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Managing the Christmas Holidays

Whilst the Christmas period can be a joyful time for many, it can also bring up difficult feelings, for several reasons: grieving loved ones who are no longer here, challenging family situations, or feeling the societal pressures to be ‘cheerful and jolly’ – all making this time hard to navigate for some.

I hope that the following tips may provide some ideas on how to manage a challenging time, or a dip in your mental health during the Holiday period. 

It’s okay not to like Christmas!

Admitting that we don’t enjoy Christmas can feel hard: we may not want to “be a killjoy”, feel judged or questioned, so instead we may put on a mask and pretend to be having a good time, which can increase negative feelings and a sense of disconnect. Whilst you might not feel able to share your true experience, it is really important to remember that you are allowed not to like Christmas! It’s a lot more common than you think – we just don’t talk about it enough. If you have realised that you don’t share the same excitement about it than others do… that is okay. Give yourself permission to feel this way, instead of forcing yourself to be someone you are not. Acceptance can help us feel less guilty or frustrated with ourself for feeling a certain way, and instead paves the way to finding ways to manage.

Boundaries are key 

Take some time now to think of any boundaries with others and yourself, that can help make this time more manageable. 

For instance, saying no to certain events, asking family to meet up for a short time instead of a full day, or scheduling a few hours to spend on your own in your pyjamas. Particularly when we have big families, or complex ones, or expectations coming from all directions, a key thing to remember is that it is not your responsibility to make everyone’s Christmas perfect or enjoyable. You can be kind and show love and care to others, whilst still setting boundaries and prioritising yourself. After all, this is a time for you to also rest, recharge and have a pleasant time.

Plan some things that can help you escape

Around Christmas, you might be surrounded by people all the time, especially if you have a busy family, or many events scheduled. Whilst these can be enjoyable, it’s also important to find some quiet time to rest, or even ‘escape’ situations that can drain your battery. Take some time to come up with a few ideas of things you could do to recharge; 

If you’re at home, going outside for a walk, or taking an hour to sit in your bedroom with music/a book can be helpful. 

If you have many events planned, you could take a look at your calendar and schedule a few ‘nights in’.

Something I find helpful is also to immerse myself in media set in a completely different time of the year, decade, or even world. Watching non-Christmas films, reading fantasy books, or gaming can be helpful in providing an escape from life if it feels too much at the moment!

Be mindful of phone and social media use

We all hate being told to stay off our phones, but the reality is that the pressure of always being connected can be even higher at Christmas. 

If you feel overwhelmed at the amount of phone-calls receive on the day, or guilty if you don’t answer or reach out to people, trying to let go of that pressure is crucial. Loved ones will understand that you’re busy and that it’s hard to reach out to everyone promptly. If you do want to ensure you check in with certain people, you could send a message a few days before – wishing them merry Christmas for the coming days and letting them know you will speak to them after the busyness has quietened. This could help take some pressure off Christmas Day.

Being inundated by social media content showing others’ Christmas celebrations can also be difficult, as it may lead us to compare our experiences with theirs, leaving us feeling like we are missing out or should be happier/doing more.

It’s key to remember that people only share a small percentage online of what their lives look like in reality, however accepting this can be easier said than done; we might still end up mindlessly scrolling through everyone’s posts and before we know it, two hours have passed and we feel awful. Whilst it might be frustrating to accept, the solution to this is to try and limit social media use during this time. Temporarily delete apps, turn off your phone, or leave it in a different room if needed. Find an activity that requires full concentration, or that you can’t do if you’re holding your phone, such as arts and crafts, knitting/crocheting, sports, reading. It will only be for a few days, and you might realise you didn’t miss it as much as you expected!

Stick to a routine

This might be simple, but it can help. This is a time when you might be off work, surrounded by family, have activities planned or even be in a different country. Maintaining some elements of routine, e.g. continuing your workout routine, waking up and going to bed at similar times daily, or taking time in the morning to yourself before the day begins, can help us feel less ‘all over the place’.

Connect with others and share how you feel

It’s important to acknowledge that Christmas can also be a time of increased sense of disconnect and loneliness for some of us. We may be physically alone, or feel alienated despite being surrounded by others, if we don’t feel safe or connected to them.

If you can, try to find a few people who you do feel comfortable with and plan to check-in with them. It could be helpful to share how you are feeling about Christmas, perhaps asking them to plan a non-Christmas activity or to talk about something different.

If you are really struggling, please remember that support is still available during the holidays; reach out to your GP, emergency services, or listening services such as Samaritans if you feel you need extra support.

Ultimately, this can be a lovely time, but it may also be tough to manage, and that is okay. 

If you can, try to notice what you do like about Christmas – whether it’s seeing old friends, catching up with a loved one, eating lovely food or seeing the Christmas lights light up your town. 

If you are struggling, do remember that you are not alone in feeling like this. It is okay not to enjoy this time, it does not reflect your overall mental health, recovery, or who you are all the time. This period will only last a few weeks, and then things will go back to the way they normally are. You can do this!

Take care.

Author: Valentina Sartore

Psychotherapist, MSc, BSc (Hons)