Christmas and your Mental Health

Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas….?

Christmas comes but once a year. For some of us that’s a relief as it’s not our favourite time of year like the masses. The images we are fed via the media portrays excitement, unbridled happiness with beaming family gatherings associated with Christmas. The expectation is that we will all be excited and happy about this time of year and have that loving family hub to sink into.


Realistically for many of us that doesn’t happen does it? But what is the experience of those with mental health conditions? As someone who lives with and manages anxiety and depression I have years and years and years of experience of what this feels like so I can share my own perspective. A perspective that seems to be shared by many others as I notice more and more tweets, Facebook posts from agencies like Mind and Samaritans acknowledging this is a tough time of year for many of us.


So why has it been so difficult for me?

Ultimately, I think this is because I have found there is so much pressure from all directions to be HAPPY about this time of year. Now for someone who experiences depression, feeling happy, in fact sometimes feeling anything at all, is a rarity. Some days all one can hope for is the “game face” allowing you to get through the day. So, when the pressure is ramped up to be happy and jolly just because it’s Christmas it becomes a chronic stressor. Couple that with experiences or life situations.


For me it was particularly difficult after losing my Dad. As an only child it was glaringly obvious when my Mam and I assembled round the table for our Christmas dinner, which we did every year at their house, that he wasn’t there the first Christmas after his loss. But this is meant to be a happy time of year right? On that year it was such an overwhelming experience it saw me drive myself to A&E at Durham on Christmas Eve evening after sitting weeping on my Mam’s kitchen floor while trying to prepare Christmas dinner for the next day. I believed I had reached a point where I couldn’t actually go on with the feelings of overwhelming sadness and recognised this was a crisis point. Not for the first time.


Yet around me the world was filled with Christmas trees, excited children, twinkling lights and merry people. Oh and a (now ex) husband in the sitting room next door getting into the Christmas spirit and losing patience with the “miserable” wifey. Never had the gulf between what I thought I was and felt and the rest of the world seemed so massive. More importantly and dangerously, never had I felt so alone and misunderstood in what I was feeling. Let’s face it, it’s difficult enough to reach out and ask for help at the best, or worst of times, but who the hell wants to listen to a snivelling, emotional woman on Christmas Eve tell you about why she felt she couldn’t go on?


Nobody I could identify so A&E it was.


Five years later, I’m still here, approaching another Christmas. Personally, I’m in a much better place now.
I can really see the value in organisations encouraging us to recognise what sources of support are out there over the Christmas period. Loneliness and isolation and nobody to talk too can be magnified over the Christmas period.


What’s the way forward for this?


If you have the self-awareness that Christmas can be a triggering time for you, you can put some thought into how you can “cushion” the blow. Ramping up the self-care and compassion for yourself over this period might be a good start. It’s also certainly worth identifying those sources of help and support who are available.


Mind have created an excellent article on useful resources to help you through the festive period

Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
www.samaritans.org.uk
Freephone 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

More information on self-care and how this could “cushion” those more difficult periods is available at
www.tinybuddha.com

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