Supporting your mental health over the Christmas period

Christmas can be a difficult time of year for many of us. This might trigger problems with our mental health, or worsen existing difficulties. Coupled with the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, it is important to take care of ourselves and our loved ones over this festive period.

Supporting others

If you are worried about the mental health of people in your life, it can be really helpful to just start an open conversation with them.

Christmas can mean different things to different people and their experience may change each year. For many of us, Christmas can trigger feelings such as loneliness, stress or worry about money, and often someone may experience seemingly opposing emotions at the same time. It is important not to make assumptions about how someone is feeling, but rather ask them how they’re feeling about Christmas this year and give them space to share their feelings and listen without judgment, and let them know it’s common to find things hard at this time of year.

If someone is struggling, try to avoid ‘cheering them up’. People feel most supported when they feel heard and that their feelings have been understood rather than needing someone to try and  change them. Phrases like “Christmas is supposed to be a happy time”, “Other people have it worse”, “Cheer up, it’ll be fine” can feel dismissive and minimise their feelings. Sometimes we use these phrases because we are feeling uncomfortable, but if you can instead sit with that and just be alongside that person in whatever they are feeling, this an can be really helpful.

We may find that when we first ask how someone is, they just say they’re ‘fine’. It can be really helpful to ask them for a second time how they are. We often treat ‘how are you?’ as a general greeting, but asking a second time ‘how are you really doing?’ shows you genuinely do want to know. If they still aren’t keen to share how they are, respect that decision and just let them know you are happy to listen if they do want to talk at any time. If you find some things at Christmas hard, it can be useful to share that with them to help normalise this and let them know they aren’t alone in their feelings.

If you notice that someone is feeling a lot of stress at this time of year, you may want to try and help them. In this case, it is important to understand what each person might need rather than making too many assumptions. Try having an open conversation about what elements of Christmas they are feeling stressed about, and what might be helpful for them. This might include setting spending limits on presents, offering to help with childcare, understanding that people who have problems with eating might need support around mealtimes and so on.

Coping with COVID anxiety

Many of us are feeling lots of different emotions about the pandemic and we may be having different experiences from our loved ones. It is important to remember there is no ‘right’ way to respond to a pandemic and all experiences are valid. Try to understand how others are thinking and feeling, and be respectful of that. For those you are spending time with over Christmas, it may be useful to check in with how they are feeling about COVID and what safety measures they may need to feel comfortable.

Remember to take care of yourself and notice what things in particular lead you to feel stressed or anxious about COVID. For example, it maybe useful to limit your time on social media or watching the news so that you aren’t overwhelmed. Try to focus on the things you can control rather than worrying about the things you can’t. If possible, try to find moments of joy and fun to help provide some respite from the difficult emotions you may also be feeling.

Taking care of our own mental health

Christmas can feel like a very busy time for many of us, but it is important to try and find time to take care of our wellbeing too.

We recommend using the ‘Five ways to Wellbeing’ as a prompt. This includes:

  • Connecting – spending time with people in a way that feels connecting and energising for you.
  • Be Active – take time to be active, even if just a short walk each day to get some fresh air. During the winter, it is especially important to get outside in the daylight.
  • Take Notice – try to be mindful and focus on the current moment rather than worrying about the past or future. Even just a few minutes of focusing on your breathing can help.
  • Learn – spend some time learning something new, even just listening to a short podcast can help keep your mind active.
  • Give – helping others can help give you a sense of purpose. This might include support a friend, volunteering in your community or just being kind to others when you are doing your Christmas shopping.

Remember to treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding as you treat others. Be patient with yourself and others, and know that this time of year can be challenging for many of us, especially during a pandemic. Be mindful of what you need and try to communicate this to the people around you, including setting any relevant boundaries such as topics you don’t want to talk about or events you don’t wish to attend. Consider talking to a friend or loved one about how you are feeling.

For information about what to do in a mental health crisis, or for details of other organisations who provide immediate support, please visit our Information and Support page.

Whilst you’re here

Wiltshire Mind is an independent charity and we receive most of our funding from the community. We know the country is in a mental health crisis, and we urgently need to raise funds so that we can continue to provide support to the people who need us. To make a donation, not matter how small, please visit: https://www.justgiving.com/wiltshire-mind.