Stress Less at Christmas – 12 tips for your mental health

Forget the 12 days of Christmas here’s the 12 Ways of Wellbeing to ensure you look after your mental health this season and stress less at Christmas.

Stress less at Christmas. 12 tips to help you look after your mental health.

1. Make A Plan

I am a big fan of making lists. When it feels like there’s lots to do it’s helpful to have everything down on paper. As soon as it’s written down I feel less stressed. If it’s written down then I don’t need to keep thinking about it so it can stop whizzing round and round my head!

There are several things you can do to prepare for the busy holiday season so you stress less at Christmas:

  • Planning out your time to make sure you do everything and see everyone that you want to. This year there will probably be less meals out and no Christmas parties to plan in! But you can still plan in zoom calls – and actually because we cannot physically spend time together this year it’s important to make sure you stay connected with friends and family by planning that time in.
  • Plan out your meals or any other food you want to make – like mince pies or sausage rolls.
  • Check out what wrapping paper and cards you have left from last year. Do you have enough sellotape?
  • Make sure you also plan in some rest and quiet time.

You could write lists for: 

  • The people you need to buy presents for.
  • And you could write down present ideas. As soon as you see or think of something for someone write it down – that way you won’t forget that perfect gift.
  • The cards you need to write. 
  • The food and drink that you need to buy.

All of this means that not only are you prepared you also feel a lot more prepared which goes a long way to looking after your wellbeing.

2. Ask for Help

Christmas is a busy, busy time. There is lots to do, food to cook, lots of things to buy, presents to wrap, possibly some events to attend and people to see. Don’t feel like you have to do it all and ask for help to share the load.

Get the whole family involved in preparation. 

  • Can you share the card writing and present wrapping? 
  • Can you get someone else to do the shopping? 
  • Can you share the vegetable chopping on Christmas morning?

Asking for help and getting other people involved in the holiday preparation means that you will have more time and headspace to enjoy Christmas – and less stress!

3. Try to maintain some routine

Routine is so important for looking after your mental health. For me, routine keeps me grounded, maintains my healthy habits and reduces my stress.

During the holidays your usual routines can go out of the window. Without work you can get out of the routine of getting up at the same time, your usual exercise classes won’t be running and you have no idea what day of the week it is! Sounds just like lockdown actually!

Try to maintain some routine over Christmas especially if everyday self care is important for your mental health. 

  • Make sure you take the dog out for a walk like you normally would. 
  • Take your vitamins and medication, like you normally would. 
  • If you have a morning routine or a bedtime routine keep them up, just like you normally would.

4. Embrace time with others

‘Tis the season to celebrate with friends and family. And while time with friends and family will be different this year it’s equally important to plan time in. It actually means that the time you do spend together will be even more important and precious.

A lot of our Christmas may be spent on video calls and you may experience Zoom fatigue. This is tiredness or burnout from a lot of screen time and concentrating on the conversation. It doesn’t always flow as naturally as if you were in the same room together. There may be a lot of pressure on this hour on zoom to have a good time if it’s the only time you’re going to see each other. Try and not give in to this pressure – have an activity to focus on like opening presents or a game. If necessary, keep the video calls short but keep in contact with telephone calls and group messages.

5. Spend time alone if you need to

Embrace time with others but balance that against some peace and quiet! Schedule in some alone time. Can you use the 27th December or another day as a quiet day for you?

Plan in some time to recharge your batteries and do some self care. Look after you and do what you enjoy or what you feel you need. Perhaps that’s having an early night, a luxurious bubble bath, taking some time out to read or colour. It might be listening to music, doing some meditation or pausing to take in what’s around you with some mindfulness.

If you are an introvert, struggle with large groups of people, have the tendency to feel shy or get some social anxiety then finding some quiet, alone time will be crucial for you to look after your mental health over the holidays. Make sure you take some time for you and find joy in the little things. Take a look at this self care in winter blog for some more ideas.

6. Stay Active

Christmas can be a sedentary time of year when we spend a lot of time sitting down. Whether you’re sitting playing board games round the table, cosied up in front of the TV, staying indoors to wrap and unwrap presents or spending time on zoom to see family and friends. You might feel that after a busy, stressful, year you deserve that relaxing time – and you do! Enjoy the time to rest, watch those DVDs and read those books.

But – don’t spend all of your time sitting still. We know that exercise is good for us, both physically and mentally. So find ways to get active during the holidays. I’m not suggesting that you have to go to the gym everyday (although if you do go to the gym regularly try to squeeze in some sessions over the holiday season, to help you stick to your routine!) Perhaps you could go for a walk, have a kickabout or go bowling.

