Top tips for looking after your mental health this Christmas
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – or so the song goes. However, for many people, this description of Christmas doesn’t ring true. In fact, studies show that at least one in ten of us feel unable to cope over the holidays.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation often intensify during the festive season, particularly for those who have lost or live away from loved ones, while the full-on preparations for the big day, disruption to our normal routines, overcommitment to social plans and constant pressure to get into the spirit and have a good time can leave even the most avid yuletide fans among us feeling overwhelmed, stressed and anxious.
So, we thought we’d catch up with the Medigold Health Perform Team to get their top tips for how we can all look after our mental wellbeing a bit better this Christmas, and hopefully have a much merrier time!
Let go of unrealistic expectations
Many of us get caught up with trying to create that ‘perfect Christmas’ we see portrayed in all the festive films and adverts and across social media, often spending more time or money than we’d planned to, and then feel stressed out when the reality doesn’t live up to our expectations.
Try to remember that there is no one right way to ‘do’ Christmas, so rather than comparing yourself to others and trying to do everything, instead think about which seasonal activities or traditions you most enjoy and focus on prioritising just those things, then let the rest go.
It’s OK to say no
With all the family gatherings, work parties, Christmas meals and drinks with friends, the festive season can sometimes feel like one long (and expensive) social event. The pressure many of us feel to accept every invitation we’re offered at this time of year can leave us feeling exhausted, but remember, it’s OK to say no if you don’t feel like socialising, don’t think you’ll have fun or simply can’t afford it. By prioritising what’s best for you and only saying yes to things you’ll actually look forward to, you’ll feel more relaxed and have much more energy to properly enjoy them.
Take some ‘me time’
No matter how much you love them, spending longer than usual cooped up with your family at Christmas can be stressful, and if you don’t get on so well with your relatives, tensions can quickly escalate, leading to an unpleasant atmosphere or even full-blown arguments and disputes.
It’s important to get some space, so make sure you take some time to yourself each day to do something that you find relaxing, whether that’s going for a walk or a swim, having a bath, doing some meditation or reading a book. And if you’re really riled up and feel as though you might snap at someone, try removing yourself from the situation for a few moments and practicing the relaxation exercise below to help you calm down.
Find ways to connect
While too much family time is a common source of stress during the festive season, not having loved ones around to share the holidays with can be just as tough. If you know someone, perhaps a friend or neighbour, who is isolated or alone this Christmas, why not arrange a phone call or video chat with them, pop a card through their door or even invite them round for a cup of tea or to join you for Christmas lunch? It could make all the difference to their day.
And if you’re the one feeling lonely? Try to find a way of connecting with others, perhaps by volunteering for a charity or community project. As well as providing an opportunity to meet new people, giving our time to help others is great for our wellbeing and makes us feel happier. It can also help to think of Christmas as a chance to do some of the things that you enjoy the most, so make a plan of all the different activities you enjoy that you don’t always get to do, and do them, and don’t forget to treat yourself to some of your favourite foods and snacks!
Spend some time outside
Exercise and spending time in nature is really important for our wellbeing and particularly at this time of the year, when the days are shorter and we’re prone to spending more time indoors, getting out for a walk in the fresh air and natural daylight is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Christmas and give our mental health a boost, and will even help work off a mince pie or two! Just remember to wrap up warm!
Look after your physical health
It’s OK to treat ourselves over the holidays, but if you can, try to keep some balance and avoid indulging in too much rich festive food or drinking too much alcohol – while it may feel comforting or help us relax initially, the after-effects can leave us feeling tired and lethargic, and cause our mood to dip. Making sure that you get enough rest and sticking to your normal sleep routine as far as possible will also help reduce feelings of tiredness and irritability and, along with staying warm, keeping hydrated and stocking up on home remedies and cold and flu medication, will ensure you stay protected from common winter illnesses, so you can enjoy your Christmas to the full.
De-stress with the Infinity Trace
When we get stressed, our bodies release a hormone called Cortisol (a stress chemical). It is only meant to be a short-term chemical, but extended periods of stress and pressure can lead to it being released longer-term. Cortisol is counteracted by Oxytocin, the feel-good chemical we experience when we have a hug (which is why hugs are so good for us!).
The Infinity Trace exercise is a great way to relax us and calm us down as it stimulates the release of Oxytocin. It only takes 30 seconds to do, and you can do it as many times in the day as you want.
It is also very effective on children and can help them settle at bedtime, so maybe try it with them on Christmas Eve to ensure they’re fast asleep ready for Santa to deliver their presents!
Sit or stand upright with a straight back and your arms at your side.
Using whichever hand you wish:
- Place two or three fingertips right in the centre of your forehead
- Trace a sideways figure of eight across your forehead (as shown in the image)
- Do this with enough pressure to put energy into your forehead, but not enough to hurt you
- Trace the sideways figure of eight for 20-30 seconds and start to feel yourself relax
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