For many of us, Christmas is a joyous time. It’s a time to celebrate the wonderful year we have had, to reflect on memories, to spend time with our family, to remind those closest to us of what they mean to us, to give and to receive gifts, to drink and eat too much, and simply be happy and merry.
However, what if you couldn’t do any of that? What if, for one reason or another, you couldn’t celebrate in the way they do in the Christmas song music videos? Christmas isn’t always a happy time for people, and especially for those with mental health problems it can be a difficult time in terms of coping and staying well. So here I’m going to write three top tips on how to survive five different aspects of Christmas, whilst enjoying yourself and staying mentally well.
Yes, family is everything, and family is lovely – but not everyone has a family that they can turn to, that respects them, and that gives them that nice, warm fuzzy feeling that is associated with family time at Christmas. Not to mention, family can be difficult to deal with for the most of us anyway, especially at a time where the pressure for the perfect family time is high. So here are some tips to help you deal with your family and keep yourself mentally well:
- Feeling overwhelmed with all the long-lost aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins that are overcrowding your living room? Tell someone. Don’t be afraid to be honest. Turn to a family member that you trust and say you are finding the situation difficult. Perhaps your biological family isn’t available to you, or you do not get on with them? Family doesn’t have to be blood related – choose to spend time with those who want to spend time with you. Your close friends can be the family you need at Christmas. Where I work, the patients will be spending Christmas together so for that they they will be each others family. Family has no strict definition – spend Christmas with those you want to spend it with, and those you can trust, are respected by, and understand you.
- Having different generations mix can sometimes be difficult with opposing beliefs and opinions. If your 96 year old great-grandad has just said something about you that you believe is aimed at your presentation due to your mental health, it can be difficult to cope with, despite your understanding of his age and different beliefs. So, he’s just called you anti-social because you’re only speaking to people when you’re spoken to because that’s all that your anxiety allows you to do? Don’t take it personally. Perhaps if he knew about the struggles you deal with, he would understand. If you want to tell him about them, then do it. If not, then just ignore his comments and know that you are trying your hardest in a situation you find difficult. Again, turn to a family member you trust to confide in about this.
- Your long-lost cousin was 5 years old the last time you saw her and is now a successful doctor who is married to a lawyer and is living in a huge house with a baby on the way whilst you’re still living with housemates you don’t know the names of whilst working at the local shop in order to pay rent and live off tinned food? So what!? Don’t compare yourself to other members of your family! Everyone has different opportunities and pathways in their life, and sometimes the small successes are more satisfying than the big ones anyway. Besides, people tend to exaggerate their happiness and success when surrounded by people they are under pressure from – perhaps your cousin isn’t that happy at all and she’s over compensating and all she wants is a hug? Reach out to her, congratulate her on her life, and don’t compare yourself to her because comparisons and jealousy is where resentment originates. Never judge a book by it’s cover.
Many of us are not shy to admit that we over-indulge in food over the Christmas period. But this over-indulging can cause some of us to feel an urge to lose weight in the new year, and for some this is done in an unhealthy way. On the other hand, individuals who suffer with an eating disorder can struggle with the concept of food around christmas time. So here’s some tops for all of us to help deal with the psychological outcomes of being obsessed with food over christmas:
- Don’t go the other way and avoid the food! Treat yourself. With or without an eating disorder, avoiding all that lovely food that is advertised every 30seconds on TV can increase the risk of binge eating. For those of us without an eating disorder we can end up feeling sick, bloated, and guilty for eating such a copious amount. For those with an eating disorder, this can lead to purging, and extreme emotions of anxiety and guilt which can lead back to trying to avoid all of the food again – this can become a vicious cycle. Instead of avoidance and binging, just eat little and often – this way you can enjoy all of the different foods on offer without making yourself ill.
