Navigating the festive season

Whether you observe/celebrate Christmas or not, the chances are that this time of year can have quite an influence on you think, feel & behave. If you find Christmas a difficult time or if you know someone else who isn’t looking forward to it this year, then this blog is for you. 

How to navigate Christmas with (MHFA instructor)
Santa run on Search & Rescue

It’s not just you – this is common!*

25% of people experience a downturn in their mental health over Christmas

54% of people are worried about someone else’s mental health over Christmas 

83% of people feel lonely at Christmas

81% feel stressful at Christmas

47% of people are worried about debt (figures gathered before we entered this recession).

(*Figures from YouGov & The Mental Health Foundation) 

Christmas can be a difficult time

  • Maybe you are being forced to spend time with friends and family, possibly in a place that you don’t want to be, or for a length of time that seems too long. 
  • Maybe someone is missing from your life who you used to really enjoy spending Christmas with. 
  • Maybe you’re worried about the end of this year and the start of the new year.
  • Maybe the financial pressures of Christmas feels more intense this year.

These are just some of the common issues. The points below suggest some ways to navigate this potentially difficult time, either for yourself, or someone else you’re supporting. 

The main message I want to convey is that this is really common. You’re not alone in feeling like this. Hopefully some of these simple practical tips will add to your toolkit and help you get through a few difficult days.

Practical tips to navigate Xmas

Talking about it, realising others are feeling this too, helps us to normalise the situation. If this is how you feel, talk about it and appreciate you’re not odd or showing a sign of weakness. So, however you’re feeling about Christmas, try these top tips to help you navigate the festive season. 

  1. Check-in with yourself
  2. Do some planning
  3. Think balance & boundaries
  4. Use the 5 ways to wellbeing

1. Check-in with yourself

Pay a little attention to yourself & how you’re feeling. Many of us tend to put ourselves last. Make time to check in with yourself. Am I feeling good? Do I have enough energy? Do I need more sleep? What do I need less of? Be kind to yourself. If you’ve not slept well, or you’re feeling low, if you’ve not got much energy, that’s okay. Choose options which suit you on that day. 

When we start to keep a track of how we’re feeling on different days for different reasons, we start to build more self-awareness. This is a really positive step and gives us back some control. Be your own best friend – say no, have a nap, limit your time in difficult social gatherings.

 If we’re paying attention to ourselves and how we’re feeling, the next thing is scheduling some time. Putting time aside for ourselves and what helps us feel good and well. Make time for your daily maintenance plan. Maybe that’s time to exercise, journal, read, walk alone, enjoy your hobby, with your pet, catching up on your favourite sit-com. Whatever that means for you, schedule that in. If you’re staying with other people, or if people are staying with you, let them know you need that time, and that you’ll enjoy being with them later. 

2. Do some planning

It’s helpful to plan ahead and identify what situations, people, or events, might be difficult for you, and choosing which ones you want to go to. By planning that ahead it can help to take the pressure off, manage expectations & plan to have a difficult conversation before a busy social gathering. 

You could try making some notes ahead of time if you need to manage someone who can make you feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Writing down some questions or notes will be helpful ahead of time, especially if there are some make or break issues that will determine whether you attend or not. See below re boundaries…

If you decide not to go to a gathering or event early, then this often means less worry and anxiety ahead of the event. You’ll also be helping whoever is organising numbers, catering, bookings etc.

Planning ahead also helps us with events, treats, rewards to look forward to and get ready for – these can be very helpful contributing to our positive mental health. Use this technique to plan positive things you’d like to do in 2023, rather than reflecting back on what you didn’t achieve in 2022. This simple change can be very powerful for many. Much of keeping yourself well isn’t rocket science.

Think balance & boundaries

There is the potential for a lot of excess at this time of year. Try having a little bit of everything in moderation. Think Balance! Don’t do things to excess. If you are feeling vulnerable, not on top of your game, be kind to yourself. Compromise, do a little less. If we’re thinking about food, have some healthy options as well as all the treats that are out there., get some early nights or a lie-in. Try a nap, if you are especially tired.

Have some alcohol-free days. Try to drink some water as well as the alcohol you may be offered. Too much alcohol can put us on a downward spiral when we are experiencing poor mental health.  There are plenty of non-alcoholic options out there now that are fantastic. We can socialise, feel as if we’re part of the mix, have a relaxing, delicious, refreshing drink, but without the alcohol. 

Setting boundaries is also important. Remember it’s okay to say ‘no’. Make that choice for you & making it early, maybe even after an early conversation with a host before an event can help you to clarify what’s happening/ planned & set expectations or boundaries so that you do feel comfortable to attend and enjoy yourself.

NHS research 2008

Use the 5 ways to wellbeing

The five ways of wellbeing are great to use for a quick boost at this time of year. Based on research, the five things that give us positive mental health are:

Connect with people who help us feel good.

Exercise – move more. Have some movement in your Christmas. Plan to do some exercise on Christmas morning before the big meal.

Take notice. Mindfulness or relaxation help us to live in the moment. Use your senses. We can do that when we’re preparing and enjoying meals together. Have a bath, do your hobby. Use our senses of smell, taste, touch. 

Give. That’s not just about giving presents. It might be giving a smile, or a special thank you. Giving our time to help someone out. A lot of us volunteer at Christmas and that can be so good for our mental health. 

Keep learning. Try a new recipe, discover how to use, play with, or enjoy a Christmas present you’ve been given. Maybe watch a nature or travel programme. Start reading that new book that someone bought you. 

One day at a time…

Nothing lasts forever. Even if Christmas does seem difficult, it is a relatively short period of time & it will pass. Take back a little control for yourself & know that it starts for you – when you want to say it starts. And it ends whenever you want to say it ends. And when it’s done, it’s done. You can then get back to what is a more manageable everyday life for you, whatever that looks like.

Stay wonky – it is OK to be you. Catch you in 2023.

Other Resources

If you’re feeling lonely on Christmas Day, post on social media with #joinin (started by comedian Sarah Millican) 

For parents of young people who may be struggling there’s Young Minds

For older people there’s The Silver Line which also has a helpline 0800 470 8090

Chat to someone 24/7 – CALL 116 123 or TEXT ‘shout’ to 85258

Award winning Stay Alive app has resources for people thinking about suicide or if you are supporting someone with suicide thoughts/ behaviour