I wanted to write another post on mental health as I think a lot of people are unaware that Christmas can be one of the most difficult times of the year, especially for those of us suffering with depression and/or anxiety.
The expectation is that you will feel happy and excited, spending time with family and friends, playing board games, wearing party hats and eating loads of mince pies, but when depression hits, it can be almost impossible to engage in any of the usual, fun Christmas activities.
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to turn mental health conditions off, and depression especially can creep up on you for a long time without you realising. December is the most common month for depressive symptoms to show up due to the lack of Vitamin D we receive and the dark, cold days which, to be honest, can make anyone feel rubbish!
Rather than listing all of the things that could go wrong this Christmas, I wanted to offer a few tips on how I have coped with previous Christmases when my mental health has been poor and I haven’t been able to celebrate in a way I would have liked to.
1) Let your family know
This can be difficult because you may not want to worry them or may fear that you will dampen the Christmas spirit, but it is really important that they know how you are feeling. If you prefer to tell just one parent or maybe a sibling or grandparent this works too, as they can pass the info onto everyone else, which can make the task less daunting. Your family will understand and this way you don’t have to worry about forcing smiles and laughter, which can be really difficult when you’re feeling low. It may be a case of simply saying ‘I’m not feeling too good today’, or you could even write down what you are feeling on a piece of paper. As long as someone knows, they will be able to help you if you need, and will also be someone for you to talk to.
2) Suggest alternative family activities
No matter how I am feeling at Christmas, I always like to try and spend time with my family, and I think that this can really help to lift your mood. If you are suffering with symptoms of depression or anxiety, the thought of sitting around the table playing Monopoly can be quite daunting and this may not be something you want to do. If you are feeling that you can’t bring yourself to engage in family games, you could suggest something less taxing like watching a family movie. This will help to distract you from negative thoughts and is a great way to get all the family involved without having to interact too much. If you have younger siblings or family members who really want to play a game, perhaps suggest that they continue without you and spend some time to yourself reading a book or watching a TV show. Once they have finished, you can all watch a movie together.
3) Don’t force yourself to do too much
This applies everyday, not just during the festive season. If you usually visit church on Christmas or go to your local pub, make sure that you are in the right mood to do so. Forcing yourself to stick to traditions can cause unnecessary stress and along with symptoms of depression, can make you feel exhausted. In more extreme cases where you may not want to leave bed, try your best to make it to the family room where you can stay in your pj’s for the day and cuddle up with blankets on the sofa. That way you are still spending time with your family but have your own comfortable space which acts as a substitute for your bed.
4) Order Takeaway!
This one may seem a little strange, and isn’t something I have done myself but is definitely something I would consider when I have a family in the future. This is geared more towards parents who may be suffering from depression at Christmas time. You also don’t have to paint a smile on your face and exhaust yourself even further by doing all the cooking and cleaning! Instead have an ‘alternative Christmas’ and suggest spending the day in pj’s watching movies and ordering a Chinese for everyone to enjoy in the evening. This way you don’t have to worry about being on your feet feeling stressed all day, cooking and preparing food, and you can relax with your family instead, which can help to brighten your mood.
5) Avoid Alcohol
Unfortunately, drinking a ton of alcohol on Christmas isn’t a great idea if you are experiencing depressive symptoms. Your body can interpret alcohol as a coping mechanism when you are feeling low, which entices you to drink more and more until eventually you end up as a blubbering mess on the floor. Well, not quite… but it can severely lower your mood as it is classed as a depressant. If you’re feeling low on Christmas, try sticking to hot drinks like tea and hot chocolate, and if you are really in the mood for some alcohol try drinking a small glass of Bailey’s as oppose to Lambrini or WKD…
6) Head to bed at 8pm
It doesn’t have to quite be 8pm, but do try to get a good nights rest. Referring back to my first tip, your family will understand if you want to leave the family festivities early and head to sleep. Depression can be exhausting and by then end of a day of constant low mood, you can be ready to go to bed as soon as it gets dark. Don’t push yourself to stay up late playing Charades – it is important to get plenty of sleep as well as some ‘you time’ to wind down at the end of the busy day.
I hope that this post has been somewhat helpful to anyone who is worried about suffering from depressive symptoms over Christmas. As always, if you have any other questions or would like any other advice feel free to email me!
Also check out this great blog post on coping with depression and anxiety at Christmas on the Mind website!