Why Is My Mental Health Worse At Christmas? 24-7 Festive Cheer Can Take Its Toll
Oh, Christmas — the time of year for festive cheer, smiles, and big, extravagant events. While the presents, family parties, and Christmas lights are all good fun I find it so hard to ignore the fact that this time of year can be really tough. In the run up to Christmas, in the rare quiet moments I find myself wondering why is my mental health worse at Christmas? There isn’t any other time of the year that I put so much pressure on myself to spend money I probably can't really spare on gifts I'm desperate for family and friends to love. Many people continue to work full time up until the big day itself yet also have to manage to fit in Christmas lunches, work nights out, and all of the Christmas shopping. Heaven forbid you be the kill joy that rejects an invitation out even if it is the fourth festive event in your calendar this week.
This time of year comes loaded with a hell of a lot of expectation and whilst you can try and ignore it, opting to have your own, stress-free style of Christmas it still manages to creep in. There is so much emphasis on all of the great things about Christmas that it is easy to lose track of when your mental health is really starting to suffer. I’m not a scrooge, believe me I love a Christmas market as much as the next overexcited, mulled wine enthusiast. But it is too difficult to ignore the fact that a time of year that is supposed to make us really happy, can also leave my mental health shot.
This time of year is expensive. No matter how many secret Santa's you enter, how strictly you stick to Black Friday shopping, and how much your relatives insist “it’s the thought that counts” you still feel like you’re left a little out of pocket by Jan. 1. Mental health charity, Mind conducted a study into why people struggle with Christmas. Of the 1,100 people surveyed, 81 percent said they found the time of year stressful and 41 percent attributed their negative feelings with worries that they would get into debt.
2. A Jam-Packed Schedule
It feels silly to say that my mental health suffers because I am invited to different Christmas occasions, but I feel ashamed to admit that I need some down time which can lead me to spiral. I definitely recharge alone rather than in big groups. During the rest of the year it can be easier to maintain your boundaries — knowing when to go out and when to stay in, run a bubble bath, and listen to Stephen Fry read the Harry Potter audiobook. This seems to go out of the window at Christmas with full-time work and a jam-packed schedule taking precedence over self-care. The Mental Health Foundation offers the super simple tip of “balancing your sense of social obligation with your need for self-care.” This is so much easier said than done but if you can keep your FOMO in check and recognise the value of a quiet evening purely for yourself you may come out feeling all the better for it.
3. Social Media & Expectations
Instagram comes into its own at Christmas. Shots of beautifully, colour co-ordinated Christmas trees, perfect looking couples snuggled up in matching jumpers by the fire, and food upon food fill up my feed throughout December. It's difficult not to get caught up in how much fun other people are having or how perfect they have managed to craft their Christmas. Even if you know deep down that Instagram puts a rose-tinted filter on real life, it's still easy to get lost in it. You end up miserably swiping under a blanket wondering what the point is. In a statement, head of information at Mind, Stephen Buckley said, “If you find Christmas a particularly difficult time to manage your mental health try to take time out to do something you enjoy, whether it's reading a book, painting, crafting, phoning a friend, relaxing or doing physical exercise.”
4. The Focus On Food & Drink
For anyone with a complicated relationship with food or alcohol, Christmas can be particularly difficult. The season is essentially focused on how many mince pies you can eat and pub sessions can you fit in before Dec. 25. A spokesperson for eating disorder charity B-Eat told the Independent, “Christmas and New Year can be an incredibly difficult time for someone struggling with their eating disorder. It is a time where food is central to any social calendar which can cause increased anxiety, pressure and feelings of guilt that they can’t ‘join in’ like they hoped.”
5. Winter Weather
The last thing that can leave me feeling incredibly down is the weather between November and March. The fact that it is dark by 4 p.m. means that many of us go into work in the morning and leave work in the evening in complete darkness. It is difficult to motivate yourself to do anything when it feels like night time is upon you by tea time. This means that exercise schedules often take a bit of a hit and whilst it is difficult to make it out the front door to go for a run in the pitch black (believe me, I know) you will always feel a little bit better for it. The NHS website describes Seasonal Affective Disorder as "winter depression" and states the symptoms can be a persistent low mood, feeling lethargic or sleeping longer than normal, and a loss of pleasure in everyday activities.
It seems that maintaining as much of a normal schedule with time for self-care could be the key to managing metal health over Christmas as best you can. While some things are out of your control Anxiety UK offers helpful tips including making time for yourself, moving at your own pace, knowing where you can get support from, and keeping active. While it's so important to have fun and celebrate this time of year, good mental health is key. I know I am going to try and stop beating myself up this year for not feeling 100 percent all of the time.