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Looking after yourself during the holidays

The lights might be on and the trees might be decorated, but not everyone feels festive at Christmas.

It is perfectly normal to experience ups and downs during the holidays. In fact, with the extra expectations to feel cheery, with the obligation and over-commitment to social plans, with the excesses of extra food and drink many people might struggle.

And this year, many more will with the added worries about our health and the health of loved ones, about jobs and money, about the uncertainty of the future, about what is and isn’t allowed…

So while for many people Christmas and the New Year are a time for celebration, for others it can be a challenging time full of struggles and emotions. You might be feeling anxious, depressed or lonely.

Seeing other people getting in the Christmas spirit (especially on social media), might seem like you are the only one feeling isolated. But over 9 million people in the UK feel lonely, all of different age, gender or background.

You might have people around and yet still feel inexplicably sad, worried, or angry; and your mood and motivation might have dipped while you struggle to go on about your everyday life.

Or you mental health might be aggravated by the extra worries that come with Christmas – tense relationships, financial demands, extra obligations, disruption in routine… so that you might feel overwhelmed and lacking control.

However you might be feeling, remember that there are things you can do to look after yourself and your mental health during the holiday period.

Be kind to yourself. You have had a challenging, unprecedented year and made it through - so well done! Be aware of your internal critic who might also compare yourself to others. This can have a negative impact on your self-esteem. You might need to limit exposure to social media and advertising which can make this worse, by putting added pressure on you to be seen to be having a good time. Notice the judgement and let it go, allow yourself to feel way you do without fighting it, give yourself permission to be who you are and spend Christmas the way it works for you. You are worth it.

Set boundaries. You can say NO to balance your social and family obligations with time for yourself: you don’t have to cook Christmas dinner for the whole family; you can skip the Zoom Chat with uni friends; you can set a budget that’s sensible for presents; etc. It might be helpful to have a ‘script’ ready which recognises the other person’s position, but clearly states your preference. For example: ‘That sounds like fun, but I’m tired tonight and need to get an early night.’

Boundaries can also be applied to the excesses of Christmas: the temptation to over-indulge is everywhere but eating and drinking too much will lead to negative side-effects from guilt or feeling bloated and unwell, to increased strong emotions and worsening of addictions. If you do indulgence, balance it with some exercise and outdoor activity which offer positive benefits to wellbeing.

Have realistic expectations about the holidays – about what you can achieve and about social gatherings. Instead of having a fantasy about idyllic times spend with the whole family, be honest about the challenges of bringing together relatives and friends who might see each other only once a year or already have tense relationships,. Such honestly might help avoid disappointment and arguments.

Organise yourself and again balance what other people expect of you and what is important to you – what do you want to do at Christmas? You don’t have to do everything, and you don’t have to do it all at once. Prioritise what is essential and important so that you can allow yourself to take ‘time out’ if you find your stress levels rising. This can be hard to do with other responsibilities like children, work and Christmas duties, and that’s why planning might help you to have time for what you need and enjoy it. Plan some activities that you like and that you can look forward to outside of the challenges of Christmas, even if that’s just a walk, a tea or a book...

Self care. Taking time to look after ourselves is not a luxury, it is essential. Self care looks different for different people. Some people might find solace in a good book and cup of tea, some might need the exhileration of a cold swim, some other the restorative feeling of Yoga and meditation, some the connection and peace found during a walk in nature. Whatever does it for you, do it. If you are not sure where to start, I strongly believe that there are seven elements which are essential to our health from the most basic: breathing, food, sleep and exercise to the more complex of relaxation, connection and competence (taking satisfaction at doing something) so start with one of those.

Do some breathing exercises, cook a healthy meal, go to bed half hour earlier and with no phone, go for a walk, take 10 minutes to sit and relax with no distraction, make a call to a friend or help with a community project, do something that makes you feel good (knitting, puzzles, carpentry, drawing…)

If all everything fails, and you are still struggling with overwhelming and unmanageable feelings, don’t give up. Sometime just picking up the phone when you feel this way might seem scary, but reaching out and asking for help shows courage and positive intention. There are many charities like Mind or The Samaritans which offer support. If you want to talk to someone local, I have availability for new clients and I offer a warm, caring and accepting environment for you to talk and work through whatever is going on in your life right now.


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