- If you do suffer with an eating disorder or are recovering from one, but really do want to enjoy Christmas day and the food – create an eating plan beforehand. Sit with someone who understands your struggles (a family member, support worker, etc.), to decide on a plan of what and how much you are going to eat on Christmas day. Make sure it’s a balance between your favourite foods and healthy foods, and also enough to make you well but not too much to make you feel guilty – you don’t want eating too much to lead purging or other self-harming behaviours. You just need baby steps on the road of recovery, so make the plan so it becomes an achievement! Create a plan that you can be proud of yourself on Christmas day when you eat everything on the plan and also avoid feeling guilty or self-harming behaviours as a consequence!
- Eat everything in moderation! Eating too much all year round is clearly unhealthy, but people seem to think that calories, and fat, and carbs, and salt intake do not count at Christmas – don’t go so overboard that it affects your health ! Little and often!
Eat, drink and be merry – that’s the tag line for Christmas isn’t it? Well, for those that struggle with addiction and alcoholism then this probably isn’t a good idea. Not only that, but alcohol can be bad for all of us if abused. Follow these top tips to stay alcoholically well!
- If you’re a struggling/recovering alcoholic then you should be avoiding alcohol all together. Go for the non-alcoholic options; becks blue, a tonic water, mulled apple juice! Avoiding alcohol doesn’t mean avoiding the fun; tell your friends and family that you are having to avoid alcohol and lean on them for support. Don’t lock yourself away from the festivities, because you’ll only wish you were out there getting smashed, when in actual fact you could be out there having fun, a dance and a laugh with just an orange juice in your hand!
- Remember your medications. If you’re on medication for any mental health problems (or physical health problems really), then make sure you read the guidance when it comes to alcohol intake. If you’re not sure, then ask your GP. Alcohol can interfere quite seriously with medication such as anti-psychotics. Alcohol can increase the sedative effects in some anti-psychotics, causing your entire body to feel fatigues and for it to run slower than normal; this can lead to impaired coordination and even fatal breathing difficulties.It can counteract the good effects of anti-depressants, making your hangover the next day ten times worse. Despite all of this, don’t think that coming off your medication is a good idea if you’re going out Christmas Eve in order to get smashed – do you really think a full-on depressive/psychotic relapse is really worth 7 double vodkas, a few JD and cokes, jaegerbombs that a stranger ordered for you and spiked, forgetting your name and throwing up down a back alley only to wake up with a banging headache, dry throat, feeling depressed, suicidal, anxious and agitated with a side effect of hallucinations? I don’t think so.
- Alcohol for all of us, mental illness or not, is a depressive. Half the reason you feel so shit when you have a hangover is because the alcohol you have drank has caused you to feel depressed. Feeling depressed over Christmas is something that I’m trying to help you to avoid, so drink in moderation. Not only can alcohol make you feel slightly depressed the day after the night before, but increased alcohol intake is also a trigger for developing a mental health problem or having a mental breakdown. Bare this in mind when you’re out and about over Christmas – it’s okay to go out and get drunk and be merry, but it’s also important to take care of yourself too.
Christmas is not cheap, however it doesn’t need to be expensive either. With financial difficulties being a trigger for mental health problems, it’s important to remember to budget over the festive season rather than go into the new year broke and depressed. It’s the thought that counts when it comes to presents, and if you plan on eating little and often rather than overindulging (like I advised you to earlier…) then you can plan your food shopping to help you financially!
- Don’t go overboard on presents. At the end of the day, everyone likes receiving presents and a lot of us like taking the time and effort to give them too. However, if you want to give someone special something they will remember, then use this time and effort to give them a present to remember rather than a present that will break your bank. Plan a trip for the future and give yourself time to save up for it rather than spending your entire months wages on it, take them out for dinner that way you can create memories and you can both be involved, make and create something – a photo album, a scrap book of memories, give them a gift card so they can chose something they need rather than you buying something they’re never going to use… the list goes on! There are lots of different options for buying presents for the different types of relationships you’re in. A nice present I bought my parents once was a calendar with pictures of me and my brother for each month – it’s something they need, but it’s also a collection of memories, and even though it was a few years ago I bought this they still have it as it’s something to remember and it wasn’t overly expensive either. This year, I’m taking my boyfriend to a local gig next year, so it’s something we are both involved in and something that can create memories. Google some creative and cheap ideas!
