Beat depression this Christmas
Christmas is not always the most wonderful time of the year. For many people, the holiday season encourages and exacerbates mental health issues. If this sounds like you, there are things you can do to protect your mental wellbeing
According to Age UK and other studies, there are many reasons why people might find the festive season hard. The pressure to have the ‘perfect Christmas’ and be happy throughout can be a struggle even for those with no existing mental health issues.
Christmas encourages people to spend more, socialise more, eat and drink more… Things which are ostensibly fun can become overwhelming and even isolating for many people.
If you are lonely, you might feel this even more at a time when everyone seems to be surrounded by loved ones. If you are depressed, you might feel even worse about not feeling your best during such a ‘happy’ season.
In reality, a lot of people find the festive period something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Depression at Christmas
Many people feel an expectation to be happy over the holidays, yet Christmas depression is a common experience.
So, if you’re asking yourself ‘Why do I feel depressed at Christmas?’, know that you are not alone.
It’s believed that 1 in 5 people in the UK will suffer with depression at some point. As Christmas can be a stressful and pressure-filled time, it’s no surprise that the season can exacerbate symptoms of depression.
How to cope with Christmas depression
If you have an existing diagnosis of depression, one of the most important things you can do over Christmas is to keep up with your treatment and management plan.
Don’t neglect to look after yourself mentally and physically during this period. If you take medications, keep up with them. If certain meditations, exercises or therapies have helped you, make sure you make them a priority even over the holidays.
There are different types of depression and no one-size-fits-all treatment, so it’s important to identify what works for you and keep up with it. Your mental health is hugely important, just like your physical health.
If you have not been diagnosed with depression but feel that you are showing signs of it, or if for any reason you are struggling to cope with your mental health, seek help.
There are many options available to you, from helplines to NHS counselling. If you don’t know where to start, speak to your GP.
Loneliness at Christmas
During the holidays, many people cherish spending time with family and friends.
However, each year almost a million older people spend Christmas Day alone.
For many, Christmas Day is just another day to feel lonely. For those who are bereaved, it can be an especially hard time. The season stirs up memories and highlights feelings of loss and isolation.
And it’s not just older people who suffer from feelings of loneliness. Many younger people too will find themselves without an invitation on Christmas Day.
People sharing photos, videos and messages of their holiday plans on social media can add to the sense that everyone except you is having the perfect Christmas.
How to combat feelings of loneliness
If you find yourself without plans for Christmas, be proactive. Have you reached out to all your friends to try and make plans?
Alternatively, consider starting a new tradition. There are many ways you can get involved with the community and spend the day in a positive way.
Charities play a vital role in helping to beat loneliness. Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign provides a range of services for older people, from lunch clubs to befriending schemes.
Whether you want to volunteer for or benefit from a service such as this, it can be a great opportunity to meet new people and enjoy the festivities.
If you are really struggling, the Campaign to end Loneliness offers advice and resources to help relieve your feelings of isolation.
It’s time to put your mental health first
Loneliness is not the only feeling that can take hold over the festive period. For many people, the holiday season is a stressful time that can exacerbate mental health issues.
If you anticipate any of these feelings around Christmas time, try to get ahead of them by making a conscious decision to prioritise and look after your mental health.
Whether you suffer with depression, loneliness or simply find the festive season a lot to cope with, there are strategies you can use to help you take care of your psychological wellbeing.
Hopefully these strategies will help you to cope better with Christmas stress and anxiety. However, if you feel like you are struggling daily and you don’t have anyone to talk to, it’s important to speak up.
Often people, and especially men, suffer in silence with mental health issues. Don’t be one of them.
Make it a present to yourself this Christmas to get help to improve and protect your mental wellbeing.
How to look after your mental health at Christmas
Manage your expectations
Try not to get hung up on the unrealistic idea of having the ‘perfect Christmas’. Real life is, almost without exception, nothing like the adverts.
Having high expectations of the holiday period just heaps extra pressure on you and the people around you.
At the same time, it is easy to anticipate disaster, especially if you have had a negative experience in previous years. Take the festivities as they come and try to keep an open mind.
Take care of yourself
At Christmas, it is easy to drop all of the good habits you adopt to keep your mind healthy throughout the year – just when they are most important.
It’s cold and dark, and you’re busy, but finding time to exercise and practise relaxation techniques will help you stay in control of how you feel.
If you have routines that work for you, try not to let Christmas activities disrupt them.
In the midst of the festive whirlwind, make sure you remember the essentials such as taking your medication.
If you see a therapist or counsellor, it may be good to schedule extra sessions so you can talk through your concerns.
Above all, remember it's okay to take time out at Christmas and focus on yourself.
Let go of the little things
Between shopping, hanging the decorations and sending endless cards, Christmas has a tendency to feel like nothing more than a mission to get through a long to-do list.
If it is starting to get to you, make a conscious decision not to care about the trivial things. You can still have a great Christmas without lights on the house, and your office Secret Santa does not require you to spend hours sourcing the perfect gift.
Keep the peace
If worry over family arguments is making you anxious, it may be worth telling the worst offenders about your concerns so they can try and keep a lid on the conflict.
You could also try confiding in another neutral party who can support you and help you diffuse a tense situation if it arises.
If that doesn’t work, remember you can always just walk away and give yourself some breathing space.
Make a budget
Christmas can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Make a budget, and start shopping early so that you can spread the cost and feel in control.
Shopping online means you can avoid the crowds and resist the temptation of panic buying.
Alcohol is a depressant
Most people drink more than they should at Christmas. Try not to rely on drinking to ease your anxiety.
Excessive consumption of alcohol will make you feel worse in the long run and may make your depression worse. If you are taking anti-depressants, it is usually recommended to avoid alcohol completely.
Sunlight helps with depression
Some people with depression experience worse symptoms in winter, with many being diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is caused by a lack of exposure to daylight, leading to a deficiency of vitamin D.
Get outside in your lunch break if possible and make the most of sunny days, even if it’s cold. You could also try light therapy to improve your mood – speak to your doctor if you think it could help you.
Ask for help with depression
If your friends and family know about how you are feeling, they can support you. If you feel like you can’t cope, ask for help and be specific about what people can do to make you feel better.
Loved ones are usually willing to lend a hand but probably need guidance; otherwise they may just worry about you and feel that they are powerless to help.
If you feel you are displaying signs of clinical depression, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible.
If you need more help with managing depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns, get in touch today to find out about our talking therapies.
Get help this christmas
If you're feeling particularly low this year, book an appointment with one of our specialists for help with your mental health.