What we all need right now is a good old-fashioned Christmas.
You know, a magical one with perfectly selected gifts piled up around the tree and family fondly reminiscing about the year gone by.
Not the ones where everyone gets a nasty cold.
Or where your sister insensitively re-gifts you the present you bought her last year.
Or one that brings back bad memories of Xmas 2020.
Looking after our mental health should always be at the top of our Christmas list, because we need to be happy on the inside for it to be ‘the best time of the year’.
So much of what characterises this time of year relies on an assumption there will be back-to-back happy family gatherings and the financial stability to fund festive extravagance.
Two things we can’t take for granted.
The reality is that Christmas may not be a typical season of parties, presents and festive get-togethers.
And even if it is, it can still be pretty stressful, financially difficulty, and detrimental to our mental health.
As we navigate all that the festive period holds, it may help to be mindful of how all the stresses and strains could impact on our mental health at Christmas.
And how a little self-care could help us manage our well-being throughout this period.
Common causes of Christmas stress:
- Pressure on finances
- Family conflict
- Present buying
- Too much to do
10 ways to support your mental and physical health at Christmas
Here are a few ideas that could help you to address some of the most common causes of Christmas stress.
Give yourself permission to be you
It’s normal to want to be surrounded by all your loved ones and best friends at Christmas, but you also need to know how to show up for yourself and know what you really want.
Although this may sound like a cliché, it’s important to fully accept yourself and your feelings around the festive period.
Part of this is deciding what sort of Christmas YOU want, and not just doing things to please other people.
Of course, there will be some events you don’t necessarily want to go to that are ‘essential’ and others that are more ‘optional’, but it’s about striking a healthy balance to have a Christmas that suits you just as much as it does other people.
Remember, you are allowed to say no.
Want a year off cooking and hosting? Have a rest day Christmas. Want to go all out and extravagant with a Christmas ‘out out’ this year? Go for it!
Set some boundaries
You wouldn’t think that rules would be an essential part of a healthy Christmas – but we’re here to convince you to sprinkle a few into your festivities so you can have the best time.
Setting clear boundaries with people, e.g., your parents and in-laws, is a good first step to the festivities.
For example, if you hate people showing up at your house uninvited at the best of times, let alone at Christmas when you barely have a moment to yourself, tell them they need to call first.
Or, if your in-laws have made it tradition to come and feed your children copious amounts of sugar just before bedtime throughout the month of December, don’t be afraid to put your foot down.
Try to do some planning
Even though planning too much can take some of the joy out of the festivities, it can be helpful to at least think about planning your money and activities so it’s not all thrown on you last minute.
Start by writing down what is really important to you, how much it’s going to cost, including events and presents.
Make sure to prioritise and tackle things one at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. Also, you might want to leave plenty of space for the unexpected – because they are bound to pop up.
It’s also wise to plan things you’d like to do outside of family gatherings, and if family time is tough, plan to see your ‘chosen’ family after, e.g., your friends and neighbours.
Drink in moderation
With mulled wine on offer and an endless supply of fizz in your fridge, your alcohol consumption can easily ramp up over the festive season.
Although it’s tempting to overindulge, you may just want to think about what tomorrow will feel like for your mental health.
You may have heard of the phrase ‘hangxiety’.
This is a term used to describe the mental symptoms of a hangover that often accompany the usual pounding headache, sickness, and dehydration.
Experts think that hangover-related anxiety could come from a variety of causes, including social anxiety.
Lots of people use alcohol as a social lubricant, and those people tend to drink more to cope with feelings of anxiety or nervousness before and during a social event.
Anxiety tends to return ten-fold once the alcohol wears off and the hangover kicks in, which can make you feel even worse, e.g., questioning what you said / did the night before.
Poor sleep and dehydration also pay their part, as your body is simply not performing in the way it should and anxiety may ensue.
The mass consumerism over the festive period can cause Christmas to lose some of its magic.
Help give more (and not just presents) by helping out at your local homeless shelter, volunteering at charity events, fundraising for a good cause, or dishing out some home-baked minced pies around your neighbourhood.
Even just checking in on people you know will probably be lonely this time of year like older relatives and friends you’ve not seen in a while can make a massive impact.
Make time for self-care
Whether it’s navigating complex family dynamics or the pressure to make everything perfect, Christmas can be overwhelming.
As well as taking time out to manage stress, it’s also important to balance your sense of social obligations with your need for self-care.
Making sure you snatch some precious moments for yourself can make all the difference to your mental health at Christmas, whether that means:
- Going for a walk
- Watching a film
- Taking a restorative soak in festive-themed bath salts
- Sitting in the garden in a warm coat for a bit of sun
- Pampering yourself, e.g., painting your nails, relaxing with a face mask
- Unleash the relaxing effect of lavender essential oil to help you unwind
Whatever makes you feel good and helps you recharge.
Know you always feel drained at Christmas and want to change things this year?
It could be helpful to let friends and family know that you will be needing time out for calm and quiet.
This way, they know what the deal is and are (hopefully) less likely to come out with things like, “oh go on! It’s just one drink”, or “don’t be boring”.
Less of the food guilt
Although you probably don’t want to keep eating in ‘Christmas mode’ for the whole year, just enjoy the festivities and all the delish food that comes with it while you can.
There’s no use feeling guilty or trying to restrict yourself over Christmas when everyone else is tucking into the treats.
That can result in binge-like behaviour and bad mental health.
Our advice? Enjoy everything in moderation – and allow for some extra indulgences over Christmas, it’s really not worth stressing over.
You can get back on track when you actually have the time and mental capacity to do so.
Don’t overwork yourself
As well as managing your social outings and emotional health, it’s also important to strike the right balance between work and life.
Your employer may be piling on the extra work over the festive period due, but it doesn’t mean you have to run yourself down just to meet extra company expectations.
Aim to do your job and do it well, but don’t feel like you have to stay late at the office or just work well into the evening while working from home every day.
You need time off and your employer should respect this, especially with everything else going on!
Keep your brain active
It is all too easy to stay snuggled up on your sofa watching awful (but brilliant) Christmas movies or binging TV on the nights you’re not out on your jollies.
However, you shouldn’t leave your brain dormant for too long – use it or lose it!
Now, we’re not saying you need to get the study books out, but you can try reading a book you actually want to read, play card games, charades, or Trivial Pursuit, or simply doing some fun quizzes on your phone.
Ask for help
It’s difficult to admit you’re feeling anxious or not enjoying the festive period.
In fact, it can feel easier to put on your Christmas jumper, plaster on a smile and pretend it’s all ok.
But talking about your feelings can help to lift your mood and make it easier to reduce the impact of stress when you’re finding life tough.
Maybe identify someone who you’re comfortable talking to and make time for these conversations.
And if you need to, ask for help, whether this is from a loved one or from a support organisation such as The Samaritans.
Summary: How to look after your mental health at Christmas
Feeling Christmas stress is normal.
But we all have different capacities to cope with and manage this pressure.
For some, these mental health tips and making time for self-care can help.
However, if you find the symptoms of stress are increasing or lingering well into the new year, consult a medical practitioner for advice.
If you want to look after your physical health at Christmas, too, then check out 14 tips to stay physically healthy during the festive season.
Last updated: 7 November 2021