The festive season can be a time of joy and spending time with loved ones but it can also be a stressful and lonely period. During this season, the pressure to be seen to be having a good time can feel overwhelming if you are dealing with mental health issues and emotional difficulties. In addition, Christmas can bring lots of additional stresses such as travelling, eating more food, drinking more alcohol, family arguments, financial pressures and increased household work. But not to worry - here are some tried and tested ways that you can use to protect your mental health over this busy time of year.
1. Accept your feelings
If you have lost or can’t be with loved ones – realise you are allowed to grieve and allow space for this to happen. It might also help to talk about your feelings to a friend/family member or better yet somebody professional. Remember that there is no ‘right’ way to feel. It is not uncommon to feel angry/upset or disappointed around this time of year. All emotions are a sign you are human and reflect where you are in your healing process.
2. Be gentle with others
The unrealistic expectations we often have for Christmas can result in unrealistic expectations we put on other people. If you didn’t get a Christmas card from someone, don’t assume they don’t love you. They might be insanely busy, lack funds or choose not to follow the tradition anymore. The truth is we have no idea what somebody else is going through especially around this time of year where stress levels can be high – so go easy on people. Practice responding with compassion and kindness. You will feel better in taking the high road and have less stress in the long run.
3. Plan a day for yourself
Set aside one day/half a day where you plan something for yourself. Ask yourself, what do I really want to do? It can be something as simple as cooking a meal, taking a walk or going out for brunch. Perhaps you may want to kick back and do nothing for a whole day? Whatever it is that your heart desires – do it for yourself. Remember that you are the most important person in your life – so take time to do the things that make you happy. Your responsibilities can wait!
4. Learn to say 'No'
Saying 'yes' when you should say 'no' can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't take part in every project or activity. Practice saying 'no'. Below are a couple of responses that I keep in my brain bank for when I need them. If it's not possible to say no, try to remove something else from your diary to make up for the lost time.
· I wish I could but...
· I'm fully booked for new projects right now
· I've got a policy of not taking on any work until (insert date/month), until the busy period is over
· Your event looks amazing, but I'm afraid I've got too much on my plate right now
· It would be great to catch up, but I can't this week
Saying No when Caught Off-Guard
· Let me get back to you on that
· I'll check my diary and let you know
· Give me a few days to think about it
5. Make time for exercise and/or movement
Often when I have overbooked myself, I avoid exercise and movement completely. But our bodies need to move (both for our physical and mental health), whether it be for five minutes or a whole hour. Sometimes, changing up your exercise routine can encourage you to be more motivated. Explore new ways of moving the body whether it be dancing, climbing or some good old yoga (check out my blog posts or online classes for some ideas). I find that I tend to skip exercise if I do not write it down in my diary and make time for it. Write it down so you have it as a visual reminder.
6. Avoid family conflict
Enjoying yourself can sometimes mean declining to engage in conversations that are triggering or energetically draining for you. Setting boundaries for yourself can help with this. There is no need to explain to Aunty Jane why you have decided to go vegetarian for a month or what nurseries you have decided on. Polititely decline and change the subject.
7. Focus on the important things
Christmas shouldn't be all about the presents, but financial troubles can make it easy to lose sight of that. Rein in the stress by organising a gift exchange with friends or family (Secret Santa). You can also make your gifts or create traditions like ‘bring-a-dish’ followed by a walk outside and board games by the fire. Realise deeply that there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas and/or the perfect family and focus on enjoying what you can. It will be the New Year before you know it!
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas whatever you decide to do and a Happy New Year. Be good to yourselves. Lots of love, Tash and Dexter the Dog xxx