Christmas this year will be very different for many of us. Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Alys Cole-King has shared her top tips on how to look after your mental health and wellbeing over the festive season
It’s been such a tough year for everyone, and the latest news about the COVID-19 restrictions may come as a relief or as a huge disappointment – or perhaps a combination of both. It’s even more important that we look after ourselves and those around us.
Worried about someone else? These new restrictions may mean that we are unable to share Christmas with loved ones in person. It’s vital that we find other ways to feel connected. If you are worried about someone spending the day on their own, perhaps suggest that you agree to do certain things at a set time, such have a morning cuppa, an afternoon mince pie or eat your meals at a scheduled time. You could also watch the same DVDs or TV programmes and keep in regular touch via video call or phone You still have time to try to post a treat to them – even if it doesn’t arrive in time for Christmas day itself, they will know it’s on the way. You can also do a crossword over the phone or perhaps have a quiz. If they can ‘join’ you via video call, put your phone or tablet at the end of the table where they would have sat so the missing person feels involved. You can also reschedule ‘Christmas’ for the spring or summer time – whenever it is safe to do so.
Worried about how you will cope? It’s good to think ahead and prepare how you will get through the day. Anyone who has endured a Christmas without a loved one knows that sometimes the best you can do is just ‘get through it’. But there are things you can do which might help. Things like making a plan for the day, keeping busy, getting outside, keeping distracted, do the ‘opposite of Christmas’ like have a pizza for lunch and most importantly have support from others. Below you will find some more tips like making a self-care box.
If you are really struggling with the news of the new restrictions, please reach out for support. You may also consider making a Safety Plan. This is a mental health equivalent of putting on a car seat belt. It will usually include things you can do for yourself, ways to make your situation safer and how to access emotional, social, and emergency support. For further information visit: Help for suicidal thoughts - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
This Christmas will be like no other – thankfully we now have a vaccine – but we can’t let our guard down just yet. We’ve all been impacted by COVID-19 and Christmas can be a difficult time for many of us at the best of times. This year will be very different and so it’s worth planning how we can still make the best of things.
This Christmas you might like to try something new or adapt your usual festivities. Rituals and keeping in touch with loved ones are what makes the festive season special for many of us. Christmas is a good time to ask how people are doing and be that listening ear that everyone needs. We may just need to adapt how we connect with people and use video calls for those we can’t meet up with.
The need to look after your mental health doesn’t stop at Christmas, and with all the added stresses that can come with the festive season it’s more important than ever to care for your wellbeing. There are handy tips on how to reduce stressors over this Christmas period:
- Christmas isn’t just one day! As important as 25th December is to many people, the Christmas period is much longer. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to have ‘the perfect day’. Many of us will be working and so try to spread out the fun over the festive period. Also with COVID-19 restrictions we won’t be able to see everyone in one go.
- Try something new! If the thought of not having your usual day with a large gathering is too difficult then try something new. Something like eating at a different time of day or having a different meal such as your favourite roast or veggie/vegan meal. By avoiding doing the same thing you’ve done every other Christmas you’re hopefully less likely to spend the whole day comparing (and perhaps unfavourably!). Have a vote amongst those you plan to spend time with and perhaps keep three things the same and try three new things
- Get outside. Even if it’s freezing or raining wrap up warm and get some fresh air. Even just walking briskly for 10 minutes can have health benefits. Green spaces can have an important positive impact on our wellbeing so even better if you can get outside into nature. It’s also a great chance to team up for a socially distanced walk.
- It's OK to say ‘No’. Many of us pressurise ourselves to do things we may not want to do, because we want to please others. This can put extra pressure on an already fraught situation if you’re struggling. Sometimes thoughts of what we ‘should’ do or the unrealistic expectations others place on us can feel overwhelming. This is especially so if we are juggling the multiple demands of home, work and family or if we are unwell. If we feel we can’t meet these expectations, we may feel conflicted or guilty and we forget that it’s okay to say ‘no’ or to postpone something until we feel up to it. If we respond politely and respectfully, we should feel confident and ok with ourselves for having done this. The key is finding a balance without sacrificing our own health or wellbeing.
