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Looking after your mental health during the festive season

December 11, 2023
Michelle Sherman

When most people think about the festive season, they imagine twinkling lights, roaring fires and families celebrating together. It’s a nice picture, but it’s not always accurate. Mental health symptoms, worries and feelings of grief don’t take time off during the holidays, so while the festive period can be filled with lovely moments, it can also present challenges and triggers.

Many people feel a sense of pressure to have a good time and to appear happy around the holidays. In fact, 52% of the UK public say that they feel additional pressure to pretend everything is ok during the festive season. This could be because they don’t want to bring people down or they find themselves comparing their situation to others.

Social media makes comparison easy, especially during the festive season when it’s common for people to post about their plans. If you’re continually seeing photos and videos of people who seem to be having fun, this might make you reflect on your own situation, and if you're not having a good time, it can cause you to feel lonely.

Feelings of loneliness are also more likely when you’re grieving a loved one or going through relationship issues. There’s so much focus on the holidays being a time of togetherness, so when you’re missing someone important, you might feel their absence even more than usual. Similarly, if you’re not able to see your loved ones for a practical reason, or due to social anxiety, you can also feel isolated.

It can be hard to enjoy the festive season when you’re worrying about finances. Many people are concerned about rising costs and how they’ll manage when it comes to things like buying gifts, hosting people or even keeping the heating on. For some, celebrations may not be economically viable because they’re trying to simply make ends meet for their families.

Ultimately, the festive period isn’t always ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ and it’s okay if you’re struggling. Although the holidays will never be stress-free, at this point in the run-up to the festive period, it’s a good idea to stop and check in with how you’re feeling, and consider how you can make the time enjoyable and relaxing for everyone, including yourself.

Remember what really matters

Christmas seems to get bigger every year, which creates more pressure to make the holidays ‘perfect’ and usually comes with extra costs. If you find yourself feeling stressed about how you’re going to manage it all, it might be a good idea to take a moment and think about what you really want out of the festive season.

Consider which parts you enjoy and focus on those. Maybe it’s baking festive treats, snuggling up to watch a classic film or getting everyone together for a game. The most meaningful parts of the holidays don’t have to be the most expensive or stressful.

Set realistic expectations

It’s normal to hope for a stress-free, fun and joyful festive season, but this isn’t always realistic. You might have to make tough decisions about who to see and when, there might be burnt sprouts or even an argument. Ahead of the days you celebrate, examine your expectations and ask yourself how realistic they are:

  • How important is it really that everything is flawless?  
  • Is that even possible?  
  • What will happen if something doesn’t go perfectly?

Plans don’t always work out but that doesn’t mean the day is ruined – you can still have a great time and make lasting memories. Sometimes the imperfections are the parts you laugh about later or learn from.

Decide a budget and stick to it

During the festive season, we’re often going out more, buying presents and hosting people, so spending can get out of control, which adds to the stress. Consider how much you can afford to spend on gifts, food and fun, and make sure you don’t go over that budget.

Prioritise self-care

When everything is busy and full-on, we can forget to make time for ourselves. Back-to-back plans and being around people all day can be draining and stressful, so practising self-care is really important to conserve your energy and protect your wellbeing. Perhaps you could go for a walk and spend some time outside - exercise and natural daylight can give you a boost.

There’s often a lot of alcohol around during the holidays, but remember that alcohol is a depressant and can impact your mental health. Lots of rich food and not enough sleep also take their toll, making you feel lethargic. Try to get some rest and be mindful about eating balanced meals, rather than just snacking on treats.

Set boundaries

Over the holidays, it can feel like you’re being dragged in many different directions when trying to fit in meet ups with family members and friends. This can be extremely tiring and lead to burnout, so it’s important to set boundaries and give yourself permission to say no to plans. Read more about how to set boundaries.

If you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety or depression, during the festive season or at any other time, talking therapy can help. At ieso, we offer online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for a range of mental health conditions. CBT can help you manage your problems by changing the way that you think and behave. Our service is judgement-free and can be accessed from home. Find out more on our website.

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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