For most of us, Christmas is a time of celebration, festivities, and connecting with friends and family. Unfortunately for many Australians who struggle with mental this season can be difficult.
In this article we will shed light on the impact of the Christmas season on your mental health, some of the most common mental health conditions Australians suffer from (experience?) while providing tips and mechanisms for coping during this busy festive season. We hope by using these tips you can minimise the effects on your mental health.
Addictions and Christmas
Alcohol is central to most celebrations in Australia, more so during the Christmas season. Over Christmas and New Years’ the prominence and availability of alcohol will be especially trying for those recovering from alcohol addiction.
The temptation at this time of the year can be extremely difficult, added to that the natural tendencies of people to encourage you to join in and “celebrate”, all these pressures and festival atmosphere can easily sweep you away. What can start as one harmless drink may soon end up leading you to a relapse.
All of this makes Christmas a challenging time for recovering addicts. It is important you remain sober, abstinence, and in control of your recovery.
Spend most of your time with friends and family who are supportive of your recovery
Be aware of alcohol hidden in foods and deserts. Let the hosts know you can’t consume alcohol (if you feel comfortable)
For events where you can’t avoid the presence of alcohol have a plan in place to leave the moment you start to feel uncomfortable
Keep the alcohol support line number handy with yourself. – check it.
Depression and Christmas
Society tells us that Christmas is a time of celebration, cheerfulness, and festivities. However, the constant demand for joy and happiness for people who struggle with depression can have a dangerous adverse reaction and worsen their depression.
Some of the symptoms of depression include intense sadness and feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. During times when everyone seems to be happy and in a jovial mood, these feelings can become worse. This will make you want to withdraw from people while they are out enjoying and celebrating, leading to further deepening of your depression.
If you have depression, it’s so important to be kind to yourself over the Christmas season, don’t let everyone else’s high spirits make you feel even worse about yourself and your condition.
• Speak to close friends or family members about your feelings, they may be able to shield you from the expectations of the season. Remember “a problem shared is a problem halved”.
• Avoid alcohol and drugs – you may be tempted to take these to try and improve your mood in the short term, in the long term these will only make you feel a lot worse
• Stay positive – each night before going to bed write down three positive things about your life. When you wake up reflect on these
• Get ‘out there’ – don’t shy away from attending family gatherings and get-togethers with close friends. Go with an open mind, and you might find that you enjoy yourself
Anxiety and Christmas
Christmas season brings with it heightened intensity in everything, from music, food traffics, and crowds. We also have a tendency to demand more ourselves in socialising and celebrating. For people who struggle with anxiety, this can be a very unsettling time.
Those with a social anxiety disorder will be overwhelmed by the prospect of attending festivities and gatherings.
For those who struggle with panic disorder, the intensity and frequency of their panic attacks may increase with so much going on around them.
An anxiety disorder means that the festive season will intensify your worries and you may find yourself unable to relax due to the huge amount of worry that you’re carrying.
• make a ‘problem list’ of all of your worries, and then try to tackle each one in turn. This will stop you from being overwhelmed by all the problems at once.
• Challenge your negative thoughts – ask yourself if your thought is a ‘fact’ or an ‘opinion’. If it’s an opinion, it’s a waste of your time.
• Breathe! Whenever you’re feeling anxious, stop, and breathe in and exhale, slowly and deeply. This helps your body settle down to a more natural, resting state, and reduces your feelings of anxiety
Stress and Christmas
Christmas is stressful. The list of tasks and responsibilities and social demands increase sharply. For those who suffer from stress, this time of the year is overwhelming and exhausting.
There is then the increased financial pressure, which can bring a sense of guilt and inadequacy if you cannot buy the right gifts for your loved ones.
Social media increases your stress, comparing yourself to others’ and their seemingly ‘perfect’ Christmas will leave you feeling like a failure for not having the best decorations, tree, food or presents.
The Christmas season can be a major catalyst for stress, it is very important to take steps to look after yourself and try and minimise this.
• Stop trying to please everyone – it’s OK for you not to be everywhere and do everything.
• Set a budget and stick to your budget regardless.
• Diary your commitments and spread them out of the whole holidays, don’t cram everything into December.
• Stop viewing social media and DO NOT compare yourself to others
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Christmas
Christmas season can worsen symptoms for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
For those who experience obsessions around germs and contamination, coming into contact with more people over events and gathering and being in new and strange locations will heighten your thoughts frequent and severe.
If you are someone who experiences irrational beliefs that you are going to harm another person or say something inappropriate, these thoughts will be heightened due to the increased number of social events and people you will be meeting.
If your OCD compels you to rearrange objects in a specific way, the change to your usual environment due to Christmas decorations, presents, and wrapping, along with people visiting and rearranging items, can be difficult to deal with.
• Talk to a friend or family member about your feelings, discuss ways they can support you throughout the Christmas period
• Eat, make sure you get plenty of rest and be around positive influences
• Let your intrusive thoughts pass you by, don’t become overwhelmed by them. Try to challenge your negative beliefs and the meanings you attach to these.
Christmas is exhausting and overwhelming for everyone. However, if the pressures of Christmas are getting too much, and are negatively impacting your health and wellbeing, it is important to seek specialist help.
Talk to your family doctor or call one of the telephone services and talk to someone about it, they will be able to provide you with the assistance and support you need.