Christmas plus coronavirus does not need to cause mental health crises
How to look after your mental health during the holidays with Covid-19
The UK Christmas period has long since been recognised as a time of crisis for many people’s mental wellbeing. If your ongoing mental health concerns are exacerbated by festive stresses, or the Christmas pressures are tipping your wellbeing balance into overwhelm, you are not alone. This time of year, promoted for its cheer, merriment and generosity amongst friends, families and strangers, can actually make a lot of us feel sad, stressed and lonely.
This year comes with an extra helping of distress to digest. Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic has almost cancelled Christmas across the globe. What remains of the festivities is fraught with health anxiety and social limitations. The chances of mental health Christmas crises are likely to increase exponentially.
If this rings more than a jingle bell, again, you are not alone. Yet, mass awareness of mental health is also going viral — in a good way. The first step to protect yourself against any psychological upset, is to become aware of your own potential pitfalls, then you can work out how to, and who can help you, avoid them. Here are a few common reasons why mental health may suffer, and how the addition of Covid-19 adds an extra icy icing on the Christmas cake. Then read on to find some tips on how to tackle the Covid Christmas conundrum.
Reasons to be stressful:
- Family. There can be tensions even within the most loving and supportive families at this time of year; perhaps there’s competition deciding who’s hosting, old baggage brought up from the past, or there’s simply a lot of pressure to keep everyone happy. And if you don’t get on with your family, you may still feel obliged to spend time with them which can be immensely stressful; even just being around other family members who don’t get on can really bring you down.
Plus Covid: You may want to be with family members but this could endanger their health. You may be choosing whether to let the children see their grandparents, or protect them from potential infection.
- Social obligations. We can at least choose our friends, can’t we? Well, in ordinary Christmas circumstances, we can often feel pressured to have a glass of mulled wine with everyone we know! Plus the work-do where you really should show your face. Too much of a good time can be exhausting, expensive, and unhealthy, and you feel burnt out before the big day.
Plus Covid: This year we may not be able to see any of our friends at all! For some, this is the only time of year they can share the festive ambience and let go!
- Perfectionism and/or competition. If you love Christmas, you may feel desperate to make it perfect. You may go to great lengths to make sure everyone you love has the best time. You may feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses, even make sure your Christmas lights are the best on the street. This can become exhausting and unhealthy.
Plus Covid: Perhaps you feel despondent that you don’t get the chance to show off your Christmas creativity, or there is even greater pressure to make sure the people you are spending Christmas with aren’t let down by the restrictions.
- Nostalgia. Christmas may make you feel sad that life isn’t as simple, fun and special as your childhood memories when you experienced the “magic of Christmas” — spoilt rotten, free of money worries. Fair enough! In contrast, it could also bring up bad childhood memories — when an abusive family life was intensified this time of year.
Plus Covid: It may feel even more like life is sliding down a downward slope.
- Loneliness and isolation. You may not have anyone close to you to spend Christmas with. This may make you feel lonely and isolated. It may be the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, or you miss lost loved ones at this time.
Plus Covid: You may have been in this situation for most of the year, and feelings of isolation are worsened as you see people celebrate together. You may have lost someone in the pandemic.
- Disruption to your normal routine. If you are already struggling with mental, or physical, health conditions, your careful self care routine may be keeping your health and wellbeing stable. Upsetting this may feel intimidating and even threatening. You may be worried about eating certain foods, overindulging, or being around alcohol.
Plus Covid: Plans are constantly being changed by the government with knock on effects in everyone’s personal lives. This can make everything from travel plans to eating times unpredictable and a cause of anxiety.
- Finances. Expenditure on gifts, food, drink, travel, events. Some people save all year for Christmas, others end up paying it back all year. It can also be depressing to think about the consumer take over of Christmas.
Plus Covid: You didn’t even get to go Christmas shopping. The retailer, Amazon is taking over the world before our eyes. The global economic crash. “Enough!” I hear you cry!
- Beyond Christmas. You may not even be celebrating this particular Christian holiday, but whether you celebrate Christmas or not, the energy in the UK begins to steamroll us all towards the 25th December. Workloads may snowball for non-Christmassy folk as you cover for your Christmas celebrating colleagues. The UK stops services and travel becomes difficult for those who aren’t taking time out. This creates a whole set of other challenges without much acknowledgement from society.
Plus Covid: Restrictions were already in place over services such as health and support groups, travel, socialising. Everyone must be extra prepared as Christmas takes over and the UK shuts down.
Tips to get you through:
So if all of that is making you feel like a big Christmas cracker, then let’s move on to the advice for getting through it all as unscathed as possible:
- Set boundaries. This means planning ahead. Think about how much time is enough to spend with your family before it gets tense and you become stressed out or upset. Let people know you are leaving early if you need to and stick to your plan.
- Time to yourself. Make sure you take some time to be alone, meditate and just recuperate. Even if this is a day off the booze, an early night, a bath, whatever you need to lessen the constant stimuli. Indulge in that definitely-not-overused phrase: “self-care”.
- Manage your expectations. If you feel anxious that things aren’t going to be perfect take a moment to just accept that this year is particularly difficult, but it is just one year. Maybe you can’t afford to buy everyone presents this year. Maybe you don’t even have time to make them. Accept that, and bring your gift of self-compassion to others.
- Get outside. Going for walks with friends is a good socially distanced option to connect and share some mirth if you feel safe doing so, or even a way to chill out alone. There’s not much sunlight so grab it, and rub it on your face when you can. If you can, get into nature, share a vista, elbow bump a tree. Everyone’s doing it these days. Honest.
- Keep connected. Some services aren’t open but there will always be someone there on the end of the Samaritans phone-line. Even though you can’t see all of your friends, make the most of who you can. Chat with your neighbours. Do the Zoom thing once in a while.
So honestly, it’s going to be ok. It’s just a couple of days when everyone goes a little bit Christmas crazy. Yes, there is the extra elephant in the room this year, but hang in there, it too will pass. Stay as safe as you can, and protect strangers as well as loved ones.
If you do need an extra incentive to get you through, or a little bit more twinkly light at the end of the 2020 tunnel, EverMind will be launching early in the New Year with a brand new online psychotherapy concept to bring mental health support to one and all!
Watch this space and have a very merry mini mentally well Christmas everyone!