- Plan a treat for after the festive season. Give yourself something special to look forward to after the festive season. This could be a get-together with family and friends for when COVID-19 allows or time just for you. Could you plan an extra half-day of annual leave or a weekend day designed just for you to do what you want - to spend time on you, a promise of an afternoon to finally read that book, sort out favourite photos, plant some bulbs ready for spring, sort that dripping tap or clear out a cupboard – whatever will make you feel good!
- Don’t stress about presents. If money is tight or if you haven’t been able to buy presents why not try giving home-made vouchers for ‘kindnesses’ or doing other people’s chores during 2021. Be inventive with your ideas, with things such as: putting the bins out, ironing, doing the recycling, watching their ‘favourite TV show and not moaning’, making a meal or making a picnic for a day out, can all be very popular.
- Make a Self-Care Box. A self-care box is something to make filled only with things that make you happy, help you feel good, feel calmer and help you to recharge. The idea is to make the box in advance so you have it for when you need it – it will have everything you know helps you to get back on track if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. It could include a book, a herbal tea, your favourite biscuit, sudoku puzzle, a crossword, a scented candle, a pack of cards, a DVD, hand cream, photos, mementos, affirmation cards, bubble bath, jigsaw, puzzles, a stress ball, travel information, special postcards, cards or letters. In fact, anything you choose! Some people like to make a ‘real’ box -other create a virtual box and include music or film downloads. Create your box ahead of time and put it somewhere safe and easily accessible for a time when you just need that extra boost.
- Nothing is perfect – don’t expect too much! There’s bound to be at least one flare up over the holidays. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for everything to be perfect. It’s normal to have different views and if you do clash over something, try to ‘dig deep’ and forgive quickly – everyone has been under pressure, so it’s not surprising that tempers may become a little frayed. The key is for us all to try to be extra kind and understanding and find that middle ground if we can.
- Schedule ‘me’ time and self-care. Finding time for you can be difficult at the best of times so when the holiday season rolls around we often forget to prioritise ourselves. By planning ahead and identifying simple ways to make me-time it can help bolster your wellbeing. We need to invest in our wellbeing everyday ideally. If we don’t look after ourselves, how can we look after others? “Me" time is not something you should feel guilty about. It’s not a ’nice to do’ – it’s an absolute necessity. Planning is important as often we think we can grab time whenever during the day, but the reality is often a little job here, a small chore there and all the usual activities of daily living and doing things for other people and before you know it it’s time for bed. Scheduling can help you identify what really needs doing in the day before having that time that you have set aside for yourself. If you’re not sure how you would spend time for yourself, try writing down things you enjoy doing. And by having a list of things you enjoy doing can help you avoid the temptation to skip me-time. Even if it’s just an uninterrupted cuppa in the morning for 10 minutes when you wake up.
- Be Open. Christmas is often a stressful time for a lot of people and being able to share your concerns, worries and also your aims and goals with someone is great to help feel that you have an outlet over the festive period. Often by sharing our worries to a good listener, it can help to unburden ourselves and get a fresh perspective on the things that are worrying us.
There are a number of agencies who you can contact if you’re feeling overwhelmed this Christmas and need someone to talk to. Their details are:
C.A.L.L. Mental Health Helpline for Wales
Website | Tel: 0800 132 737
A 24/7 service offering free emotional support and information/literature on mental health and related matters to people in Wales. Text 'help' to 81066.
Samaritans: 24/7 – Phone (free): 116 123
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (response time 24 hours)
Samaritans Welsh Language Line: phone (free) 0808 1640123 open 7pm-11pm every day
Mind Cymru Infoline:
For information on types of mental health problems, where to get help, medication, alternative treatments and advocacy. Call 0300 123 3393, email email@example.com or text 86463.
Papyrus provide a HopeLine for young people under 35 struggling with thoughts of suicide, or anyone who is concerned that a young person is feeling suicidal. They provide a safe space to talk through anything happening in life that could have an impact on staying safe. Open: 10am-10pm weekdays 2pm – 10pm (weekends and bank holidays). Call free: 0800 068 4141 Text: 07786 209697 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Visit: www.papyrus-uk.org/hopelineuk
Childline provide children and young people up to 19 in the UK with a safe place where they can be themselves and feel safe to talk about anything. Trained counsellors are on hand to listen, offer help and support with any issue or worry, big or small, 24 hours a day.
Call free: 0800 1111. 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email (accessed via www.childline.org or For Me App)