Historical data shows that mental health enquiries and referrals decline throughout December, only starting to increase after Christmas Day itself. The same is true for Google searches around finding mental health assistance.
It is widely accepted that Christmas can be a challenging time if you struggle with a mental health condition. The reason we see the above trend around mental health is unclear. Maybe people are great at managing their mental health through December, and it's Christmas Day itself that acts as the trigger for anxiety and other conditions.
As the global community continues to deal with COVID-19, Christmas 2020 might look very different for many of us. Christmas during a pandemic might be a welcome excuse for many people not to have to do things they usually do. For others, it may add stress to the festive period.
Here are some tips for safeguarding your mental health over the festive period.
Plan your Christmas if you know your triggers
Are you dealing with a mental health issue already? Do you know from previous experiences that Christmas can harm your mental health, even if you don't ordinarily struggle with yours?
If living through a lockdown in 2020 brought mental health problems into your life for the first time, you might have learned your triggers and developed coping strategies.
Whatever your history with mental health, if you know what triggers a deterioration in yours, having a plan is an excellent idea.
For example, let's say boredom or isolation causes your mental health to suffer. Can you plan Christmas to make sure you're always busy and around people? In contrast, if you struggle to deal with the stress of Christmas, especially if you live somewhere you're able to gather in a sizeable group, plan alone time for yourself.
It's essential you have a plan for the full Christmas period, too. The time between Christmas Day and returning to "normal life" a day or two after New Year's Day can often feel like a wasteland of nothingness.
Whatever triggers mental health concerns, try and have a plan that covers you for the ten or so days from Christmas Eve onwards.
Continue any positive self-care you ordinarily practice
What daily activities do you already do to practice positive self-care and safeguard your mental health?
Christmas is no reason to stop doing these things.
As part of your plan, make time for the things you know you need to do that will help your mindset. If you'll be spending time with friends or family this Christmas and aren't particularly looking forward to it, make these a non-negotiable part of your plan.
Do you exercise for 30 minutes a day? Make sure that continues! Are you committed to daily meditations or activities like yoga? Keep them on your schedule!
We often surprise ourselves with how difficult it is to get back into good habits even if we only break them for a few days over Christmas. It's far healthier to keep your good practices going over Christmas rather than fall out of them and find yourself climbing uphill in January.
Be good to yourself
For anyone who struggles with mental health, one of the biggest challenges every Christmas is how easy it is to beat yourself up.
- Why am I alone?
- Why aren't I having fun with the people I'm with?
- Why don't I enjoy Christmas?
- Why do I let myself be talked into things I don't want to do and don't enjoy?
These are all familiar sources of anxiety around Christmas.
It's vital that you're good to yourself and don't adopt a negative mindset.
Being alone doesn't mean people don't love you or aren't thinking of you. Maybe spending this Christmas alone has been brought on by COVID-19, in which case you can look forward to 2021 and the rollout of vaccines with optimism.
Accepting not everyone enjoys Christmas is massive if the middle two points above are a common source of anxiety. If you don't enjoy Christmas, or particularly enjoy spending time with specific family members, that's okay. Go back to your plan and think about how you can manage these situations.
This Christmas, make sure you do you
For many people, 2020 has been a significant year for changing our mindset. Many people are planning 2021 and beyond with a "life's too short" mentality, driven by the restrictions they've had to endure this year.
Adopting a similar mindset can help you get through Christmas on your terms.
- You don't have to say yes to every suggestion.
- Nothing "needs" to happen over Christmas; the sky won't fall in because a "family tradition" didn't take place.
- It's okay to tell people you're setting boundaries, that you don't want to see them every day and are putting yourself first.
How many Christmases have you spent unhappy, dealing with mental health issues because you've done things "because that's what you do" or have felt unable to say no?
While 2020 has helped bring home the notion we should be more appreciative of social connections, it should have helped you realise you need to put yourself first sometimes, too.
Know where to get help if you need it
You can have a great plan and set clear boundaries, yet still face mental health challenges over the coming weeks.
As part of your planning around safeguarding your mental health this Christmas, know where you can get help if you need it. Ensure you're aware of the support available to you and who you can contact if you need to speak to someone. If your employer has employee assistance or wellbeing programs, find out when these services will be available over the Christmas and New Year holiday.
Put yourself first this Christmas. Maintain any good habits and behaviours you've worked on this year. Have the Christmas you want to have, whether surrounded by loved ones or happily spent in your own company.