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7 essential Christmas survival tips to protect your mental health

From minimising family rows to picking the events that matter.

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AMONG THE LURE of crackling fires and the palpable excitement of festive cheer, comes the realisation that Christmas brings its own challenges and that people can find the period quite difficult.

During a month where energy, bank balances and ‘happy appearances’ are overstretched and heavy food and alcohol tend to be in no short supply, it’s quite understandable if your mental health can tend to waver.

Things can be especially difficult if you have lost a loved one and are facing into your first Christmas without them, or if you often have conflict with your family that can flare up when you’re forced to spend extended time with them.

Here’s how to survive the Christmas season this month without it weighing down on your mental health.

1. Be selective about the events you give your time to

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December calendar filling up fast already? Just like Marie Kondo’s throwing out things that don’t ‘spark joy’ philosophy, do the same for your invites – try to only attend gatherings that mean something to you or make you feel good.

If you’re struggling with the overindulgence in alcohol or lack of sleep from endless nights out, swap out Christmas drinks for a run, evening gym workout or even just a night tucked up in bed with a hot water bottle and a festive movie from your childhood.

2. Catch up over Christmas coffee instead of pints

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Although we have a tendency in Ireland to catch up over ‘Christmas pints’ when we return to our hometowns, this doesn’t mean you need to have every interaction in the pub. Why not sample the year’s newest Christmas coffee flavours, meet for lunch or replace a few beer orders with a soft or non-alcoholic drink on nights when you’re out?

As you may have read, alcohol can cause depression, anxiety, worsen sleep and intensify negative emotions so it’s no wonder that an increase of  it at Christmas can leave us feeling low – especially if you struggle with your mental health during the year. If you’re not too sure how your alcohol intake may be impacting on your health, try this handy drinks calculator from AskAboutAlcohol.ie.

3. Spend some time outdoors with real Christmas trees

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No matter what your exercise regimen during the year, it’s very easy to fall off track when long nights and overindulgence in food and drink take hold – which unfortunately can really affect your fitness. So, if it’s not possible to keep up your gym routine – make some new traditions instead.

It’s important to remember that keeping active  helps protect your physical and mental health. For example, why not give ice-skating a go? Even if you’re not great at it, laughing at yourself for an hour can be helpful for your mental health. Alternatively, a family walk after a particularly filling meal or late night can be brilliant for shaking off the cobwebs.

4. Give a helping hand (or find support from one)

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Not sure you’ll be spending Christmas with anyone this year? Samaritans found that one in 15 people have spent it alone. Whether that’s the case or not, there are lots of opportunities to reach out for support or to use Christmas to provide some to those who need it.

Charities who are always looking for Christmas volunteers include the ISPCA, St Vincent de Paul and Crosscare. Visit www.volunteer.ie or contact your favourite charity to see if they need a hand. According to Mental Health Ireland it can help reduce stress, improve your mood, increase self-esteem and happiness and benefit your physical health.

5. Try to be realistic about your family expectations

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If you have an aunt/mother that never fails to ask pervasive questions about when there’ll be a wedding/new baby/house on the horizon every Christmas, try to let it wash over you. Family conflict at Christmas is common, and very normal.

Irish youth mental health organisation, ReachOut have some good suggestions on managing relationships at Christmas – remember, if things are starting to bother you, take some time out. Find some time and space for yourself to go for a walk, listen to music, or enjoy some of the books you got for Christmas.

6. Book a day for yourself

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Among that jampacked calendar you may have this December, ensure that you make one extremely important arrangement – to treat yourself to a ‘me’ day. Veto any last-minute shopping or running to meet people in favour of doing whatever you find relaxing.

It may just be an opportunity to catch up on sleep, make Christmas cookies, watch Home Alone or arrange an ad-hoc five-a-side, but a day to spend doing whatever you love will make the world of difference when facing into any stress associated with the season.

7. Make Christmas shopping as pleasant as possible

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Endless queues and trying to make your Christmas budget stretch to all the people you love can be enough to induce a cold sweat in anyone – getting your Christmas shopping can be one of the most daunting parts of the period.

For people who tend to get overwhelmed by it, why not try to stay mindful while you peruse the shelves by listening to a podcast about something you really love? You can find some brilliant Irish-produced options over at Headstuff. Alternatively, curate a playlist of songs that always relax you (or just nab one from Spotify).

If you need to talk, contact for free:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org (available 24/7)
  • Aware 1800 804848 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247247 or email mary@pieta.ie – (available 24/7)
  • Childline 1800 666666 (for under 18s, available 24/7)
  • HSE Counselling in primary care (for medical card holders 18 or over).
  • See a comprehensive list of phone and online supports, and more information, on www.yourmentalhealth.ie.
Depression and anxiety can affect anyone at Christmas, regardless of age, sex or social status. It is not a sign of weakness and any of us can experience low mood, depression or anxiety at any stage in our lives. If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of depression or anxiety, start a conversation. Brought to you by the HSE.
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