NCPS | Coping with mental illness at Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be lovely. Friends, family, togetherness, Goodwill To All Men, the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and all that. It’s not supposed to be an intensely pressured time full of stress, anxiety, and family conflict. Yet that’s what it often turns into – even for the most mentally healthy among us.

If you’re already struggling with your mental health, Christmas can be a very difficult time indeed. Christmas comes with a lot of inherent pressures and expectations, and it’s sadly very easy for these factors to exacerbate any underlying mental health issues you may be experiencing.

But Christmas need not be a trial for the mentally ill. There are ways of keeping mental illness at bay and ensuring that Christmas is the happy, contented time it’s supposed to be. Below, we’ll run through some of the ways in which you can maintain good mental health during the Christmas period:


• Keep to a healthy routine. Yes, it’s boring advice, but it works. What’s good for your body is good for your mind. One of the reasons why Christmas can make mental health difficulties worse is that it alters our lifestyles, our routines, and throws our natural rhythms off kilter. So, as much as you can, try to moderate your alcohol intake, maintain a healthy diet, get regular restful sleep, and take a bit of exercise. While it’s probably inevitable that your routines get disrupted to a certain degree, doing what you can to keep your body in good health will help to fortify your mind against the emotional buffets of Christmas.

• Know your limits. If you struggle with pressured social situations, don’t invite everyone you know around for Christmas dinner. If your argumentative uncle is going to raise your blood pressure, plan anger-management strategies in advance of seeing him. If you struggle with being alone at Christmas, look for friendly neighbours or community schemes to help out. We all have personal limits, and the consequences of pushing these limits are worse if your mental health is suffering. Get to know what your limits are, set boundaries according to those limits, and maintain your boundaries during Christmas. If you’re unsure where your limits lie or how to set healthy boundaries, counselling may be able to help.

• Don’t put undue pressure on yourself. There’s a lot of pressure at Christmas to do certain things, behave in certain ways, buy certain presents, cook to a certain standard and so on. This pressure can make it very difficult to take the above advice and maintain your boundaries. It’s really important to remember that, in the big scheme of things, stuff like decorating, hosting parties and other such Christmas pressures are not as important as your mental health. Put your health first, and save your Christmas ambitions for a year when you’re feeling more capable of fulfilling them.

• Communicate with loved ones. If you’re finding it hard to resist pressure and stay within your limits, communicating your reasons with loved ones can help. For example, if you’re feeling pressured to host a big family Christmas but don’t feel that this would be good for your mental health, simply explaining the situation to your loved ones can help enormously. You can go into as much or as little detail as you like. You’d be surprised at how understanding and empathetic others can be!

• Plan in advance. If you really can’t modify your Christmas plans to suit your mental health needs, all is not lost. Planning emotional and logistical strategies in advance will help you to navigate the pressures and pitfalls of a stressful Christmas. A good counsellor can help you to learn strategies which will work for you.

• Manage your expectations. Many people set a lot of store by Christmas. We anticipate and work towards a perfect time, full of love, joy, and togetherness. Of course, the reality rarely lives up to this aim. At times of mental and emotional stress, disappointed expectations can cause a lot of bitterness and anguish. So, don’t set unrealistic goals and expectations for yourself. Think low-key, and try to concentrate on enjoying what’s occurring in the moment, rather than setting your sights on perfection.

• Take a time out if you need to. If it’s all getting a bit much, don’t be afraid to back off for a little while. Regain your energy and your emotional equilibrium by doing things like taking a walk, reading a book, having a nap, or whatever works for you. Something as simple as stepping outside for a breath of fresh air can make all the difference.

• Seek help. Many mental health helplines and websites are manned 24/7 over the Christmas period. If you’re experiencing a crisis, don’t be afraid to call up a helpline.


If, like many people around the world, you are worried about the toll which Christmas may take upon your mental health, an accredited counsellor will be able to help. Whether it’s simply hearing your take on the trials of the season, or playing a more active role in preparing you for Christmas and its aftermath, there is a counsellor out there who can give you the help and support you need. Christmas can be a very tough time, for a number of reasons, but you do not have to suffer alone and in silence. An accredited counsellor will give you the tools and help you find the strength you need to not just survive Christmas – but maybe even to enjoy it.

We wish you all the very best for you and your family this festive season.

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