- Focus on the good stuff
I love lots of things about Christmas, but it’s easy to lose sight of them when I’m feeling bad. I find it helpful to think about what I can enjoy when my mental health prevents me from doing a lot of the stuff people associate with Christmas, like parties. I love making lists, so it’s my go-to tactic, but I think making a list of Christmas activities I love is very helpful. I like being able to refer to a list when my thoughts are all over the place and I’m liable to forget about the things I can enjoy.
It’s easy to think Christmas is all about the big things, but a lot of the things I love are small. Drinking champagne (or prosecco, or cava…), listening to Christmas songs, playing board games, watching my dog open his presents, making gingerbread (and eating it!), watching musicals and Christmas films, putting up the decorations, reading ghost stories, etc. They are also accessible, meaning I can do most of them when my symptoms of mental illness are bad (though not when they are at their worst) and I don’t need lots of money or anything to enjoy them.
When you make your own list of things you love to do during the festive season (which don’t have to be Christmassy, by the way), consider scheduling some of them. Scheduling activities can provide some structure, which you may be lacking since Christmas disrupts your usual routine. It gives you something to look forward to, especially if you space them out before and after Christmas Day itself.
Don’t let other people dictate what you enjoy or how you spend your time. Think about what pleases you – it could be choir concerts, shopping, pantomimes, drinking whisky, making wreaths… Anything which brings out the best of Christmas for you. It’s easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of Christmas when you have mental health problems, but there is also a lot to enjoy.
- Remember it’s temporary
“This too shall pass” is a powerful phrase and it’s true. Christmas will be over by early January. Even if the hullabaloo starts in November, that’s 2 months: it’s finite. Do what you need to get through it and keep telling yourself it will pass.
Look ahead to the New Year, if you can. What would you like to do? What goals would you like to achieve? I like to make lists (again!). Try focusing on your favourite time of year (I love late spring/early summer) and how you can enjoy it all the more. If you find Christmastime unbearable, use any distraction you can find (assuming it’s not harmful) to get you through.
Also remember that the way you currently feel will pass. It’s hard to believe, but repeating “this too shall pass” can bring great comfort.
While some or all of these strategies may help, nobody can dictate what works for you and the only way you can find out is by trying different approaches.
Think about what has worked for you in the past, but also keep an open mind. Different things can work at different times, so try things which you have dismissed in the past. For example, exercise is now one of the main ways I manage my mental health, but I used to find it next to impossible to do and didn’t notice any good effects when I forced myself to exercise.
Experimenting can be a great way of coping in itself. It provides some distraction from your thoughts and feelings. You are being proactive and focusing on finding solutions, which cultivates optimism.
Do some research – look online and find out how other people cope with Christmas and/or their mental health problems in general. Read self-help and psychology books. Try to understand the biochemical and cognitive functions behind your symptoms. Challenge yourself to find as many options as you can. Have fun trying the craziest suggestions you can find.
Don’t beat yourself up if you feel unable to do something – or anything. Experimenting is as much about finding out what doesn’t work for you as it is about finding what works.
- Remind yourself you are not alone
One of the greatest advantages of the internet is that you can connect to other people without having to go outside or actually meet them. Read blogs about people in similar situations to yourself. Participate in mental health forums. Visit websites about mental health. Simply reminding yourself that other people find Christmas difficult can help you feel less isolated and more able to cope.
Talk to friends and family if you can, whether in person or via phone calls, text messages, email, Skype, etc. You don’t have to talk about your mental health, although it can be useful if you can – just chatting about trivial things helps you reconnect. Don’t forget that pets are great company, too. Spending time with animals is beneficial for your mental health and talking to a pet is often better than talking to a friend, since you have no fear of being judged.
Don’t forget that if you need someone to talk to, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 (in the UK) or visit Samaritans.org
To read Your Christmas Survival Guide Part One, click here.
To read Your Christmas Survival Guide Part Two, click here.