Christmas is a time for good food, gift giving, socialising and having a merry time but with that comes a huge amount of expectation. The festive season is often stressful for everyone but according to SANE Australia people living with complex mental health issues can find Christmas an especially challenging time of year.
With many mental health support services closing down or being managed by limited resources over the holiday period, it’s even more important to recognise when the pressure of Christmas is becoming overwhelming. The national mental health charity is encouraging people to put self-care at the top of their list this Christmas.
Melissa Wilson, Help Centre Lead at SANE Australia, gives her advice for ensuring your mental health is a priority this holiday season.
Do what’s right for you
It’s absolutely ok to ignore Christmas or pick out the bits that you enjoy the most and focus on them. Christmas can be a difficult day, but it can also be what you make it. Make Christmas meet your needs – whatever they may be. You can ignore it completely, or ignore the bits that don’t suit you.
It is helpful to set boundaries for yourself and have the courage to say no to plans, change your mind and make choices that suit your needs. You might know that visiting a particular person will cause you stress so it’s important to recognise this and work within the boundaries that are comfortable for you. If seeing a particular family member will make you feel uncomfortable, remove yourself from the situation if you know it will cause you distress.
Make time for yourself
While many people feel the pressure to spend time with friends and family over Christmas, it’s also important to consciously set aside some time for yourself. This will ensure you don’t burn the candle at both ends.
It might sound simple but it can sometimes be easy to forget – don’t neglect your physical health.
Self-care can take many shapes and forms and it doesn’t need to take up a lot of time, or cost a lot of money. It can be as simple as making sure you are taking any medications you might be on, getting an adequate and consistent amount of sleep, being physically active, or doing something you enjoy such as taking up a new hobby or reconnecting with an activity you’ve enjoyed in the past.
Be honest to yourself, friends and family
December can be a busy month, with lots of events and social gatherings. Try not to let the expectation of attending every Christmas party overwhelm you. If you’re unable to do something or be somewhere, excuse yourself. It’s okay to explain that you’re struggling mentally or you’re feeling burnt out and need some time for yourself.
It’s also important to remember that your needs matter. If you go to a Christmas party and it starts to feel overwhelming, it’s okay to leave early – you don’t need to explain why you’re leaving or where you’re going.
Share how you’re feeling with someone you trust
Talking to someone can help to alleviate any feelings of stress, worry or anxiety you might be feeling.
You can do this in whatever way makes you feel comfortable. It might be as simple as a text message, a phone call, or a message on social media. Or you might want to catch up with a friend or family member one-on-one.
You can also jump online and connect with an online community for support. The SANE Forums are operating over the holiday period and are a great way to connect with others and have a safe, anonymous conversation in a supportive environment.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have to spend time with people who are not healthy for you, it can help to share how you’re feeling with someone you trust. If your trusted person will be with you, discuss how you will let them know if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to leave. This will help them to understand when it’s time to step in and offer support.
Thinking about what has and hasn’t worked for you in the past can help you to plan ahead. This might be identifying certain questions or topics that you don’t feel comfortable talking about and thinking about how you can respond to these in a way that makes you feel more at ease and respects your boundaries.
You may be aware of particular events or people that present challenges to you and thinking about how you can navigate them, can be helpful. Ask a trusted friend or family member for advice on how to talk to that person.
Identify what kinds of things you will do before you go to an event that will make you feel more comfortable and at ease with the situation. List all the things that you will do for yourself during the gathering that will help make you feel supported and calm. This might be making sure you take a break for 15 minutes or talking a walk outside, away from the environment that you’re in. It’s also important to plan what you will do after and implement a self-care strategy that works for you.
Coping with loneliness
Loneliness can strike at any time of the year, but Christmas time can be particularly hard. Even if you’re spending Christmas alone or with others, feelings of loneliness can still surface. This feeling is an indicator that we need to seek a meaningful connection, so making time to do this is important. Whether this is talking to a friend or family member, spending time with a pet, or reaching out to someone on the SANE Forums or at a local community group, utilising these connections is a good step to take towards looking after yourself.
Mental health services available over the holiday period include:
SANE Australia is a national mental health charity working to support four million Australians affected by complex mental illness including schizophrenia, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression and anxiety.
Senior Media and PR Advisor at SANE Australia
Phone: 0439 708 381