Supporting good mental health over Christmas

It’s usually not a surprise when someone says that Christmas is a difficult time for many people. The pressure we experience to be happy, shop until we drop, decorate our homes, bake goodies and more, all makes it hard to not feel overwhelmed.

Duck in park

You don’t have to travel very far to get a break.

For those dealing with mental health issues, it can feel like the Christmas period is another obstacle to navigate. We have less daylight, which means we may wake up and go to work or school in the dark and return the same way. Our memories and associations for this time of year aren’t always of presents and mince pies; they can be filled with loss, anxiety and stress.

Here are some tips to help navigate the season:

  • Get up and get outside. No matter what the weather looks like, getting outside helps your mood. It releases positive chemicals like endorphins into your system that increase your sense of well-being. A walk, a run, a cycle or whatever you choose can all give you a lift.
  • Go on a trip.  Visit to your local museum, park or get out into the countryside or to the coast. A change of scenery can make a big difference, even if just for the day.
  • Find some way to give to others. Give to a food bank, donate old clothes to charity, rake leaves or clear snow for a neighbour. Taking your mind off yourself and doing something for someone else gives us a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Start a new tradition. You don’t have to do the same thing every year, or even see the same people. It’s OK to take a drive to the coast or go out for lunch rather than cook. We often tend to repeat the same patterns, even when they don’t work for us.
  • Be honest. If you are struggling, tell your close friends or family how you are feeling about Christmas and how it is hard for you. It may not change the period itself, but it might ease your mind that you do not have to the happiest person in the room.
  • For those of you who are happy and love Christmas, pay attention to those around you. Take the time of year as an opportunity to support your friends, family and community. Invite them over, lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on, acknowledge the fact that they may be struggling. Be the light that pushes back the darkness, if only a little. Now that’s a holiday gift.

If you are looking for help this Christmas, or would like to learn more about mental health issues there is lots of information on the internet. The charities Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and Sane are good places to start.

 

Adapted from a blog by Hilary Harrison, Samaritan Health Services (USA), December 2017