7. Give

Christmas is a time for giving; we give and receive presents with our family and friends.

But can you do even more giving? There are so many people out there in need; can you volunteer your time, donate to a charity or take some food to a foodbank? Can you buy and send charity Christmas cards?

People who help others are more likely to feel happier and have better wellbeing. Doing good for others is proven to boost self-confidence, improve your mood and generally make you feel good! So Christmas is the perfect time to give.

8. Remember it really is the thought that counts

 Christmas is not all about the presents! Try not to let the pressure of getting the perfect gift stress you out and try and enjoy it.

Think about what your friends and family might like and choose a treat that they wouldn’t normally buy themselves. Perhaps you could make them something or put together a book full of fun photos from the year. You can avoid the shops with all the people, loud Christmas music and pressure to buy. You could buy online from the comfort of your own home, seek out local businesses or small makers. And if you buy from your friends businesses you get that added bonus of knowing you’re helping them too.

Can you take pleasure and pride in wrapping the gifts? Get creative with making your own wrapping paper or gift tags and take pride in making the present look good.

Try to avoid a last minute panic of what to buy for people. By making that plan I mentioned earlier you shouldn’t forget anyone and can stress less at Christmas!

9. Rest

Get some sleep! Over Christmas our sleep can go a bit haywire. When I’m tired I get grumpy and I can get low and depressed. When you’re busy over the holidays you don’t want to let tiredness or lack of sleep affect you having a good time.

From getting up early on Christmas Day to see what Santa has brought you, from lazing in bed on Boxing Day to staying up late on New Years Eve you can go from not enough sleep to too much. Try and stick to some sort of routine. Going to bed and waking up at similar times each day and getting a decent night’s sleep can all help to keep your mood and mental health on an even keel.

10. Share Your Feelings

It’s not your fault if you don’t feel happy on Christmas Day. Just like it’s not your fault if you feel low on a Tuesday or Sunday. Our mood goes up and down and there’s not always a reason. Be open about the way that you feel and find someone that you can talk to, even though it’s Christmas. And especially because it’s Christmas!

If you can’t or don’t feel able to talk to someone, you could try journaling. Getting those thoughts out of your head and onto paper can really help.

If you need someone to talk to, please call the Samaritans on 116 123. They are there to listen with no judgement.

For the last 9 years the comedian Sarah Millican has run a Twitter campaign #JoinIn which connects people who are either on their own or struggling on Christmas Day for whatever reason. There are a variety of options to reach out and share your feelings. Find out more about talking about mental health in this blog.

11. Everything in Moderation

Don’t have too much of a good thing – too much sleep, too much food and too much alcohol can all have a detrimental effect on your mental health.

Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can have a positive effect on your mood. If this changes rapidly with lots of chocolates and cheese, it can make you feel bad about yourself. Try and balance these treats with some fruit and vegetables.

While alcohol can make you feel more relaxed and happy at first, it is a depressive. Alcohol can make you feel low and aggressive, so it’s best drunk in moderation. I’ve started drinking a lot less all year round as I don’t feel like it mixes very well with my medication or mental health. But I do still drink. I usually drink on special occasions, like a birthday celebration or on holiday or if I feel like it. 

Last Christmas, I had a few drinks everyday so Christmas Day, Boxing Day and 27th December. Over the next few days I felt so low and miserable. Everything felt really dark. Then I realised that I had probably drunk more over those few days at Christmas than I had all year! I had a massive hangover – not the traditional experience of a hangover with the physical feelings of a headache or being sick. But a mental health hangover. This year? I’m still going to have some drinks but I’ll be much more aware of how much I’m drinking and how different that is for me. For many people they would have been fine with those few drinks but because it was different for me I had that experience. So, my advice would be eat and drink and be merry but remember everything in moderation.

12. Embrace your Christmas

Christmas 2020 is going to be different to other years. We don’t know exactly what we’ll be able to do, or who we’ll be able to see or whether we’ll be able to hug our loved ones but we need to accept it will be different. There’s no use comparing this year’s Christmas to other ones. We need to embrace and enjoy our time – for what it is rather than thinking about what we wish we could be doing.

It can be really hard not to compare yourself to other people all year round but there’s extra pressure during the holidays. With photos of happy families or expensive presents appearing on social media it can be tempting to look around at your own life and spot what is missing. Just remember that these photos are the ones that they have chosen to share with the world. They are their highlight reel and they don’t always tell the full picture.

Try and focus on the here and now. Embrace your Christmas and don’t compare it to anyone else’s or previous years. Do not aim for the picture perfect Christmas. Remember that it is the fun, relaxation and time spent with friends and family that is important, regardless of what that looks like.