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

It’s no surprise that many people find the festive period to be a tough time.

Image: Shutterstock/Tero Vesalainen

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

With so much going on and so many demands on your time and attention, it’s no surprise that many people find the festive period to be a tough time. 

It’s not unusual for people living with mental health conditions to feel overwhelmed by the festivities.

It’s also not all that unusual for people without one to feel overwhelmed either.

Many things that are part of our routines that we take for granted become disrupted by the change of pace in our lives during this month.

This year also has the added stress of the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions that have come along with it. 

Mental Health Ireland has a section on its website dedicated to Covid-19, with tips and worksheets to support individuals during this time. 

The service also has some other tips on ways we can be kind to ourselves this Christmas…

Be careful with alcohol: 

Alcohol is a depressant and drinking excessive amounts can cause low mood, irritability or potentially aggressive behaviour. By not exceeding the recommended number of safe units, you will be better able to sustain good mental and physical wellbeing. 

Exercise

Physical activity releases the feel-good chemicals, endorphins, which help you to relax, feel happy and boost your mood. By undertaking simple tasks such as cyclin to work, walking in the park, or joining in with Christmas games, you can benefit from experiencing reduced anxiety, decreased depression and improved self-esteem. 

Socialisation

The festive period provides us with an ideal opportunity to talk to, visit or engage with the people around us. Face-to-face communication has been shown to improve our mental and physical wellbeing as this interaction produces the hormone, oxytocin, which can benefit our immune system, heart health and cognitive function. 

If you are planning to see friends or family this festive period, remember to be mindful of the Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines still in place, and to adhere to social distancing. 

Mental Health Ireland says: 

There’s nothing better than catching up with someone face-to-face, but that’s not always possible. Give them a call, drop them a note or chat to them online instead. Keep the lines of communication open – it’s good for you. 
Christmas can be a good opportunity to reconnect with a card, email or phone call.

Try to relax

By exercising more regularly or practicing mindfulness – a combination of meditation, yoga and breathing techniques – you can help to both alleviate the symptoms of your stress and gain more control when coping with difficult situations.  

Volunteer

Helping others is good for your own mental health and wellbeing. It can help reduce stress, improve your mood, increase self-esteem and happiness and even benefit your physical health. 
Christmas is a good opportunity to volunteer for a charity or local community organisation and provide essential support and encouragement for others in need. 

Get some rest

There are several steps you can take towards achieving a better night’s sleep: attempting to get get into your regular sleep routine as soon as possible after the festive period, consuming less alcohol during the festivities, implementing regular exercise into your weekly routine and taking measures to alleviate your stress. 

Covid-19

As noted above, this year’s Christmas has the added stress of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Restrictions on indoor dining and non-essential retail were eased earlier this month, but people are simultaneously being urged to limit their contacts ahead of visiting people at Christmas.

Pete Lunn, the head of behavioural research at the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), told TheJournal.ie that this has resulted in feelings of being “socially pulled both ways”. 

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“The signal has been given that we can relax for Christmas and people are now being pulled in multiple directions,” Lunn said. 

“There is an obligation towards family and possibly friends and other extended family to see them before Christmas because it’s a thing people usually do,” he said.

You might feel like you’re letting people down no matter what you do.

Results of an Amárach Research survey on attitudes, plans and expectations for Christmas this year were included in a letter from the Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly last month before the latest restrictions were agreed.

The survey found that 43% of people said they expect disagreements within their family about how to handle Covid-19 risks when making Christmas arrangements. 

“Having honest conversations ahead of time and working your way through it would be good because different people have different willingness to put up with risk,” Lunn said. 

“Some people will have different views of the risk and we have to respect that and negotiating that ahead of time is the best way.”

Dr Eddie Murphy, a clinical psychologist, echoed the idea that it’s useful to have tense conversations ahead of time.

“Any conversation is about picking the right time and place and having a level of honesty about the conversation,” he said. 

Need help? Support is available:

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

With reporting by Orla Dwyer

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