The challenging side of Christmas

By: Emily Maybanks

The festive season is generally seen as a time of joy, celebrations and spending time with loved ones; however, for some people, the reality of the festive season is a much different and more difficult story. Examples of such people include – but are not limited to – those with mental health conditions (especially Seasonal Affective Disorder), people with serious physical health problems, those who have been through challenging circumstances in life such as bereavement, those who have a complicated family situation and people who are unable to go home for Christmas because they live away from home.

For these people, it is difficult to have to try and enjoy the Christmas period and the approach to the big day is full of challenges when Christmas is impossible to avoid (Christmas cards appear in shops in August, which is still summer). It’s understandable that some people find the festive period hard to enjoy and the winter months challenging.

“A 2015 survey by the mental health charity Mind showed that more than a third of people with mental health problems have self-harmed to cope with the pressures of Christmas. Far more worrying is the fact that 45% of people surveyed also considered taking their own life over the festive period.” This comes from an article in Happiful magazine – a magazine that aims to “provide informative, inspiring and topical stories about mental health and wellbeing.” Later, the article states that “Each of us knows that for every jolly family gathering, complete with tinsel and turkey, there are thousands of families across the country with empty chairs at their tables – and this Christmas the figures are likely to worsen, given the recent spikes in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.”

Furthermore, the Cruse bereavement charity website states that “Christmas is a time for families, for togetherness and for happiness. But for many people it is also a time filled with memories of someone close who has died, and who will be dreadfully missed.  If you have been bereaved, whether it was painfully recent or many years ago, Christmas can be an agonising and lonely time.” For those who find this time of year hard due to bereavement, “as time passes, special occasions like Christmas can help us to begin to focus on happier memories of good times shared in the past. However, they can also be difficult, intensely emotional times when we need to look after ourselves and those around us.”

Of course, people with mental health illnesses and people who’ve experienced bereavement aren’t the only ones who find Christmastime challenging. There are some things that you can do to maintain your mental health and emotional wellbeing over the festive period, even if you don’t feel up to celebrating or sharing the joy. It is important to do a variety of things to look after yourself – physically and mentally. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get outside – fresh air and exercise is vital for both physical and mental health. In Swansea, recently, we have been blessed with some stunning sunsets that make the bay look absolutely glorious. So, wrap up warm and get out for a walk, and take some beautiful beach photographs!
  • Get involved – even though you might not feel up for partying and having fun, it is still a good idea to get involved as much as you feel able to. This however doesn’t have to mean going to Christmas parties; why not try volunteering in some capacity? It’ll keep you busy and give you a sense of purpose.
  • Eat and drink well – Christmas can be a very tempting time to over-indulge on food and on alcohol too. It’s good to remember to eat healthily and drink plenty of water at this time too. Cooking nice meals is also a great way to keep busy and keep your mind occupied too. Winter is a notorious time of physical illnesses and various viruses and illnesses to spread too, so eating and drinking well becomes even more important in this respect too.
  • Do something you enjoy doing and are good at – keeping up with things you love doing is a fantastic way to keep your mind busy and also make you feel happier.
  • Take time to relax – this is important for anyone around Christmas time. So often, we get so caught up in the rush and adrenaline at this time of year that we can easily get worked up and stressed out, so it’s necessary to take time to relax and take a break. Watch a film or some television, read a book – do anything that chills you out and calms you down.
  • Talk about how you’re feeling – it might seem overwhelming when everyone around you seems to be caught up in the cheerfulness and festivities and you feel the complete opposite, but talking about how you’re feeling and what you’re going through can really help too.

It’s good to remember that it’s perfectly okay to struggle sometimes. It is almost impossible to avoid Christmas when it’s so in our faces and all over the television, the radio, the shops and social media. Christmas Day is just one day of the year though, and if it helps to view it as ‘just another day’ then it’s important to do what you need to do in order to maintain your mental and physical health, comfort and happiness.

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