Day 10. Mental Health at Christmas
Why those around you might find Christmas hard, and how to help them.
Christmas can be a difficult time for a number of reasons. You may be struggling for the first time this year, or it may be the case you have had a number of difficult Christmas’ in recent years. For those who are not struggling this Christmas, it is important to keep in mind that those around us might be and may need some extra support at Christmas time. 10 Reasons Christmas can be Hard:
- Mental Health
- Financial Pressures
- Practical Issues
- Difficult Relationships
- Societal Pressures
- People Who Aren’t Around
- Negative Relationship With Food/Drink
- Being Unwell/In Care
- Access to Support and Services
Mind have highlighted that Christmas can impact on our mental health in many ways, whether it is happening around us or it is a part of our lives, it is a time of year that inevitably comes with added pressure of some kind.
Mind have suggested some coping tips for Christmas, including help with managing relationships, planning ahead, looking after yourself and talking to others.
There are also ways you can help others who may be suffering this Christmas. Firstly, understand that Christmas means something different to everyone, and let others know you appreciate that Christmas may be a difficult time for them. Listen to what others are telling you and reassure them that you are there to support them through this time. Try o make Christmas and gifts as inclusive as possible – think about caring responsibilities, triggering gifts/environments, and accessibility of events.
Remember that no one wants to struggle at Christmas time – they are not being boring or trying to spoil your Christmas. Try to make their lives easier by letting them know you are there is they need, don’t leave them out completely just because they don’t see Christmas in the same way that you do.
Christmas time puts an enormous amount of financial pressure on most of us. For those who are already struggling to make it through the average month or have accumulated debt, this can make Christmas a dreaded time of year. Alongside a cost of living crisis, worrying about how to afford Christmas can impact the enjoyment of Christmas, as well as our mental health.
There is support available, but Christmas opening times can also cause stress for those who need extra financial support. Mind have compiled a list of services including food banks, and will be updating their Christmas opening hours here.
There are a number of issues that many of us would not have to think about over Christmas, that for others, can be the reason they are unable to see it as a joyful time of year.
There include the stress of finding care for children or dependants; Travelling long distances to see family, and the expense that comes with this; Caring for someone full time; and being out of routine, which can have a huge impact for many who are Neurodiverse, or suffer with a mental illness.
Try to consider any practical issues those you are spending this Christmas with may face, and adjustments that you could make in order to make their Christmas as enjoyable as possible.
Christmas has a huge focus on family and togetherness, so for those who don’t have or are unable to spend time with family Christmas can enhance feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Loneliness can lead to a significant decline in both mental and physical health, so managing these feelings is important. Tips for managing these feelings include opening up to anyone you know, taking things slow, making new connections, and talking therapies.
Charities including the Web of Loneliness, the Silver Helpline, and Re-Engage are offering support this Christmas. The Web of Loneliness has insights on loneliness, collections of artworks and a Facebook group to build connections. The Silver Helpline is run by Age UK and is a free confidential telephone service for older people. They provide friendship, conversation and support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ReEngage provides social connections for older people through groups and activities for people over 75 who have little social support.
While Christmas is a time for many to come together with family, strained or difficult relationships can make Christmas more of a challenge for some.
Christmas can trigger memories of abusive or traumatic relationships from the past, and for those still in abusive relationships, Christmas can bring a heightened risk to their safety. Help for Abuse and Trauma is available. If you or someone you know is at risk, always call 999 immediately.
For others, it may be that their family is not fully accepting or understanding of them. For individuals who identify with LGBTQ+, their family may not accept them, or know about their identity. If you have to hide your identity from your family, Christmas can be an extremely difficult time.
Strained relationships with family members can cause challenges at Christmas time. Relate have services available if you are struggling with family relationships.
The pressure from society on what the ‘perfect Christmas’ looks like, can leave many feeling disappointed or disheartened with their Christmas day. Media and advertisements portray what it is to have the perfect Christmas Day, but for many this simply is not attainable. It is important to remember that people only share what they want you to see on social media, and often their portrayal does not reflect the full reality. When you see photos of finely decorated houses, an abundance of presents under the tree and a mountain of food on the neatly laid dining table, remember this is not the normal for many. This is the Christmas that marketing departments are trying to sell us – your Christmas does not have to look like a magazine cover to be perfect for you.
People who aren’t around
Whether it is your 1st Christmas without a loved one or your 20th – they can all be just as difficult. If you are struggling with bereavement, Cruse Bereavement Support has more information about coping with grief at Christmas. For support with baby loss, find more information on Tommy’s website.
If you are not in contact with family members, Stand Alone offers support for those who are estranged from their family or children. See their website here.
Divorce or separation may also be impacting you or your family this Christmas. Relate has information on dealing with relationships at Christmas.
Negative Relationship With Food/Drink
Those who have unhealthy relationships with food, or suffer with eating disorders may find Christmas a particularly challenging time. With a lot of festivities centred around food, it can often be overwhelming and hard to escape. BEAT – the UKs eating disorders charity, have advice available on how to cope with an eating disorder at Christmas.
For those struggling with alcohol addiction or dependency, or simply do not wish to drink, Christmas brings added hurdles. As with food, Christmas is also centred around being ‘merry’, which often involves a drink. Christmas parties and events where alcohol often takes centre stage can be extremely challenging for those in recovery or who are alcohol-free. Support is available if you find you are struggling to cope this December. North Yorkshire Horizons is an adult alcohol and drug recovery service, who can be contacted on 01723 330730. SMART Recovery, an addiction recovering training charity, have meetings that can be accessed online or in person, find a local meeting here.
Being Unwell/In Care
If you are in hospital or care this Christmas, it may pose unexpected challenges. No one expects to be spending their Christmas Day in hospital, so this is likely to already be a challenging time for you and your family. You may feel like you are missing out, or there is an increased pressure to engage in any Christmas activities that are offered to you.
It is important to remember that nothing is more valuable than your health. While you may feel you are missing out this year, the only thing you should be focusing on is yourself. While it can be hard to avoid Christmas if there are decorations or activities going on in your hospital or care facility, don’t be afraid to say no, or ask to not be involved if you are not up to it. They will understand and the staff are there to make your life better and easier, so don’t be afraid to decline the festivities if you are not up to it.
Access to Support and Services
Christmas sends the UK into chaos. Opening times change, some services do not open at all and waiting lists get longer.
For medical help, you can contact 111 in England at any time – or 999 in an emergency. Some pharmacies may close, but the NHS has guidance on out-of-hours medications.
Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call them on 116 123 for free at any time.
Shout offers a text service if you would prefer not to, or are unable to talk. This is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Text SHOUT to 85258 at any time for confidential help.
A full directory of helplines is available here.
Help Yourself and Others
So this Christmas, keep in mind that while it may be your favourite time of year, not everyone has the privilege of being able to experience Christmas the same way. It is important to talk to people and find out why they may be struggling. There is no shame in not knowing how to help, so just ask. The best thing anyone can do is be there fore one another and show you care this Christmas.
If you feel unable to keep yourself safe, it is a 999 emergency.