Mental Health

Mental health at Christmas: why it’s OK if you’re not feeling festive this year

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Lauren Geall
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The last two years have been unimaginably difficult – this Christmas, let’s show ourselves some kindness.

For most of my life, I’ve described myself as a Christmas person. Every year, I watch with delight as the first signs of festivity creep onto my local high street – as shop windows are adorned with twinkly lights and the sound of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You tumbles out onto the pavement. December has always been one of my favourite months: I value the lead-up to Christmas almost as much as I do the day itself. In short, it is the holiday in which I feel most at home.  

But this year, things feel very different. The Christmas tree is up, the adverts are on TV and I’ve almost completed my advent calendar, but I’m not feeling particularly festive. 

As someone who prides themself on their ability to see the bright side of things, it feels uncomfortable to admit. I hate to be the person putting a dampener on things, but I also know I’m not the only person feeling this way. 

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The last two years have been a time of inconceivable loss. I’m not just talking about the thousands of people who have lost their lives, although that loss feels particularly raw at a time traditionally reserved for family. 

In varying degrees, every single one of us has lost something due to the pandemic – whether that be jobs, relationships, businesses, routines, plans, money or time. No matter how much we want to feel festive at Christmas, the grieving process associated with those losses continues to dominate our everyday.

There’s also the fact that the backdrop against which Christmas falls this year is anything but cheery. We’re certainly in a better position than last year, but the rise of the Omicron variant – and the reintroduction of restrictions to curb its spread – has cast a degree of uncertainty over everything. 

A Christmas tree with presents underneath
Christmas and mental health: not feeling festive isn't some kind of failure – it's a normal response to a tough two years.

Not only are those people who have tested positive over the last week having to self-isolate over the holidays, but those who have managed to escape the virus so far are now feeling increased anxiety about whether or not they’re going to catch it, placing a dampener on plans to travel home and see family.

Although I’ve struggled with the fact that the festive joy I’m used to feeling at this time of year may not materialise as I expect it to, I’m trying my hardest to remind myself that no matter what my emotions decide to do before the 25 December, those feelings are valid. 

It’s all too easy to forget just how much strain our minds and bodies have been placed under this year – but doing so is crucial if we want to look after our mental health this festive season.

Setting boundaries is always valuable, but giving ourselves permission to change traditions, shift plans and do what makes us feel good has never been so important after 2021.

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As author and mental health advocate Matt Haig rightly pointed out in a tweet, “compulsory fun isn’t always fun” – doing what you need to do to unwind after a stressful year is a valid way to spend your time.

So if you’re struggling to feel festive this Christmas, try not to beat yourself up about it. Not feeling merry, positive and upbeat isn’t some kind of failure – it’s a completely normal response to the circumstances we’ve faced over the last nine months.

As the year comes to an end, we have an opportunity to spend some time doing what we need to recharge – and now more than ever, that’s exactly what we all deserve.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s 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.