Mental Health

How to look after your mental health this Christmas, according to an expert

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Lauren Geall
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Make your mental health a top priority this Christmas with this simple guide.

Things are looking a bit rubbish at the moment, aren’t they?

With long-awaited Christmas plans crushed at the last minute and fears of the new coronavirus mutation creating chaos across the country, things are looking far-from jolly in the run-up to the day itself – including when it comes to our mental health.

Christmas can already be an emotionally challenging time of year, but with the added pressures of isolation, pandemic-related anxiety and all the uncertainty around what the next year might bring, it’s hardly surprising so many of us are feeling the effect when it comes to our mental health.

As a result, being aware of the impact the current situation might be having on our emotional health and having the tools to look after ourselves throughout the Christmas period is crucial.  

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While meeting with family and friends may not be possible, there are still a number of things we can do to take care of ourselves throughout the festive period and protect ourselves from the stress of the outside world – even if that simply means relieving some of the pressure to “feel festive” and join in with celebrations.

To find out more about the ways we can take care of ourselves over the upcoming Christmas period, we asked Dr Meg Arroll, a psychologist on behalf of Healthspan, to share her top tips. Here’s what she had to say. 

1. Take some time to process your emotions

A woman writing in her notebook
Setting aside some time to process your emotions can help you to be more aware of your mindset in general.

The last couple of days have been overwhelming to say the least, so taking some time out of your day to process and identify all the emotions you’re experiencing can be incredibly valuable.

“It’s important to process our feelings when situations are outside of our control – disappointment, anxiety and even anger are natural reactions to having the rug pulled out from under our feet, particularly at a time when emotions run high anyway, such as Christmas,” Dr Arroll explains.

To begin exploring your emotions, Dr Arroll suggests taking out a pen and some paper and simply writing down how you’re feeling.

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“Emotional writing is backed by a wealth of research which shows the act of exploring our feelings on paper can release pent-up emotions, reduce depression and enhance wellbeing,” she says. “You don’t need to be Dickens here, simply note down how you’re feeling.”

She adds: “If this is too confronting, try creating a character that’s coping with the same difficulties and explore your emotions this way.”

2. Make a plan

If you’ve had to cancel your Christmas plans, it can be tempting to give up on the whole thing together – especially if you’re faced with the prospect of rushing around and trying to do a last-minute Christmas food shop.

However, according to Dr Arroll, making a small plan – even if it’s just to Zoom friends and family at a certain time during the day – can make a big difference to your wellbeing.

“Plan ahead for Christmas and Boxing Day,” she recommends. “Arrange with family members from other households to engage in the usual festive activities, like opening gifts at the same time, so there’s a sense of shared experience.”

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Even if you’re sick of Zooming (because let’s face it, we all are), giving someone a call is a great alternative.

“Old fashioned phone calls tend to be less tiring,” Dr Arroll points out. “And you can chat while prepping the veg and putting the turkey on.”

3. Keep up old traditions (and introduce some new ones)

A woman on Zoom with family
Doing your normal Christmas traditions (even if it is over Zoom) can be calming.

Christmas is a time for traditions, so if you’re used to doing things in a particular way, try to maintain some of that normalcy if you can.

“Rituals are a soothing balm in times of uncertainty so if you usually start the day with Bucks Fizz and pigs in blankets, agree for everyone to do this still in their separate homes,” Dr Arroll suggests.

“For a new tradition,” she continues, “have a look at online games instead of playing board games this year – you can play Christmas favourite Monopoly and Uno online, or Net Games has a load of party games for 2-21 people.”

If you’re spending Christmas alone, you could also have a go at forging some solo traditions that you can keep up no matter where you’re celebrating, or who you’re with – for some ideas to get you started, you can check out our guide.

4. 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 be dwindled, so to refill the tank make sure you’re looking after your basic health needs also,” Dr Arroll suggests. 

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“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.

For more information on looking after your mental health at Christmas, you can check out the following articles: 

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 jo@samaritans.org.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.