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13th December 2023

Nurturing your mental health this festive season

When the Christmas period can be a difficult time for many, Lifestyle discusses the ways in which we can look after our mental health throughout the holidays
Nurturing your mental health this festive season
Photo: Tessa Rampersad @ Unsplash

It’s that season again: ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. Chestnuts roasting on the fire, wrapping up, not just ourselves, but mouth-wateringly rich sausages in blankets, decorating our nails in coats of red to match the festive spirit. Snuggled up safely in the comfort of our living room whilst snowflakes tap against the fogged-up windows.

It’s that time of year to reminisce on many Christmases long ago – to hang up the baubles we made as kids or got handed down from our grandparents. Flick through the photo albums and laugh at the regression of camera quality as the years go back. When chatting to my friends, they mentioned their excitement about everything from the food and snow to the Christmas lights on Regent Street and spending time with family. But what about those who don’t see the festive season this way? For those who maybe want nothing more than to hibernate for the winter and wake up when it’s passed – just another ‘nightmare before Christmas’.

The colder season can be, for some, the most difficult time of the year. It’s not all warmth and cheer for everyone – the onset of Christmas jingles can be like a looming cloud dawning ever closer. In talking to fellow students, one mentioned some dread towards ‘the end of the Christmas build-up’, fearing that the day itself won’t be as grand as those romanticised films make it out to be. For another, they described anticipating the disappointment of not being able to have the whole family together on that special day. But I want to emphasise that whether you outright despise the carolling season or are overwhelmed with the pressure for a perfect day, you don’t have to be doomed to the Scrooge Christmas spirit.

It’s in times like these that it’s important to be kind to yourself, notice your feelings and take steps so things don’t get worse. Whether you feel like it’s ‘not that bad’ or you’re tempted to put it off, be gentle and give yourself a moment. You do not deserve to struggle. It’s okay if you feel like it’s all becoming too much over Christmas, but there’s nothing worth sacrificing your mental health for. Taking care of yourself now, whether that means pushing other tasks to the side, is the best decision you can make – you need to be your main priority. While this may seem ‘selfish’ for those of us who are more sensitive to others’ feelings, the following view can be very insightful: taking care of yourself during the holidays is taking care of others too. Too often we feel like a burden and that we are ‘overthinking’ it all. But it’s never made up, it’s never a choice and it’s certainly not your fault. It can, however, be something we work towards overcoming; positive change can happen.

If you do have negative associations with Christmas, the mental health platform BetterHelp references inner-child work as one of the most helpful strategies for healing your relationship with yourself. We can ask, what would our five-year-old selves want nothing more than to do at this time of year? What would make them most excited? Maybe it’s watching a Christmas movie, maybe it’s baking a treat you love… maybe it’s going to the Christmas markets with your friends or taking a trip somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Imagine you’re treating them to a day out, giving them the experience they would always have wanted – what would it be? Nurture yourself by creating a routine and a home environment over the festive period that works best for you. The practice of light therapy is popular over the Winter, but simply bringing some warmth indoors by lighting up your Christmas tree or hanging some fairy lights along your wall will help with raising those festive spirits.

The benefits of journalling have been widely cited, with WebMD compiling research on how the practice can positively impact both our mental and physical well-being. Whether it’s the post-build-up blues or having to clean up the wrapping paper, putting your thoughts into words can help manage any difficult feelings and allow you to finish the year with excitement and optimism. One popular method is to jot down three things you look forward to every morning – from something as little as eating the chocolate from your advent calendar to finally visiting Winter Wonderland. Then, in the evening, you can note down three things that made you smile that day. Maybe it was looking back and laughing at how your little brother/sister eagerly woke everyone up at the crack of dawn to see what Santa left under the tree.

Equally, while it is important to honour your relationship with yourself, do not shy away from reaching out for help. Remember that it’s okay to talk to a loved one, or ask for professional support. Today it almost feels like too much emphasis may be placed on independence and self-care, where in some cases the pendulum may swing too far in either direction. Yes, enjoying your own company is incredibly important, but it is not the same as forcing yourself to be alone because you feel as though you don’t want to ‘bother’ anyone over the busiest time of year.

Sometimes all you want is to feel like it’s just another day, to go and spend time with people who remind you of all the things that make you smile, of all your reasons to be excited about life, enjoying each little moment. You can forget about those ‘to-dos’ and just sit together in a café whilst the Christmas classics play amongst the chatter; laughing over funny stories or reminiscing over an old memory. The same way you care so deeply about your loved ones, they care for you.

It’s time to change the narrative of the frostbitten season, to finally enjoy the excitement of the Advent calendar month! A lot of the time it’s the neural pathways we have developed over our lifetime that cause some to shudder at the thought of Christmas, but we can create new pathways in our brains by trying the things we’ve never done before. Rebuilding the relationship we have with older memories and approaching these wintery months with self-love and compassion is key. We must be gentle with ourselves to understand that, while it’s okay to feel the way we feel, it doesn’t have to be like this forever. There is beauty in hope.

Merry Christmas, and may this be your most wonderful Christmas yet.

Useful resources:

  • YoungMinds – Mental health charity for children, young people and their parents
  • NHS UK mental health services

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