Mental health at Christmas time

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

For many, Christmas is a jovial time to celebrate with friends and family. However packed calendars, financial stress and the family issues that roll in with the festive season can quickly become very overwhelming.

For the 1 in 5 Australians that have a mental health condition, the added stress and expectation to be happy and have fun during Christmas can often exaggerate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Whether you have a mental health condition or not, it is important to take time to look after your mental health at Christmas and reflect on how you are feeling. The following strategies will help you manage mental health over the Christmas period.

Acknowledge your feelings

There is a lot of pressure to be happy during the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean you have to suppress negative feelings. Your mental health always comes first at Christmas. Allow yourself to feel those moments of sadness, anxiety, grief or loneliness. Remind yourself that depression and anxiety ebb and flow like a tide, and that these feeling will pass.

Set boundaries

The pressure of living up to the expectations of what your friends and family want to do for Christmas can be exhausting. Think about what you want to get out of this holiday season and plan your time accordingly. Set manageable boundaries surrounding what events you attend, how long you stay and what activities you participate in. Remember it’s okay to say no. Your wellbeing and mental health at Christmas are more important than attending events out of obligation, guilt or tradition.

Know your triggers

For people with a mental health condition, the holiday season can be a very triggering time. Larger crowds at the shops, family members asking intrusive questions, and general stress and exhaustion can all trigger anxiety, panic attacks and depressive episodes.

It is important to be aware of your triggers and have a strategy to avoid them. Going to the shops at an off-peak time, sitting at the other end of the table from particular family members and taking time out to rest can help.

Sometimes triggers are unavoidable though. Be sure that you have a plan to help you through these difficult times. Breathing exercises, going for a walk or venting to a friend are all great strategies for dealing with anxiety and depressive episodes. Everyone has their own process for dealing with their mental health condition; ensure you choose a restorative routine that makes you feel relaxed and centred.

Crowds of people in a market
The crowded and loud hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping can cause anxiety episodes and panic attacks for people with mental health conditions.

Keep your routine

Routine is usually one of the first things to slip out the window during the holiday season. Regular healthy habits like sleep, diet and exercise often become less important.

This loss of routine can affect the mechanisms that support positive mental health. It will be hard to continue your exact routine but where possible, try to keep your schedule consistent.

Manage conflict

Christmas is considered the ‘time for family.’ However underlying tension and unresolved disagreements often build and spill over during this time.

Having a little empathy and understanding for other people’s demanding holiday situations goes a long way.

If you are aware there are going to be conflicts, avoid the urge to fight back and prepare to have clear communication and neutral responses like, “Let’s talk about this another time” or, “I understand why you feel this way.”

Take time for yourself

As soon as those first Christmas bells ring, all the annual social, work and family events come rolling out of the woodwork. Although it’s good to kick back and relax with friends, don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Allowing time to recharge will be a major stress relief for your mental health at Christmas and help you better enjoy your planned events.

A lady is sitting on a pink chair looking at the ocean with a cup of coffee
Whether you go for a walk, sit and have a coffee or read a book, make sure you make time for yourself to relax and recharge.

Limit alcohol intake

“Eat, drink and be merry!” as they say, is the staple for Christmas. It is tempting to use alcohol to relax and as a coping mechanism to avoid negative emotions. Don’t forget that alcohol is also a depressant and can often make us feel worse and exaggerate conflict. Be aware and understand how alcohol affects you and your mental health at Christmas and drink in moderation.

Spend time grieving

Holidays like Christmas can bring up feelings of grief for the special people we have lost in our lives. If you can, talk about your loved one and share memories with those who miss them. Spend time by yourself to think about them and have a good cry. Remember that it is okay to have fun and enjoy yourself as well. Don’t feel guilty; enjoying yourself doesn’t mean you don’t miss them.

Get support

Support systems can sometimes seem like they slip away during the Christmas period as therapist offices close. It is important to plan with your mental health professional about what to do if you need support over the break.

If you are struggling and feeling alone, reach out and talk to someone. It is often difficult to reach out, but it can be as simple as sending a text, a phone call or meeting someone for a coffee. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone that you know, there are multiple support and mental health services that available over the holiday period.

Mental health national support lines

  • Lifeline: 12 11 14
  • Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • GriefLine: 1300 845 745
  • Q-Life LGBTQIA+: 1800 184 527
  • Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978