For some the season of twinkling fairy lights, presents, decorating the tree and Christmas parties is pure joy. For others, it's the most stressful time of the year. Whether you're trying to work out how to afford the extra expenditure, worrying about feeling like you have to socialise more or grieving a loved one - Christmas can be an incredibly tough time for all sorts of reasons. Even those who do not normally struggle with their mental health can find it a difficult time of year.
In this month's blog I talk through some of the most common reasons that people struggle with their emotions at this time of year, and ways you could try to reduce the impact on yourself.
Depression and Anxiety
No matter the reason you find this time of year difficult, your feelings are valid. If you have a support system around you, consider letting them know that you're struggling and how they can help (if you know). Even just sharing with someone that you're finding things tough can often take the pressure off feeling like you have to be jolly simply because ‘it's Christmas!'.
Don't overbook yourself. Especially if you're struggling with the idea of being around a lot of people which many of us are after a couple of years of staying apart. It can be overwhelming to have to suddenly jump back into things, and what's right for one isn't necessarily right for someone else. Be gentle with yourself and what you can realistically do.
If you find that the financial pressure causes your mental state to decline, set a budget and stick to it. Consider homemade gifts or (if you feel up to it) gifts of time - babysitting for people with children, helping an older relative in the garden, a promise of tea and cake at a later date.
Whatever you do, make sure that the healthy habits you have put in place to learn to cope do not get forgotten. The festive season can be a busy one, and it is easy to neglect yourself in the run up. Ensure that you're getting some fresh air, eating right and getting enough sleep as well as maintaining any habits like exercise or meditation.
Whether this is your first Christmas without a loved one or it's been a few years, Christmas is a common time for grief to become more intense. It may feel like the entire world is coming together with loved ones, but you're not able to see the one person you'd really like to - anger is a normal part of the process, and just because you've experienced it once doesn't mean that you can't feel it again.
You may be dreading certain traditions because they remind you of the person you've lost - if this is the case then consider doing something different to your normal Christmas traditions. You can always go back to them when it's less painful, but there is also no shame in starting a new set of traditions if you want or need to.
Reminiscing can feel inescapable, and while you may be scared to do so in case the tears come and don't stop - often it can make you feel better for allowing those intense emotions to vent.
Understand that your emotions may change day to day - what you are confident you'll manage one day may seem entirely impossible another day. This can especially be the case if your bereavement is recent.
Try to find a way to remember them in a positive way, making them part of the day in a different manner can help you to honour their memory in a less painful way than simply being aware that they aren't there.
A run on effect of grief can also be an increased likelihood of loneliness. If you've lost a loved one then the lack of their presence can feel like a gaping hole in the middle of the festivities, and you can feel like you've lost your partner in crime, or the one you would turn to for support or comfort. The increase in use of social media can highlight this as it can make it seem like everyone except you is surrounded by loved ones. If this is the case for you, it has been shown that trying to be productive with your time can help to lift your mood. Consider volunteering for a charity that helps others on Christmas Day if you're likely to be alone, or host your own Christmas for others who are struggling so that you can all boost each other. If you work in an industry where taking Christmas off isn't an option, consider offering to work.
Understand that it will not ‘cure' your feelings of loneliness, but will offer you an alternative way to spend your time, and may even make a day you were dreading more enjoyable.
It can feel like everyone around you is happier, going to more parties, giving or receiving more expensive gifts or being able to give their children ‘better' experiences at Christmas. Social media acts as an ever present highlight reel, particularly at this time of year when news feeds and stories are seemingly full of sparkles, delicious food, laughter and parties.
While in some cases, this may be an accurate reflection of the situation, it's also important to note that the people who aren't having a great time are unlikely to be sharing their experiences. Very few people will be sharing the family argument that occurred running up the adorable photo of the kids meeting Santa, or the fact that they'd rather be at home in their pyjamas than at a Christmas party.
Christmas can be a tricky time of year whether you're young or old, lonely or surrounded by people. If you struggle with your mental health normally then being aware that things could become harder to manage means that you can put steps in place to protect yourself, and take steps to manage it before things become too difficult to bear. Even if you don't normally struggle with your mental health, being aware that there's a change you may find things harder than normal can be wise. Working with a counsellor can give you the tools to learn how to understand and manage your emotions during tricky periods. It can give you a toolbox of ways to understand yourself, and allow you to develop essential mental skills to cope with situations you find tough.
To find out more about what counselling could offer you, contact me on 07305 920 437 for a chat.