mental health at christmas

How to deal with stress at Christmas

What we all need right now is a good old-fashioned Christmas. You know, a magical one with perfectly selected gifts piled up around the tree and family fondly reminiscing about the year gone by. Not the ones where everyone gets a nasty cold. Or where your sister insensitively re-gifts you the present you bought her last year. Or where we have a year like 2020 to recall. Yes, this year caring for our mental health at Christmas feels more important than ever.

So much of what characterises this time of year relies on an assumption there will be back-to-back happy family gatherings and the financial stability to fund festive extravagance. Two things we can’t take for granted. The reality is this Christmas may not be a typical season of parties, presents and festive get-togethers.

As we navigate the uncertainty of what the festive period holds, it may help to be mindful of how all the stresses and strains could impact on our mental health at Christmas. And how a little self-care could help us manage our well-being throughout this period.

Popular causes of Christmas stress

  • Pressure on finances
  • Family conflict
  • Loneliness
  • Christmas weight gain
  • Failed attempts at Christmas weight loss
  • Present buying
  • Too much to do
  • Illness
  • Fatigue

Five ways to aid your mental health at Christmas

Here are a few ideas that could help you to address some of the most common causes of Christmas stress.

  1. Drink in moderation
With mulled wine on offer and an endless supply of fizz in your fridge, your alcohol consumption can easily ramp up over the festive season. Although it’s tempting to overindulge, one way to avoid a day of wallowing with a hangover is to intersperse alcoholic drinks with something softer. Maybe try a kombucha as an alternative. The fermented, fizzy brew is a popular beverage choice for those looking for a healthier alternative to beer and wine. And if you’re not looking to give up alcohol completely a hard kombucha can be kinder on the gut than some alcoholic drinks.

  1. Beat the Christmas bloat
Mince pies, pigs in blankets, party food and trifle – it’s easy to see what’s behind Christmas weight gain. But there are things you can do to reduce some of the effects of festive gluttony (other than exclusively opting for elasticated waistbands.) For example, milk thistle is a natural detoxer that can help to soothe indigestion. And if you want to minimise bloating, be mindful of how much fat you’re consuming – fat slows gut motility. Drinking plenty of water can also aid digestion and maybe sip on a cup of peppermint tea to help encourage the release of excess gas.

  1. Keep seasonal colds at bay
Lack of sleep, a hectic social life, too much to do and too little time. The lead up to Christmas can leave us feeling run down. As a result, putting on the ‘out of office’ often coincides with the onset of sore throats, runny noses and other cold symptoms. Minimise your risks of getting a cold for Christmas by fuelling a healthy immune system. Eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep can help, and consider adding traditional herbal remedies like Echinacea to your daily routine.

  1. Take some time out
Whether it’s navigating complex family dynamics or the pressure to make everything perfect, Christmas can be overwhelming. Making sure you snatch some precious moments for yourself can make all the difference to your mental health at Christmas. Go for a walk. Watch a film. Maybe take time for a restorative soak in festive-themed bath salts or unleash the relaxing effect of lavender essential oil to help you unwind.

  1. Ask for help
It’s difficult to admit you’re feeling anxious or not enjoying the festive period. In fact, it can feel easier to put on your Christmas jumper, plaster on a smile and pretend it’s all ok. But talking about your feelings can help to lift your mood and make it easier to reduce the impact of stress when you’re finding life tough. Maybe identify someone who you’re comfortable talking to and make time for these conversations. And if you need to, ask for help, whether this is from a loved one or from a support organisation such as The Samaritans.

Summary: How to look after your mental health at Christmas

Feeling Christmas stress is normal. But we all have different capacities to cope with and manage this pressure. For some, a more mindful approach to eating and drinking and making time for self-care can help. However, if you find the symptoms of stress are increasing or lingering well into the new year, consult a medical practitioner for advice.

Last updated: 6 October 2020