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Mind yourself this Christmas: How to care for your mental health during the festive period

Christmas can be a stressful time. Here’s some advice on how to make the holidays more relaxing.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Pressmaster

CHRISTMAS TIME CAN be an incredibly stressful time for many people. 

Between the family members you only see once a year, the financial pressures and the feeling that you have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, December can be a particularly difficult time. 

It’s not unusual for someone living with a mental health condition to feel a bit overwhelmed by the festivities. It’s also not all that unusual for people without one to feel overwhelmed either. 

A huge amount of things that are part of our routines and that we take for granted on regular days become disrupted by the change of pace in our lives that comes with the Christmas period. It’s a hectic time of year, of course. 

With that in mind, Mental Health Ireland has compiled a list of ways we can be kind to ourselves this Christmas. 

Leaving all your preparations for Christmas until the very last-minute can cause unnecessary stress and panic, so remember – planning ahead can save you time and money, and help with your mental health along the way.

Making lists of jobs that still need to be done over the next two days and presents that actually need to be bought will help organise your thoughts.

90403758_90403758 Crowds of shoppers during Christmas season on Grafton Street in Dublin Source: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

The list also includes: 

  • Be careful with the drink: Mental Health Ireland is reminding the public that alcohol is a depressant and, although it makes users feel relaxed, drinking large amounts can lead to low mood and irritability.
  • Get some sleep: The holidays can mess with our regular sleeping schedule and throw it out of sync as a result of our social lives. The advice is to try to get back into your regular routine as soon as possible after the party period, to consume less alcohol during the festivities and bring some regular exercise into your weeks. 
  • Volunteer: Doing something good for others is beneficial to your own wellbeing, and can help reduce stress, improve your mood and even benefit your physical health. This time of year is a great opportunity to get out and volunteer for a charity. 
  • Stay in touch with your loved ones: While it may be difficult to see everyone over Christmas, picking up the phone and having a chat with a friend can seriously boost your mood. Make plans in the near future to do something with the people who weren’t able to see over the Christmas time.
  • Get some exercise: Christmas can be a time for indulgence, but, as noted above, Mental Health Ireland says exercise is an excellent way to help you relax. Endorphins released during and after exercise relax us and make us feel happy.

Meanwhile, the HSE also has some advice for the public on caring for your mental health this Christmas. 

It says people should have realistic expectations about the festive season. 

Don’t compare yourself with other people. Don’t expect that Christmas will be perfect.If things don’t turn out as planned, it can have a negative impact on your self-esteem. Instead, focus on one or two things that are most important to you at Christmas.

Reflect on what you’ve achieved, the HSE suggests.

As the end of the year approaches, try not to be hard on yourself for things you thought you should have achieved by now. Accept yourself and where you are right now. This Christmas period, use the time to reflect on how far you have come and all you have achieved.

It also says that people should seek professional help if they need to. 

Despite your best efforts, you might feel low, stressed, sad or anxious over Christmas. Talk to your GP before Christmas about what support they can offer you. Don’t hesitate to reach out. Many services (especially helpline and online services) are open during Christmas.

And, above all use, the HSE says it’s important to allow yourself to take some time out during the Christmas season. If you’re feeling drained at all, find some quiet space to breathe. 

Christmas might be all about giving, but that means giving to yourself too.

If you need to talk, please contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.ie
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s) 

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