Christmas is traditionally a time of celebration, eating, drinking, spending time with family and friends, and generally enjoying the festive spirit. However, for those who struggle with a mental health condition, the festive season can be an especially difficult time.

Whether it’s the financial strain that accompanies gift buying, the cold and dark winter nights, or the reality of spending Christmas alone, there can be a number of triggers for mental health problems during the holiday season.

First of all, it’s important to recognise that if you’re struggling over the Christmas period, you are far from alone. Mental health issues at Christmas affect more of us than you might think. A recent survey from from the Mental Health Foundation found that found that a quarter of people say that Christmas makes their mental health worse, whilst 54% of people were worried about the mental health of someone they know at Christmas.

Below, we have put together some tips to help get into the festivities of Christmas, and for better mental health and wellbeing this December:

1. Maintain a routine – It can be harder to wake up and stick to your routine during winter due to the dark mornings and feeling cosy under your duvet. Try your best to stick to a regular routine especially if you’re still working from home.

2. Make a list, check it twice – Create your own Christmas agenda to make sure that you balance your social commitments and self-care. Make sure you have outlined your boundaries and think about what will make you happy this year. Make time to do something you enjoy like watching a film or reading a book and set short-term realistic expectations. Do you usually have access to a mental health service which closes over the Christmas period? Ensure you have a plan in place in case you need help.

3. Help the community – Get involved by volunteering or donating gifts and food to help spread the Christmas joy. Organisations such as Salvation Army and Crisis support thousands of homeless individuals and need help providing food, gifts and emotional support. You can even help your local food bank.

4. Selfcare – Having a time-out helps to prevent stress and maintain performance throughout the day. It is essential for us to take a break whether it be from work, family, friends or Christmas to make sure we don’t start to feel overwhelmed. Self-compassion is good for your mental health, it’s ok to be kind to yourself and give you a treat from you.

5. Create a Christmas playlist – Studies show that music releases dopamine (the feel-good chemical in our brain). Listening to music can reduce depression and stress, boost our mood, help us to sleep better, as well as improve our motivation and memory.

6. Make time for sleep – Sleep is an essential component to not only positive mental health but also our physical health. Make sure it is still a top priority.

7. Avoid unhealthy comparisons and expectations – It is easy to get carried away with what everyone else is doing (or buying!). Avoid unhealthy comparisons, this year it may be tempting to overcompensate as things will be different, but it’s important to manage your money and gift giving.

8. Pull out your chef hat and apron – Cooking is a good way to boost our creativity and leaves us feeling a sense of accomplishment once we complete the dish! What we eat can impact how we feel so make sure to enjoy festive food and drink in moderation. Over-indulging can make us feel sluggish and sometimes maybe a little bit guilty!

9. Connect with others – Spend time with your family and friends, close and positive relationships help us to feel like we have a purpose and sense of belonging. If you are struggling it is important to talk to someone about how you are feeling. If you need someone to talk to at any time of the day, you can call Samaritans for free on 116 123.

10. Winter walk – A winter walk is a nice way to boost your mood as well as getting in some daily exercise. Walking is the easiest way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine and is good for our mental and physical health.

11. Make decorations – Arts and crafts can help reduce anxiety and depression and has a positive impact on our mental health. It is also a great way to make Christmas decorations. Try some at home DIY Christmas decorations this year, such as making your own tree decorations.

12. Have mindful moments – Paying attention to the present can improve our mental wellbeing. Mindfulness helps us reconnect with ourselves and connects us to our thoughts and feelings. Take time each day to think of the positive aspects of your life. Meditation, mindfulness apps such as ‘CALM’, yoga and breathing exercises can all be used for relaxation and reconnecting to the present moment.

Mental health is never straight forward, and our mental health problems don’t just go away for Christmas, for some people Christmas time can even be a trigger, but we can try to maintain an element of control at times when we feel overwhelmed and emotional.

We hope you have a lovely Christmas and remember our Listening Ear service will still be open over the festive period, please reach out if you are struggling.