For most people Christmas is a time of celebration, but for others it can be a stressful and testing time mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. In today’s Wellbeing Wednesday feature, Lee Hawker-Lecesne MBPsS reveals how to look after your mental health during this time.
The countdown to Christmas seems to start earlier each year. With time off work, endless supplies of food and drink, giving and receiving presents and opportunities to see family and friends, what’s not to like?
‘Tis the season…
Away from the perfect Hollywood image of Christmas, for many people the holiday season presents a dizzying array of demands – from feeling obliged to socialise more than usual to juggling family conflict, from having to find money to buy presents and extravagant food to entertaining over-excited children off school.
Over a quarter of the population in the UK reported to YouGov that that Christmas makes their mental health worse, and more than two in five people say that they have experienced depression during the month of December. Typically, the Christmas and New Year holiday period presents heightened expectations of family togetherness, financial burden, and isolation, which can exacerbate mental health worries and inadvertently encourage excessive alcohol, drugs, and food consumption as a means of coping with the stress of the season.
As the first Christmas since the pandemic looms closer, the realities of this will be brought home to many who lost their livelihoods or their loved ones.
Tips for staying on top of your mental health in the festive season:
- Stick to a routine – keep a daily self-care routine. Make sure that you have relaxation, physical exercise, and healthy eating as part of your routine. At social gatherings decide when you will arrive and leave, rather than letting stress and anxiety build which can lead to relieving these feelings by drinking heavily.
- Make a financial plan – identify areas that cause you financial stress. This is an expensive time of year with social events and present buying but don’t let financial worries stop you from spending time with your friends and family. Plan ways to reduce spending and set yourself a budget.
- Dilute family tension – if spending so much time with family is starting to feel a bit overwhelming, take yourself off for a break, or discuss your concerns with them.
- Avoid triggers – whether this be uncomfortable social situations or certain topics for family members.
- Drink in moderation – it may be tempting to drink too much during the festive period, but alcohol can contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Accept feelings of loneliness – if you’re feeling lonely, take a moment to remind yourself that this festive season is temporary, everyone will go back to their daily lives in no time.
Social anxiety at Christmas
With the global recession beginning to bite and the legacy of COVID still fresh in many people’s memories, Christmas 2022 will be an especially anxious time for many. Social anxiety or social phobia can affect anyone to a certain degree, and those who feel elevated levels of anxiety could struggle at this time.
So, what exactly is social anxiety?
The condition is often described as a fear of interaction with others that leads to heightened self-consciousness and the feeling of being negatively rated or judged. Common symptoms include feelings of emotional distress during social encounters, physical symptoms like shakiness, stomach cramps, sweating, dizziness or light-headedness and fear of embarrassing yourself or letting yourself down in public.
Tips on dealing with social anxiety this season
- Take a Moment for Yourself – if you feel panicky at the thought of dealing with other people, take a moment to relax. Stop what you’re doing and sit. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Try to focus your mind while regulating your breathing. Remind yourself that others are
likely to feel just as scared as you.
- Take Advantage of Your Support Network – Lean on your friends, family, or support network when times get tough. You’ll discover that a problem shared really is a problem halved. Letting others know when you’re worried about work events, parties, or simply interacting with others as you do the shopping often puts the situation into perspective. If you’re stressing attending a large event, see if you can take a friend. Having someone familiar to focus on will make you feel calmer.
- Make a List – list circumstances where you feel most stressed or anxious, particularly those that make you feel like drinking too much. You may be surprised to find that interacting with others is easier than you imagined. You’ll begin to feel stronger and more able to overcome social anxiety without for example turning to alcohol to cope.
Whether or not you suffer from mental health worries the festive season can be overwhelming. Christmas is widely advertised as a time to be spent with family which gives it unpleasant connotations for the many people whose family lives are not entirely stable. Addiction can act as a coping mechanism and this combination of factors creates a ‘perfect storm’ of problems which anyone on the brink of addiction is unlikely to navigate successfully.
Lee Hawker-Lecesne MBPsS, Addiction Counsellor and Lead Therapist at The Cabin comments: “A lack of insight, judgement and acceptance are three of the most dangerous characteristics of an addiction – and these are key reasons why there is always a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking treatment services directly after the Christmas period. This increase is largely due to the aggregation of consequences of excessive drinking or drug use over the Christmas period”.
Lee Hawker-Lecesne MBPsS is a Registered Member of the British Psychological Society. He graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK with a degree in Behavioural Science, and a postgraduate clinical focus on addictions from the University of Bath. Lee is Lead Therapist at The Cabin, a centre of excellence for the treatment of mental health and addictive disorder.
This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.