Those of us with mental health problems can often feel disconnected at Christmas. Disconnected from the warmth, the joy and all the elements that traditionally make December the ‘most wonderful time of the year’.
It might feel as though we are looking in on the festivities, unable to take part and feeling frozen out and alone.
Conversely, some of us may feel overwhelmed, swept helplessly along by the Christmas juggernaut. A stress and stimulation overload, unable to put the brakes on and pause for a moment of much-needed calm.
The expectation of happiness that comes with the festive period can make any negative feelings more heightened.
One of the most prolific problems at Christmas is a feeling of intense loneliness. In fact, in a recent survey carried out by Populus on behalf of Mind we found that 17% of adults feel lonelier at Christmas, and 8% will be spending Christmas alone.
Whether that’s because you physically are alone, or because you feel unable to connect with others due to a mental health problem such as depression, it can be especially hard on the big day.
The thing is, you’re certainly not alone in feeling this way. I smile each year when, on Christmas Day, comedian Sarah Millican takes to Twitter to encourage anyone feeling alone to #joinin with the conversation. Bringing together so many people in a festive online chat can have a hugely positive impact on people. It’s a time when Twitter becomes a warm environment in which to virtually hang out.
But what about those of us who don’t have a Twitter account? If you’re concerned about feeling alone at Christmas think about ways in which you could make new connections in the weeks running up to the big day. Try volunteering for a local charity or join a new club that you’re interested in, be it arts and crafts, sports or a book group. There are lots of useful contacts on the Mind website to point you in the right direction.
Our survey also found that one in three people can feel overwhelmed by stress at Christmas. It can be hard to relax during this busy time of year, so how can we make sure we’ve got time out for ourselves when we’ve got so much to get done?
Forty percent of respondents told us that they find arts and crafts relaxing, which is why so many people take part in our Crafternoon fundraiser each year. You can get together with friends or family and take part in mindful activities such as designing Christmas cards or making a Christmas wreath to hang on the door. The great thing about crafting is that you can knock things off your Christmas to-do list as you craft. Imagine sitting in the comfort of your own home, with Christmas tunes in the background while making unique Christmas gifts for friends and family. Much more relaxing than hitting the hectic high street.
Exercise is another way people let off steam at Christmas, and reaching out to friends and family and sharing the load often helps too.
But generally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take stock. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and try to plan your time by making realistic lists, varying your activities, taking breaks and trying not to do too much at once. You’ll feel more productive and more relaxed at the same time.
Although alcohol can initially make you feel more relaxed, it’s important to remember that it’s a depressive and drinking too much can make you feel irritable, aggressive and low. Staying within the recommended limits will also mean you’re much less likely to end up with a hangover! There’s a tendency to over indulge at Christmas, and there are always lots of tempting treats lying around. But it’s really important to maintain a healthy diet as this will help you maintain a stable mood, and should help prevent irritability and mood slumps.
Work nights out and big Christmas feasts can feel problematic. Don’t be afraid to let close friends or family know that you’re nervous about these things, as opening up can take away some of the anxiety you might be feeling. Talking to a GP or joining a peer support group can also be really helpful and remind you that you’re not on your own in feeling this way.
But if you’re reading this blog and feeling that it doesn’t apply you directly, don’t forget that a friend or loved one may be experiencing some of these feelings and pressures. So if your friend keeps cancelling on you don’t be upset or angry. They might be feeling low or anxious so asking them how they are and if they’d rather do something low key could make a big difference to them.
And if somebody chooses not to drink at a Christmas party, don’t make a big deal of it, they may have a very good reason and they shouldn’t feel under pressure to explain themselves.
Nobody can have the ‘perfect’ Christmas but if we all pull together, we can make it that little bit better.
If you’re feeling at crisis point, or are worried about a friend, relative or colleague, call the Samaritans on 116 123.