Beat off depression this Christmas

It is important to keep your mental wellbeing at the top of your Christmas to-do list. 

Christmas can be a busy and stressful time for anyone, but if you suffer from depression, loneliness or other mental health issues the season can be particularly difficult. The pressure to be perfect and be perfectly happy can be hard even for people without mental health issues. Add financial concerns and excessive alcohol consumption and Christmas has the potential to become an endurance event rather than something to be enjoyed.

Whether you suffer with depression, loneliness or simply find the festive season a lot to cope with, there are strategies you can use to help you take care of your wellbeing. 

Dealing with loneliness

At Christmas, many people cherish spending time with family and friends. However, this year over half a million older people will spend Christmas Day alone4. It’s not just older people who suffer from feelings of loneliness and isolation, with many young people relying on friends and finding themselves without invitation on Christmas Day. People sharing photos and messages of their holiday plans on social media can add to the sense that everyone except you is having the perfect Christmas. It can be an especially hard time for people who are bereaving, as the festive season stirs up memories.

If you find yourself without plans for Christmas, there are so many ways you can get involved with the community and spend the day in a positive way. Be proactive; make plans with friends or start a new tradition. Charities play a vital role in helping to beat loneliness; Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign provides a range of services for older people, from lunch clubs to befriending schemes. Whether you want to volunteer for or benefit from a service such as this, it can be a great opportunity to meet new people and enjoy the festivities. 

Manage your expectations

Try not to get hung up on the unrealistic idea of having the ‘perfect Christmas’. Real life is, almost without exception, nothing like the adverts. Having high expectations of the holiday period just heaps extra pressure on you and the people around you. At the same time, it is easy to anticipate disaster, especially if you have had a negative experience in previous years. Take the festivities as they come and try to keep an open mind.²

Take care of yourself

At Christmas, it is easy to drop all of the good habits you adopt to keep your mind healthy throughout the year – just when they are most important. It’s cold and dark, and you’re busy, but finding time to exercise and practise relaxation techniques will help you stay in control of how you feel. If you have routines that work for you, try not to let Christmas activities disrupt them. 

Let go of the little things

Between shopping, hanging the decorations and sending endless cards, Christmas has a tendency to feel like nothing more than a mission to get through a long to-do list. If it is starting to get to you, just make a decision not to care about the trivial things. You can still have a great Christmas without lights on the house, and your office Secret Santa does not require you to spend hours sourcing the perfect gift. 

Keep the peace

If worry over family arguments is making you anxious, it may be worth telling the worst offenders about your concerns so they can try and keep a lid on the conflict. You could also try confiding in another neutral party who can support you and help you diffuse a tense situation if it arises. If that doesn’t work, remember you can always just walk away and give yourself some breathing space.

Make a budget

Christmas can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Make a budget, and start shopping early so that you can spread the cost and feel in control. Shopping online means you can avoid the crowds and resist the temptation of panic buying. 

Alcohol is a depressant

Most people drink more than they should at Christmas, but try not to rely on drinking to ease your anxiety. Excessive consumption of alcohol will make you feel worse in the long run and may make your depression worse. If you are taking anti-depressants, it is usually recommended to avoid alcohol completely2.

See the light

Some people with depression experience worse symptoms in winter with many diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. This is caused by a lack of exposure to daylight, leading to a deficiency of vitamin D. Get outside in your lunch break if possible and make the most of sunny days, even if it’s cold. You could also try light therapy to improve your mood – speak to your doctor if you think it could help you.

Ask for help

If your friends and family know about how you are feeling, they can support you. If you feel like you can’t cope, ask for help and be specific about what people can do to make you feel better3. Loved ones are usually willing to lend a hand but probably need guidance; otherwise they may just worry about you and feel that they are powerless to help. 

In the festive whirlwind, make sure you remember the essentials such as taking your medication. If you see a therapist or counsellor, it may be good to schedule extra sessions so you can talk through your concerns. Above all, remember it's okay to take time out at Christmas and focus on yourself. If you need more help with managing depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns, BMI Healthcare may be able to help

[Sources]
¹http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/12/16/how-to-cope-with-depression-at-christmas_n_4418119.html
²http://www.webmd.boots.com/depression/guide/christmas-depression-stress 
³http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/10-ways-to-reduce-christmas-stress/#.Vjs1F7fhDcs 
4http://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/archive/help-prevent-loneliness-at-christmas/ 

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