Although Christmas is time for joy and celebration, for many it can be overwhelming and have an impact on their mental wellbeing. With last year’s Christmas being heavily impacted by Government restrictions, this festive season may present new challenges for some.
Psychologists Madeleine Gauffin, Dr Cecilia Radecka and Dag Härdfeldt, at digital healthcare provider Livi share some tips and practical tools to help you manage your mental health this Christmas.
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Dealing with stressful family gatherings
Madeleine says: “Consider how you want to spend your time. Just because things feel more open this year, it doesn’t mean you have to spend time with absolutely everyone you know and love.
“If you’re worried about family pressure, try putting boundaries in place. Families can be invasive or cast shame or guilt. You don’t have to justify your decision on how you spend your time. Allow yourself to be honest and try to communicate that”.
Madeleine says: “There are several types of anxiety disorders, from Generalised Anxiety Disorder to social anxiety disorder. With the return of office Christmas parties and family gatherings, this year may be particularly challenging for some.
“Although it’s important to talk to a doctor or psychologist about your anxiety, there are a number of tools you can use to cope in the moment when your anxiety feels overwhelming. For example, try this simple breathing exercise to help calm your nervous system and reduce stress in your body:
- Sit or lie down comfortably
- Exhale completely
- Gently and slowly inhale through your nose for the count of 4
- Gently exhale through your mouth for the count of 4
- Pause and hold for the count of 4
- As you breathe, imagine your breath moving around the image of a square
- Repeat for 1 or 2 minutes, or until you feel calmer
“Exercise is also one of the best ways to help you manage your anxiety in the longer term. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins that enhance emotional wellbeing. High intensity aerobic exercise like jogging, running or brisk walking, 2-5 times a week for at least 2 weeks, can be effective in reducing anxiety”.
Dealing with depression
For people living with depression the holidays can be a difficult period. The latest data from the Office of National Statistics found self-reported depression in Great Britain has increased compared with pre-pandemic levels, with one in five adults experiencing depressive symptoms in the last quarter, compared to one in ten prior to the pandemic.
Madeleine says: “During the festive season and winter months, a lack of sunlight has shown a correlation with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in some people. This is a type of recurring depression with a seasonal pattern.
Try to get as much daylight as possible. Even a short daily walk can be beneficial . Natural light is the most important cue for maintaining circadian rhythms (the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle).”
Reducing feelings of loneliness
There are nine million lonely people in the UK and four million of them are older people. Christmas is a particularly painful time for older people who experience loneliness throughout the year, but there are a variety of ways which can help to combat feelings of loneliness.
Dr Cecilia says: “Being part of a community gives us a strong sense of belonging. Doing activities that we enjoy is good for our mental wellbeing and a way to meet new people. Try taking part in a book club, choir or volunteering at a community garden. One study found that group singing significantly boosts psychological wellbeing”.
Madeleine adds: “If you can’t see friends or family in real life this Christmas, it helps to make the effort to keep in touch with people in any way you can – video calls or phone calls can help. You can consider starting new networks, too, like an online book club. Or, arrange to have a festive dinner with friends or family over the internet.
“A study has shown that even going for a walk on your own for at least 20 minutes a day can help to reduce feelings of loneliness. When you’re outdoors, your world opens up. You see nature and other people, and this is a good distraction away from your own thoughts”.
When to see a doctor
Madeleine Gauffin, Livi psychologist, said: “Sometimes, you may need professional support to help manage feelings of stress, grief or mental health conditions. If you regularly feel overwhelmed, book an appointment to speak to a doctor or therapist where you feel most comfortable, whether that’s digital or in-person.”.