- If you can’t afford to go on another night out, then don’t go. Or go, but just pop your head in for 1 drink. This can also link back to controlling your alcohol and food intake throughout the festive period and links to a later point about budgeting your time. It’s okay to say no to nights out over Christmas, there are too many different get-togethers for one person to attend anyway. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with offering an alternative if you’re running low on funds – a night in, a few nibbles and different drinks, a catch up with close friends, with classic Christmas films on in the background! Surely that’s a more festive get-together than a night on the town you’re probably going to forget anyway, right?
- Only buy what you need! Those pickles are on offer but only your great-grandad will eat them? Don’t get them, he’ll have to go without! But Yorkshire puddings? Well everyone loves them, so allow yourself to buy lots of those instead of any pickles. Be sensible about it, don’t buy things just because they’re on offer – bargains cost money! Set a budget on food, decorations, presents, and travel, and don’t go over that budget. It’s difficult to survive from your months wage packet at any time of the year let alone Christmas, so perhaps next year (because it’s too late for this year), buy things throughout the year! Maybe not all the presents, because people change their minds and buy things themselves, but decorations, Christmas cards, alcohol; and set a budget each month to put aside ready for Christmas, that way you won’t struggle when it comes to buying all the presents in December!
With constant events taking place, family get togethers, catch up with old friends, night out with new friends, another family get together, work night outs, that night out where you’re not quite sure who you know or why you’re here…..it’s draining, and expensive. With friends and family you need to catch up with before Christmas, and for those working over Christmas, sometimes it’s hard to find the time to do anything. Time is a little bit like money, it’s best when it is budgeted to activities.
- If you find it hard to spend time with certain family members but you still want to see them, then only budget a certain amount of time towards them over Christmas. If you can only deal with an hour with a certain family member, then only spend an hour with them – there is no need to feel guilty about it just because they are your family. You have to put yourself first. You’d rather spend time with your best friend/boyfriend than your extended family that you only ever see once a year? Then do it – Christmas is meant to be about relaxing, and you can’t relax if you’re spending time with people that you don’t want to spend time with. Put yourself first, do what you want with who you want to.
- Pre-plan your Christmas events. Know exactly what you are doing Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the days running up to the big weekend. This way, you know exactly where you are going to be, what time you are going to be there and how long for. It also ensures that you manage to fit everything/everyone in that you want to, and if any other events crop up that you are unable to go to then you can explain why. It can reduce the anxiety of not knowing what you are doing, but can also help you mentally prepare for these events and create coping strategies to deal with any difficulties related to them. It can also help to know who is going to the events, so you can make sure you have someone to lean on and talk to if you are struggling. It also leads on to my next point – having time to spend with yourself.
- Take some time out to spend some time with yourself. Yes, you may be left to do all the Christmas wrapping by yourself, and to decorate that tree by yourself, and to write all the cards by yourself – but this isn’t something that you’re doing for yourself. Go for a walk, go to a coffee shop, read a book, watch a film – take some time out away from Christmas if it is beginning to stress you out. Don’t listen to expectations about Christmas, do it your way, and if this means taking time away from decorating the house to go for a walk instead then do it.
These are just a few tips to help deal with the joyous but also stressful time that is Christmas. Many people I talk to say that they can’t wait for Christmas to be over, which I can understand but it also feels to me that they are wishing the week away. Whereas perhaps if they were to follow these tips, it will give them the opportunity to enjoy the festive season rather than just deal with it. So Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all deal with the festive season successfully, and I hope you all have a wonderful and better 2017 than 2016! Keep safe, and take care!