It’s been yet another while since I did an anxious guide, and as we come into the festive season I thought now would be a good time to write one on, well, the festive season. I don’t know about you, but for me, anxiety at Christmas is just as certain as the Queen’s speech on Christmas day. Whether it’s anxiety over upcoming plans or anxiety that’s there just for the hell of it, chances are that it rears its ugly head at least once during all of the festivities. So, when your everyday anxiety turns into fancy Christmas anxiety, how can you keep it in check? Check out my guide to handling your mental health at Christmas.
Some who aren’t all that clued up on mental health may be wondering what on Earth there is to be anxious about over Christmas. It’s full of family time, laughter, food, presents, what’s not to love? Well, unfortunately, Christmas can bring up a number of mental health triggers including:
- Extra pressure on food and eating
- Social events
- Pressure to drink alcohol
- Increased feelings of loneliness
- Finance worries
Stock Up on Your Meds
If you take medication, it’s so important to make sure your supplies are well stocked for the festive season, especially if you’re going away. If you need any reviews with your doctor get them booked in plenty of time, and make sure you request any prescriptions nice and early to ensure you don’t run out. While most pharmacies are open during the days between Christmas and New Year, some GP surgeries may be on restricted opening hours. Even if they’re not, no one wants to be on hold for eternity to their surgery that morning after Boxing day just to request a prescription!
Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
During the festive season there’s often an awful lot of pressure to show your face at social events. Whether it’s the big day itself, or various family gatherings over the holiday, what some see as quality time with loved ones can be considered pure torture when you have a mental health condition. For me, my fears around social gatherings are usually around illness. Of course my OCD means I’m worried about this pretty much all the time anyway, but it’s heightened especially over the Christmas period. All it takes is reading one news article about norovirus and I’m pretty much set for the whole season. However, for other people the anxiety around social events at Christmas can be around pretty much anything. It’s a tricky one, because while you don’t want to let your anxiety win in every situation, you also don’t want to push yourself too much. However, if you genuinely feel like something will be too much for you, don’t be afraid to say no. While it may not be an easy decision, and some family members may not like it, at the end of the day, you know what’s best for your mental health. If you need to spend an evening in front of the telly with a shit ton of snacks, over another family party, do it.
Of course this year, things are likely to be quite a bit different. At the time of editing, it has since been announced that here in the UK, we’re allowed to form a ‘Christmas bubble’ for 5 days over the festive season. While I’m grateful for this, I also feel like the government have fucked over the people with adult kids. The bubbles thing puts a bit of a shitter on our personal Christmas plans, and we were hoping that we would be able to see loved ones in bits and pieces during the run up to Christmas. However, we’re in tier 2, so that’s not going to happen. I honestly could turn this whole post into a rant, but I won’t.
Anyway – I cannot emphasise enough that whatever the rules in your local area are, FOLLOW THEM. It’s not ideal, but I think this year we’re all just going to have to take one for the team. However, for an unlucky few, you may find that certain relatives or friends are ignoring the rules. This is a tricky one – and it can certainly be frustrating if you’ve worked hard to follow the rules up until now. Of course you’re not responsible for their decisions and you can’t control whether or not someone throws a huge gathering, but what you can control is whether or not you go to it.
Before anyone @s me – I’m not condoning people breaking the rules. At the end of the day though, people will do what they want. It sucks and it’s horribly unfair on those of us that actually are following them, but people will undoubtedly be in that mindset of “it’s Christmas, I’ll do what I want.” My point? It’s a simple one – if you’ve been invited to an event that breaks the rules this Christmas, don’t feel like you have to go. I’m not going to have a go at you if you do decide to go – at the end of the day it’s your decision and if you’re willing to take the risks, fine. However, if you’re not comfortable with it, that’s fine. The same as you would any year, if you’re not comfortable going to something for whatever reason, don’t. If it’s going to make you anxious or cause you upset in any way, its not worth it.
Take Some Time for Yourself
Of course, saying no to some events may not be an option for all of us. Whether your family are unaware of your mental health condition or bailing on plans is just non negotiable, sometimes there’s just no getting out of it. However, that doesn’t mean you have to suffer all through the holidays! Even when it comes to busy social events, there’s still room for a little compromise. If your loved ones are aware of your mental health condition, take them aside just to make them aware of what you’re anxious about if they don’t know already. Having someone else in your corner will instantly make a huge difference! Knowing you have somewhere to go if you’re feeling overwhelmed can be a big help too. For example, I had a panic attack at my in-laws one year on Christmas Day, and despite trying to fight it for a good 20 minutes, it didn’t start to ease until I left the room and sat on my own upstairs for a bit. I felt awful for leaving and for looking ignorant, but at the time it was what I needed to do and once I’d pulled myself out of the situation I instantly felt better. Chances are, whether you’re at someone’s house or in a public place, there will be somewhere for you to go to take 5 and calm down. If you’re able to, familiarise yourself with where you’re going so you know where you can head if you start feeling uneasy.
Have a Plan in Place
It’s important to take extra measures when it comes to looking after your mental health at Christmas. From knowing who you can contact in a crisis to having a list of self care tips you can do for yourself, there’s a few things you can do to create your Christmas mental health plan:
- Create a self care kit – Put together a collection of things that will help ease your anxiety in a crisis and have them to hand. Whether it’s things to distract you or exercises to tackle your symptoms head on, you can include pretty much anything you like in your collection of self care tools.
- Familiarise yourself with anxiety management techniques you can use such as grounding and breathing exercises.
- If you have a busy few days planned, make sure you schedule in a day or two just for you, where you can relax and catch up with a couple of box sets.
Finally, it’s important to know who you can contact if you’re in crisis. It doesn’t have to be a friend or relative either if you don’t feel comfortable. There are a number of ways you can find support when you need it:
- Mind – Their Urgent Help tool directs you to a number of different resources that you will find useful when you need support. There are also plenty of tips for how to plan for a mental health crisis.
- Samaritans – Free confidential support for whatever you’re going through, available 365 days a year, 7 days a week.
- Make an emergency appointment with your GP as soon as you can.
- For urgent medical advice you can also contact NHS 111, or in an emergency call 999 or visit your nearest A&E department. The NHS has further guidelines on dealing with a mental health crisis, which you can read here.
Taking care of your mental health during the festive season is incredibly important. Ultimately, the main things to remember are not to suffer in silence, and to do what’s best for you. If you have a friend or relative with a mental health condition and you’re not sure how you can help them this Christmas, check out my Need to Live post for five ways you show your support for them during the festive period.
Do you have any tips on looking after your mental health at Christmas? Feel free to share them in the comments!