Mental health at Christmas: how to navigate a “revenge Christmas” while protecting your mental wellbeing
Mental Health

Mental health at Christmas: how to navigate a “revenge Christmas” while protecting your mental wellbeing

Planning a “revenge Christmas”? This is how the pressure to have the best Christmas ever in 2021 can have a detrimental effect on our mental health.

I spent Christmas Eve 2020 deflated and tearful.

The nation had just been instructed to unpack its bags and stay at home, dashing the hope of millions that they would be reunited with their loved ones on Christmas Day.

The veg had already been prepped and my mum had filled the fridge with enough food for the 10 people we’d been expecting. Instead, just four of us sat at the Christmas table. Presents remained wrapped, crisp Christmas pyjamas still in their packaging. Instead of the day being filled with laughter, flowing drinks and children running around, it felt static. Of course, we tried to make the most of each other, but it just wasn’t the same.

“Next year, we’ll try again,” we all whispered with hope.

And sure, as the big day rolls around for 2021, with the extra anxiety of a new Covid-19 variant to contend with, the pressure to do it ‘properly’ this year starts to take hold.

As a middle finger to all the pandemic robbed us of, we’ve had revenge dressing, revenge dating and now revenge Christmas. After last year’s disappointment, the pressure seems to be stronger than ever to make this year’s celebration count, but at what cost to our wellbeing?

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“Because of the disruption last year, we can feel greater pressure to make up for it this year, and do something bigger and better,” explains Dr Lucy Knowles, a clinical psychologist at My Online Therapy. “The pandemic can lead to ‘shoulds’ such as “I didn’t do it last year, so I should do something now.” Added to this, the ongoing precarious nature of the Covid situation – it could still all be taken away – can mean we want to make the most of spending time with other people while we can.”

It’s true that Christmas has always been a time that people piled their expectations upon.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” is such a loaded question. For many people in the UK, Christmas is the one event in the year where there’s an explicit focus on pleasure, spending time with family and taking time off,” continues Dr Knowles. It can amount to a lot of expectation and pressure. One source of this is from our own scripts about what Christmas ‘should’ be like. We may want to replicate the ‘good’ aspects of Christmas from our childhood – or rewrite the ‘bad’ – in an attempt to curate the perfect Christmas for ourselves and our families.”

Back in 2017, the Disposable Income Index revealed that nearly six in 10 households say they make sacrifices to fund Christmas, relying heavily on credit cards to get through the giving season.

Yet, in October 2021 alone, the UK spent £600m on credit cards, the highest monthly amount since July 2020, according to data from the Bank of England. It seems our financial health, as well as mental health, takes a hitting in pursuit of a revenge Christmas.

“There are also massive external pressures and expectations, particularly from retailers,” Dr Knowles agrees. “The images of the perfect, “Instagrammable” family Christmas that we’re exposed to don’t ever show the reality of this time of year for many of us. Family isn’t a safe place for everyone. This social comparison, where everyone’s carefully curated lives are on display, can lead us to feel we fall short.”

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Mental health at Christmas: how to navigate a “revenge Christmas” while protecting your mental wellbeing
Mental health at Christmas: how to navigate a “revenge Christmas” while protecting your mental wellbeing

How to protect your mental wellbeing when coping with Christmas pressure

“It’s not selfish to take some time out for yourself,” Dr Knowles stresses. “You need to fill your own cup first. So, no matter how busy you are at Christmas, it’s really important to make time to do the things that nourish you and bring you a sense of wellbeing.”

Dr Knowles advises taking the time to think about the rituals you really want. “What would mean the most to you? Your Nan’s trifle? A beautiful wreath? Which festive flourishes do you want and why? You can’t do it all  – so pick a couple of traditions that you want to keep in the long term.”

“Think about your values too. What really matters to you? For example, we might feel conflicted at Christmas over sustainability and affordability. How can you hold on to your values and aim for balance? When it comes down to it, what’s truly important is presence  – not presents.”

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