Many of us associate the Christmas season as a time of joy and happiness but for many people it can be a time of stress, anxiety, disappointment or loneliness, especially for those with mental health conditions, those who have recently lost a loved one or those with feelings of isolation, financial pressures or increased family conflict. In fact studies show that suicide and attempted suicide rates are particularly high during the Christmas period.
Christmas comes with high expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying luxurious celebrations and gifts, but not all of us are able to live up to these ideals. Watching Christmas movies, cooking shows all present what the ‘ideal’ Christmas should look like and can leave you feeling discontent, unhappy and even resentful. (Christmas shows are not based on reality – it is a TV set with lots of production and editing and careful script writing!)
For those who have lost their loved ones, the Christmas season can be a painful trigger of memories of their deceased. With constant reminders of the expectation to have fun with family and friends they can often feel down, lonely and isolated. Some may find that they dread the expectations of socializing with family and friends that Christmas brings. They feel anxious because they do not feel like they want to socialise and be pressured into attending those festive social gatherings.
If you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression or loneliness around this time of year it can affect how you react to the Christmas period. For example the meanings we give things or our thinking patterns and what we value as being important may be different to others or different to the ‘ideal’.
If you find that you are getting caught up in trying to make this holiday season perfect for the family, following your families traditions and rituals, and it is all getting to be too much, try and choose a few to hold on to and be open to creating new ones. Celebrate what is truly important to your family (even if it is different to the ‘ideal’), keep it personal and special, for example share photos and videos or why not cook one simple family favourite meal instead of a whole range of meals on Christmas Day. Practice kindness. Do something kind for someone without expecting anything back in return. Studies show that an act of kindness releases serotonin (the “happy and well-being” neurotransmitter in the body) to the brain cells, making you feel a lot happier, stronger and hopeful about life. An act of kindness is like a dose of antidepressants with no side effects. So get involved in the community. Donate money to charities if you can. Volunteer your time, energy, and expertise. Give your someone a bunch of flowers from your garden. You will be surprised how these kind gestures can transform your mood. Stay in harmony with the spirit of Christmas season – love, generosity, friendships, acceptance, restoration, redemption, goodwill and peace.
- Put the kids first. If you have children, consider putting aside ongoing adult conflicts in their interest. Think about Christmas as a day for the kids and focus on enabling their happiness.
- Drink in moderation. It may be tempting to drink too much during the festive period, but alcohol can contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol may be a problem if you’re drinking to cope.
- Avoid known triggers. If your family has a history of arguing over a certain topic, don’t bring it up
- Connect with friends and family. Even if you’re separated by distance, you can stay in touch with loved ones online or by phone.
- Volunteer. Why not lend a hand to a local shelter over Christmas? There are lots of charities who need help. You’ll connect with people and feel good about making a positive contribution.
- Attend community events. Find out what’s on locally and get involved. Whether it’s Christmas carols or local markets, getting out and about can help relieve loneliness.
- Make plans for Christmas Day. Develop a plan in advance to avoid feeling depressed or stressed on the day. Perhaps make yourself a special breakfast, buy yourself a gift in advance so that you can enjoy on the day, attend a local church service or take a stroll through the local park where you can watch families enjoying their Christmas presents.
- Be realistic! Remember that Christmas shows are not based on reality – it is a TV set with lots of production editing!
(Tips taken from: http://www.mindhealthconnect.org.au).
Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face your daily routine. If the Christmas/New Year period is difficult for you talk to your doctor and consider seeking help from one our mental health professionals. We have Clinical Psychologists, Psychologists, Mental Health Social worker and a Mental Health Dietitian, with appointments available in early January 2016. If you wish to discuss how we can help please give Myrtle Oak Clinic a call on 43623 443 or have a look at our website www.myrtleoakclinic.com.au.
- NSW Mental Health Line 1800 011 511
- Lifeline: 131 114