Written by Lauren Geall
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.
The festive season can be a challenging time of year. Make your mental health a top priority this Christmas with this simple guide.
The festive season may typically be seen as a time to have fun with friends and family, but it can also be pretty stressful and overwhelming – especially if you’re the one responsible for making sure everyone around you is having a good time.
Combine that with the pressure to be ‘on’ 24/7, multiple late nights and plenty of alcohol, and it’s hardly surprising that some people find this time of year takes its toll on their wellbeing.
With this in mind, taking care of your mental health over the Christmas period is particularly important, and having the tools to do just that before the festivities get underway is crucial if you want to be prepared.
So, to help you keep on top of your wellbeing this December, we’ve put together this list of expert-approved tips and ideas for taking care of your mental health during the festive season.
Of course, finding time to look after yourself isn’t always easy – but with some techniques that take less than 10 minutes, you’ll have plenty to choose from. Keep reading to check them out.
1.Don’t forget the basics
Our bodies and minds have been through a lot this year, so make sure you’re giving both plenty of TLC throughout the Christmas break.
“Our emotional resources may have dwindled, so to refill the tank make sure you’re looking after your basic health needs,” explains Dr Meg Arroll, chartered psychologist on behalf of Healthspan.
“Get enough good-quality sleep, avoid too much alcohol (but don’t be afraid to splurge on the big day), practice mindfulness or relaxation exercises to bring yourself back to the present moment and exercise when and how you can.”
Something as simple as heading out for a walk at least once a day is a great way to stay on top of this – especially when the weather is awful and the temptation to curl up under a blanket all day is seriously high.
2. Take the pressure off
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the pressure of trying to have a ‘perfect Christmas’, but the best gift you can give yourself this festive season is some room to breathe and enjoy yourself.
“Christmas is traditionally a time in which we show kindness and goodwill to others, but we need to learn to balance the needs of others with the needs of ourselves,” says Gosia Bowling, the emotional wellbeing lead at Nuffield Health. “Thinking about what matters most this Christmas or holiday season can be much more helpful than trying to create a ‘perfect Christmas’.”
To reassess what you want from the holiday, Bowling recommends asking yourself what Christmas means to you. “You can either think through, or write down, your answers, but place the emphasise on your own values, rather than what you think others will want,” she says.
“For many, the lists will be emotional outcomes – spending time with family, visiting friends, being with loved ones – rather than material outcomes – buying presents, cooking Michelin-level meals – and this can help us to recognise when our values are shifting from where we want them to be.”
3. Plan ahead, and be realistic
If you want to enjoy a Christmas which is as low-stress as possible, planning ahead (and being realistic about what you can and can’t cope with) is key.
“Be realistic about how things normally go at this time of year and don’t over-commit,” suggests Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.
“For example, if you have a difficult relationship with certain family members, staying for multiple days might not be a sensible idea. As opposed to staying the night, you could plan to go for lunch instead.”
4. Pay attention to your breathing
It may seem like a weird thing to think about, but our breathing can have a massive impact on how we think and feel. If you’re feeling particularly stressed or overwhelmed, taking a step back to do some controlled breathing can help you to reset and relax.
“Most of us breathe too quickly, and this has a direct impact on our physical, emotional and mental conditions – which can not only exacerbate the festive stress we’re already feeling, but these two factors compound to increase our risk of insomnia, anxiety attacks, fatigue and depression,” explains Dr Elisabeth Honinx, a neuropsychologist and researcher for the handheld breathing device Moonbird.
“The good news is that breathing is a mechanism that we can actively control ourselves,” she continues. “Slow breathing exercises are quick, easy to practise, and can help to keep our stress in check during the festive season by activating our parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for rest and recovery in the body.
“Research has found that just 10 minutes of slow breathing makes you 15% more relaxed, and 20 minutes help you fall asleep 15 minutes quicker with fewer disruptions during the night. Practising slow breathing exercises three times a day for just three days has also been found to reduce anxiety by 20% – making it the perfect go-to for a low-stress Christmas this year.”
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS list of mental health helplines and organisations here.
If you are struggling with your mental health as a result of loneliness, you can also ask your GP for a referral to NHS Talking Therapies, or you can self-refer.
For confidential support, you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email [email protected].
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