changed, and so should our expectations. Being realistic in this difficult time is critical in the avoidance of disappointment and arguments, a facilitator for mental health.


Coping with Anxiety and Stress

For some, Christmas brings joy and relaxation, for many others, it brings only anxiety.

Becoming overwhelmed is common; several people feel stressed about gifts, travelling home and seeing family for the first time in a while.

This can lead to restlessness and lack of sleep, making your anxiety worse.

This can also lead to depression when reality and expectations don’t quite match up.

One way to manage this stress is keeping it all simple:

    • > Do all Christmas cards early and get them out of the way
    • > Don’t cook or make everything yourself – delegate
    • > Gift cards are always a winner
    • > Stay physically active
    • > Create an anxiety plan, knowing yourself is crucial. Making sure you can cancel all your plans ‘just in case’ helps a lot of people
    • > Plan ahead!

Planning Ahead

If you normally find holidays isolating, or have recently lost loved ones, you may not want to spend Christmas alone.

Many organisations can offer support this Christmas and finding out what your local town has to offer may provide you with vital support.

This can come in the form of volunteering; being with others in a similar situation can ease the anxieties you may be feeling.

It can also offer a sense of purpose, and a reminder that everyone’s happiness is relative.

Planning ahead allows you enough time to manage expectations and take a break to prevent high-stress levels.

Scheduling in activities that you find relaxing, such as walking or listening to music will help you unwind.

This can be hard to do with the amount of expected Christmas responsibilities, so planning in advance can help you fit your regular activities in.

In order to feel settled and grounded, keeping a routine that’s relatively parallel to your binary week can help keep your emotions steady.


Eating Disorder Management

Saying no to friends and family can be difficult. However, setting social and emotional limits and boundaries is critical for your mental wellbeing.

If you are planning your activities in advance, maybe try and plan how others might be feeling or behaving at this time too.

Ensuring that others understand your need for some distance or preference on socialising can avoid the tension that so many of us dread.

It is tempting to indulge socially, mentally, and physically at Christmas.

Spending a lot of time at home can lead to a feeling of claustrophobia. This is made worse by over-eating and drinking in excess.

This isn’t to say don’t eat your homemade mince pies, but the emotional and physical bloat can leave you feeling more negative than before.

Christmas is renowned for being food-orientated, this isn’t helped by the adverts and meals that we are expected to attend.

If you suffer from an eating disorder, this can make you want to literally ‘tap out’ of Christmas and other events.

Encouragement from others to indulge in food can be stressful and emotionally taxing. [2]

It can cause pressure to eat and the worry of binging. Planning ahead for those with ED’s can really help:

  • > If you can, sit next to someone that supports you, and possibly copy their portion so you don’t feel observed
  • > Try and participate in conversation during the meal or snacks, removing the focus from food
  • > Try and distract yourself after the meal to avoid urges. Possible watch a film or play games

Holiday Highs

Getting through the Christmas period with addiction or worries regarding drugs and alcohol can cause a lot of stress.

Alcohol is also a depressant; although it’s a temporary feeling of euphoria, and can ease social situations, keeping a tab on how you’re feeling can help prevent any negativity following excessive consumption.

It’s easy to slip into ‘one more’ drink; everyone starts drinking at different times, normally earlier, and more often.

This lack of routine can lead someone with a drinking problem into a downward spiral.

Whilst many state that drinking is a sign of celebration, for some, drinking at Christmas is related to stress, playing a large role in over-consumption.

Alcohol is also a depressant; although it’s a temporary feeling of euphoria, and can ease social situations, keeping a tab on how you’re feeling can help prevent any negativity following excessive consumption.

Many individuals use alcohol to dampen feelings of depression and sadness, but this often leads to a spiral of negativity and worsening effects.

If you’re spending the holiday in recovery, you may be faced with:

Maintaining sobriety for those in recovery should be the main focus for them during the holidays. This is why being patient with yourself, and self-management are the biggest tips for Christmas.

Prioritise yourself, your sleep, and your mental health in order to be in with the best chance of prolonging sobriety.

For many, they opt to spend Christmas under the influence of less socially acceptable substances.

Christmas is hard for users and their families, there are expectations of perfection and ideals we think we need to reach.

The reality is that it’s just another day of celebrating what we have.

However, this pressure forces drug users to hide their habits, even more, going to dramatic lengths to use in order to cope on the day.

For example, many individuals get anxious when they’re high, a common symptom.

This can lead them to use more until their anxiety subsides but produces a worse come down.

People also tend to drink lots to try and mask drug use, but all this does is put the user at more of a health risk.

