Suffering from Christmas overwhelm? You’re not alone. While it can often make for the best of times, it can also make for some of the most stressful ones too, now even more so with Covid anxiety rising and uncertainty as to whether our best-laid plans will even come to fruition.
Pandemic or no, why are the festive blues such a common experience? “We can feel especially low during the festive season because we assume everybody else is having the perfect airbrushed Christmas – getting along, able to afford everything they want to buy and better able to juggle the demands that this time of year can bring,” says psychotherapist Lucy Beresford . “In reality though, no one can have the perfect Christmas, so cutting ourselves some slack and giving ourselves some compassion is very important.”
Which mental health issues does Lucy see increasing at this time of year? “There’s a big spike in anxiety,” she says. “It can surround being able to afford presents for everyone and pulling off the perfect Christmas meal for example - particularly if you’ve got your parents or your partner’s parents coming round. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right,” she says. “Some people can also swing the other way and become quite blue, depressed and flat,” points out Lucy. “This is often in contrast to the jollity we see in the shops where music’s playing and everyone seems to be having fun. This can further increase feelings of disconnect.”
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If this sounds familiar, there are ways you can safeguard your mental health over the festive season to ensure your time is as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. We asked Lucy and four other wellness specialists for their words of wellbeing wisdom.
Lucy Beresford’s calm Christmas tips
1. Carve out time for you
“Carve out time for you to take yourself away from Christmas and to remember that it is only one day - therefore if it’s not perfect, there are always other days. Give yourself some time so the pressure of Christmas isn’t relentless and something that you’re preoccupied with day after day after day.”
2. Spread the celebrations out
“Try spreading Christmas over several days so you don’t have all the pressure put on the 25th. Have some nice things lined up on the 26th, 27th, 28th, or a day that suits you too so that you’re more in charge of an event that can often feel like it’s escalating out of control.”
Sarah Norman, integrative therapist
1. Do it your way (at least some of the time)
"Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all for a happy and successful Christmas. According to the Grinch, "one man's toxic waste is another man's potpourri.". So, whether you dream of candlelit fireside evenings accompanied by choral music or of singing Hi Ho Silver Lining in the pub, try to make at least one of your Christmas wishes happen, even if it's short-lived."
2. Nighttime walks
"Christmas can be laced with emotional and physical fatigue. Then comes the delicious lull between Christmas and New Year, when leftovers can keep us going for days. There's no need to think about shopping and you can finally indulge in some restorative downtime, or catch up with more friends and family. Try going out for late-night walks, with family and friends, or alone. If possible, switch off the torch and let the stars guide you - it really helps to detox and heightens the senses. Oh, and don't forget the watch The Grinch!"
Sarah is an integrative therapist and co-founder of the mental health platform Augmentive.io
Terrence the Teacher, clinical hypnotherapist
1. Focus on gratitude
“If you spend just a minute every day to reflect in gratitude, the Christmas period will be the joy it is supposed to be. Create an advent calendar of one thing a day that you are grateful for. It will set you up for a good Christmas.”
2. Focus on giving
“In psychology, it has been proven that it is really good for the human mind when a person just focuses on giving to others.
- Give some of your time
- Give someone a helping hand
- Give your family members the joy of seeing you
- Give a seasonal greeting to a stranger
"It all will just raise the spirit.”
3. Allow yourself to receive
“Mindfulness teaches us to focus on the moment with non-judgement. Practice it during this time by:
- "Letting go for a little and enjoying yourself. Even top athletes take some time off.
- "Giving yourself permission to eat more, celebrate more and even stay up later, (if you can't do it over Christmas, when can you?). Remember how the rules were broken for you as a kid when you were young.
- "Opening yourself up to receiving the good cheer of this season. It can be good for you. Let the celebration of family, friends and people around you uplift you. The human spirit shows its strength in this season. No matter what your year might have been like, there is nothing that another pair of colourful socks, an embrace from a slightly tipsy stranger and a hot meal shared can't fix.”
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Nicky Lidbetter, Chief Executive of Anxiety UK
1. Make room for some Headspace
“Ensure that amidst all the pre-Christmas rush, that you take time out for yourself; 20 minutes of mindfulness practice each day can make a big difference bringing calm and relaxation to a busy mind. Anxiety UK has a partnership with Headspace – the popular mindfulness app in which members can access a year’s subscription at no cost. Further info at www.anxietyuk.org.uk .”
2. Get out and about
“Ensure that you get some time outdoors; even if it’s cold outside – a brisk walk in the crisp outdoors can make a real difference to mood. Staying cooped up inside for long periods of time is not conducive to positive mental wellbeing.”
3. Get your health fix
“While Christmas is often synonymous with overeating and indulging in rich foods that we wouldn’t usually eat in such large quantities, ensure that you don’t completely overlook getting your five-a-day. Ensuring you remain hydrated while also avoiding big fluctuations in blood sugar too is important to remember.”
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Nadia Narain, yoga teacher
1. Try to meditate daily
“This is the 'tip of all tips' for me. If I don't, I can be a real mess during this time of year. If I'm teaching and running my business and my head isn't clear, I miss stuff."
2. Try and pace yourself
“It can be busy socially, so try and make sure to enjoy yourself but at the same time, take time to care for yourself. Not too many nights in a row out and make sure you're getting in good sleep and exercising a few times a week.”
3. Write everything down
“I have a notebook with me all the time to write lists and things to remember to get done in. It keeps my head straight so I don't forget things; whether it's buying Christmas presents, sending invoices or finishing up the year. I like putting it all in one book. I'm learning to bullet journal (having one notebook with all the things I need to get done inside that's all indexed - rather than bits of paper everywhere or on my phone). I haven't quite got the hang of it yet, but I love the idea!”
Beginners Meditation & Mindful Stretching with Nadia Narain, £10.99, buy online here . www.nadianarain.com.
Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist and anxiety expert
1. Don’t strive for impossible perfection
“It’s often the gap between our expectations and reality that causes us a lot of stress and disappointment. If you’re pushing for perfection, please remember that perfection is only ever someone’s opinion; and it’s subject to change. We’re often happiest when we meet life with openness and acceptance, rather than pushing and controlling.”
2. Have a Christmas detox…
"A digital detox, that is. I almost always feel better when I have a bit of a break from technology. The constant Facebook updates and Instagram alerts, scary world news and the uncomfortable temptation to check work emails (guilty as charged) means we end up information overload and disconnected from real life. Try leaving your phone upstairs on Christmas day or leave it on airplane mode when you're out with friends, and instead, enjoy some quality time with people IRL.”
3. Set boundaries
“Loads of us (especially women) have a problem with saying ‘no’ and setting clear boundaries with people (especially when we’re prone to people-pleasing and we just want everyone else to have a good time). Many of us get overwhelmed with gift buying, travel to various family members and not having enough time and space for ourselves.
"If you say yes to festive plans that you don’t really have the time or energy for (even if it is just virtually) you’ll not only end up exhausted but you’ll be quietly irritated with the other person too. "Instead of ending up too tired and burned out to enjoy Christmas, set clear boundaries with people and let them know what you need and what you can and can’t do. It’s impossible to keep everyone happy and it’s your Christmas too.”
Chloe is a hypnotherapist and anxiety expert at www.calmer-you.com, and author of The Anxiety Solution , £9.69