Ask anyone with a mental illness or someone who works in the mental health field which is the worst time of the year and they will all tell you the Christmas/New Year period. Admissions to hospital increase, completed suicides and suicide attempts all increase during this period too.
There can be any number of contributing factors as to why this time of the year is hard for people with a mental illness. These can include services being limited due to holiday periods, extra financial stress, pressure to be with family, recent loss of a loved one and loneliness. Of course there is no one reason why people struggle during this time and the reasons can vary from year to year. Here are my tips for surviving the holiday season as well as how to support a loved one during this time.
Remove the pressure.
This might seem like an easy one but sometimes we can find ourselves snowed under completely before we even realise that there is an issue. Take time out and make a list or lists to take stock of the things that you need to do. Some people can find this overwhelming but I find that it puts things into perspective. Often we feel anxious because we feel like we have so much to do and so much to remember. Once I write things down, and put them in order of importance it feels like a weight has been lifted. It also removes the stress of needing to remember so many things.
I also find that buying things on a week by week basis also helps with the financial stress. It also means that I don’t need to go to the shops the day before Christmas to get presents. Layby is my friend for presents, especially for Mr 5. I have also gotten little things for family members through the year so that I don’t have to fork out large amounts at a time. Paul and I also buy non perishable items for the holidays in the lead up to Christmas. Once again this saves time, and money because we buy when things are on sale rather than being forced to pay full price a couple of days out from Christmas.
Make ‘me’ time.
Taking time out for yourself isn’t something that you need to feel guilty about. It’s something that everyone needs regularly. During the holidays it can feel like people are pulling you in all kinds of directions so it’s important that you do at least one thing a day that is just for you, because you want to do it. It can be as simple as taking 10 minutes out to read a book, take a shower or something that takes a little longer like going to a movie or getting a massage. The only thing that’s important is that you are doing it because you enjoy it.
Ask for help.
The services may be limited during the Christmas period but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. If you are struggling then please don’t hesitate to talk to a friend, a doctor or if you feel unsafe, to call a crisis line. There is nothing to be ashamed of. If you are already seeing a psychologist or counselor then discuss with them your fears around the holiday period. They may then be able to give you specific ways to help while services are limited. They can then book in appointments for directly after the holidays to discuss any issues you faced.
If someone you know has a mental illness then please check in with them. Ask them how they are going and really mean it. Be prepared to listen because asking how someone is and not caring about the answer is as useful as not asking in the first place. If they ask you for help, then please do. It could be as simple as hanging out for a while to make them feel less lonely or offering to go to an appointment with them.
It’s ok to say no.
With Christmas comes a lot of social commitments. If you are feeling unwell, aren’t up to catch ups or are feeling anxious about being around other people then don’t be afraid to say no. People who love and care about you will understand that it is a hard time of year for you.
On the other side of the coin, if you have a loved one with a mental illness, then please be mindful on the extra struggles they may be facing. If you know that they have anxiety, then let them know if they can’t make your party, you are ok with it. However, don’t not invite them. It can feel incredibly isolating when you have depression and everyone around you seems to be having fun.
Stop comparing yourself
It’s so easy to look around at the people you know and feel like you don’t quite measure up. Of course we only know the things about their life that they are willing to share. That friends with the new pay rise? She could be coming home every night hating herself because she is spending less time with her family. That friend with everything that opens and shuts? They could be so far in debt that they are in danger of losing their house. That friend with the perfect body? She could be alternating between starving and binging just to keep that perfect body.
I believe it is much better to compare ourselves to what we have done. Sure you might be in a job you hate, but you’ve made friends. You might still have depression but you you have made baby steps towards recovery. Life is all about baby steps. It doesn’t matter if you have taken steps backwards, we all do from time to time. What matters is that you keep taking those steps, you keep pushing forward.
It’s ok to not be ok
Please don’t let guilt take over. It’s OK if you struggle at this time of the year. It’s OK if you aren’t as happy as those around you. It’s OK if you need to take time out in order to cope. It’s OK if you need to say no to social engagements. It’s OK to ask for help.
Do you struggle during the holiday period?
What do you do to help?