Drugs can mask the effects of drugs, leading many to use more and more often.

The risk of overdose is then higher, and your comedown is likely to have a massive impact on mental health.

Tips for users:

  • > Talk to people you trust. This can help relieve the feelings of isolation.
  • > Make notes of what you have used, when, and where. Keeping a diary of this can highlight what may make you want to use and can prevent overdosing
  • > Be patient with yourself – you may believe your family will judge you heavily, but the reality Is that they love you and want to help
  • > Celebrate small steps. Christmas is hyped up to be a day where you are expected to feel happy, but just start by enjoying a day doing what makes you smile
  • > Try and find distractions – taking people on walks with you and not spending time alone can limit your use

Seasonal Depression

Reduced exposure to sunlight can cause seasonal depression. Less time outside and in the sun can disrupt your body, leading to a drop in serotonin.

This can occur in summer or winter, but it’s usually when the winter months set in. [3]

Also known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), SAD can explain why you suddenly feel low when the winter months occur. Mood and energy tend to drop, and it can become difficult to keep up with your usual routine.

Talking about mental strains or pressures can help make it more ‘acceptable’ to others. Of course, it’s always better to talk about it, but some people aren’t aware until you tell them.

Mental health is as much about coping and maintaining positivity as it is about illness. Once you start talking about it you will realise how common mental health problems are.

Roughly 1 in 10 people suffer from mental health. A study showed that 792 million individuals in 2017 lived with a mental health disorder, all coming in various forms. [4]

Consider talking to your GP or friends and family about SAD. It’s highly common and support can really help.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • > Losing interest in activities and energy
  • > Changes in weight and appetite
  • > Low energy and trouble sleeping
  • > Feelings of helplessness and worthlessness
  • > Social withdrawal
  • > Anxiety and violent behaviour episodes

Support

If you think someone else is struggling, here is how to have a conversation about mental health:

  • > Ask open questions – this allows them to tell you as much as they feel comfortable with
  • > Keep the conversation informal – they might not be comfortable if you start talking about doctors
  • > Let them see they are not alone – If you struggle as well, tell them
  • > Be patient – don’t expect too much from one conversation, everyone is different in how they approach mental health
  • > If they look uncomfortable, try messaging them later on instead

If someone tries to talk to you about their health, don’t compare yourself or judge them. Offering to help people, as little as it may help, is still helping. Sometimes merely offering can really help people.

Giving genuine encouragement to others offers reassurance and emotional support.

People don’t always know what they need or want, often masked by how they’re feeling. Keep your body language open and let people know you’re there to listen and not to judge.

Signs of people struggling at Christmas:

  • > Eating disorders
  • > Panic and anxiety attacks
  • > Flashbacks and PTSD
  • > Manic episodes
  • > Sweating or constant flushing from rushing everything

We must all understand that Christmas is different for everyone. Some people always have the ‘advert-perfect’ Christmas, and some are constantly grieving losses from previous holidays.

Understanding this difference is crucial, try not to ask everyone if they had a great Christmas or what they got this year under the tree.

Losing intrusive questions and assumptions can make it easier for people to speak out.

Simply asking them if they are okay and coping is great. Reducing the stigma behind mental health is a great step forward for everyone, creating a safe space is more important than a ‘perfect’ Christmas.


Tips for Coping

Here is a summary of things mentioned that could help you this Christmas:

  • > Have patience with yourself and others
  • > Manage expectations – perspectives
  • > Talk to friends and family
  • > Don’t compare yourself to others
  • > Plan ahead as much as you can
  • > Enjoy yourself but limit things like alcohol if you know you have a history with it
  • > Try and exercise or get outdoors often
  • > Help others – volunteering

The new normal has changed; covid and long-term isolation periods have forced us into a new way of life. Being overwhelmed at Christmas is normal, now more than ever.

Managing expectations is key, the ideology is perfection is relative. Avoid comparing yourself to others and expecting too much.

Christmas is a time to enjoy and give back, but that isn’t to say don’t make time for yourself.

If you are having money issues or struggle with social interaction or substances, this can all lead to ill mental health. Managing these problems is more important than trying your best to make a ‘perfect’ Christmas.

If you need someone to talk to or are looking for more tips, reach out to us or a trusted individual.


Further Sources of Help


Resources

[1] https://yougov.co.uk/topics/health/articles-reports/2019/12/18/christmas-harms-mental-health-quarter-brits

[2] https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/your-stories/five-questions-about-christmas-eating-disorder/

[3] https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health

[4] https://www.caba.org.uk/help-and-guides/information/how-start-conversation-about-mental-health

[5] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad.htm

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