It is possible to have better mental health this Christmas or at least around Christmas. If you find Christmas challenging and stressful, you CAN make changes to look after yourself and it’s not wrong to want to feel ok around the season that everyone seems to think is endlessly jolly, but in fact for many people it’s less ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ and more ‘I just need to get through this without my mind breaking’.
For me, Christmas is always slightly bittersweet, due to loss and a tinge of grief that will never go away but as time has passed and my children have helped to make Christmas fun, that has eased.
I actually love Christmas. I love the decorations. I love the food and I actually enjoy cooking for friends and family. I love buying gifts for people, and doing things as part of our community to help others celebrate.
But I also find Chrismtas mentally exhausting. I find the demands and expecations of others very stressful.
Let’s face it. Everyine has their own idea of what Christmas should be. For some it’s formal and there are things that MUST be done each year to meet with traditions and memories. For others it’s about food and seeing people. The pressure to get the perefect gifts, be the perfect host, have the perfect food, the tidy house, be prefectly dressed… it’s a lot for what is a short time in the year. I often find at the end of Christmas Day I feel incredibly deflated and down. I know other poeple do too.
Christmas is often the worst time of year for people with mental health issues, or can even be the tipping point for some. Relationship pressure, financial stress, or existing mental health issues can make it feel like the worst time of the year.
We made a decision a few years ago that we wanted to take the stress out of Christmas and help my mental heatlh by making Christmas how we wanted. It’s taken time for use to establish how we want Christmas to be, and it works for us.
We have some golden rules that we stick to rigidly that help and I think if you look at them and apply them, it could help you have a better mental health Christmas this year too.
1. You do not have to host people for Christmas if you don’t want to. Just say no. If you want people in your home, invite those who you want to spend time with, and who’s company you enjoy. Also, make sure they are people who will help and contribute.
2. Similarly, you do not have to visit people you don’t want to. Or if you do, you can be very strict about the time you give to that.
*Caveat, both of these rules are tough to enforce, and people won’t like it, but they will get over it. Do not tolerate passive-aggressive, or even blunt attempts to make you change your mind if you don’t want to. You will feel better for it, I promise but you have to stick to your guns*
3. You do not have to wear what other people think you should. If you want to dress up and look nice, then go for it. If dressing up makes you feel stressed, then wear what works for you. My view now is that if someone wants to dress up or dress down on Christmas day, then let them. It doesn’t matter. They are just clothes.
4. Eat what you want, and don’t make yourself eat things you don’t want to. I know our mothers told us to eat what was put in front of us, and to a certain extent, being polite is always good but having a child with food allergies and also aversions to certain foods and textures, I am far more relaxed about these things now and if he won’t eat meat because he doesn’t like the taste and texture I won’t force him. When I am hosting people for Christmas I try to find out what they like and don’t and what they can and can’t eat and cater accordingly. Also, if you are vegan, vegetarian, don’t drink alcohol, don’t like Christmas cake/pudding/pies/Brussell sprouts DO NOT let people give you a hard time. I have found that simply stating “I don’t like it, I would prefer not to eat it, thank you” when someone pushes hard, said in a fairly strong but polite tone, tends to get people to back off and leave you alone.
5. Presents are not mandatory. In our home and family, we stopped doing gifts for adults years ago. It eased the costs and pressure so much and was a huge relief. It’s ok to not spend a fortune and it’s also good to not always expect gifts. Yes, it’s nice to give and receive but it can cause so much pressure. A friend of mine has a rule in her family that each person can only spend £10 on another person and they do a sort of Secret Santa round about gift-giving. Less stress, less pressure on your overdraft, and much more fun.
6. Other people’s Christmas traditions don’t have to be yours. Just because granny made Midnight mass mandatory doesn’t mean you have to still go, as an adult. You don’t have to play silly games if you don’t enjoy them. If you like and enjoy them, then do them, but if they fill you with stress and anxiety then you REALLY don’t have to.
7. Family comes first, but it’s YOUR family, the people you live with day today, the ones who call you their parents, that matter most. If there are relatives you want to see and enjoy spending time with or friends, then you can agree to see them. You do not have to spend time with anyone you don’t want to.
But, if for whatever reason the idea of Christmas and everything it entails is too stressful, you hate the change and crazy it can bring, and you don’t enjoy it and really don’t want to capitulate to the pressure to conform, YOU DON’T HAVE TO. If being at home with just your partner, your pets and a quiet meal and the tv shows you enjoy is what works and is best for your metnal health, then do that.
If there are parts of Christmas that make you feel stressed and anxious, cut them out or reduce them. It is, actually only one day, or a bit of celebration spread over a day or two. The rest of the year has to still happen, your mental health and wellbeing matter most. Make sure you are getting sleep, eating foods that make you feel good, if medication works and helps, make sure you are taking it, if you are struggling, reach out and talk to someone.
If you are struggling with your mental health over Christmas, then MIND has lots of resources to help and support you, please do reach out. You are not alone, it is not actually strange or awful to not be enjoying Christmas or finding it stressful, people will and do understand and you can look after yourself.