For some people, Christmas can be a really hard time of year and a strain on mental health
From experiencing difficult situations with family, stress around food and eating, loneliness, feeling pressure from what Christmas is ‘supposed’ to be, and struggling with sobriety, so many issues can surface around whether you’re seeing family, not seeing family and the general pressures that surround the festive season.
Importantly, we want to emphasise that there are services that are specially designed to offer support, advice and aid during this time: you are not alone.
Services that offer helplines, online chats, emailing and more for mental health support:
Samaritans offer a 24/7, FREE helpline throughout the festive period for anyone who is struggling or feeling distress. You can call them on 116 123, email them via email@example.com or if you feel as though you need to write everything down you can even write them a letter, and they’ll aim to reply within 7 days, you can send it for FREE to: Freepost SAMARITANS LETTERS. Find out more, here.
Christmas can also be a really tough time for people with an eating disorder. A lot of the culture around Christmas revolves around food, from dinner on the day, work Christmas meals, to buying people chocolates. Beat offer a helpline that is open from 4pm to midnight every night, even through Christmas and into New Year.
Beat phone numbers:
- England: 0808 801 0677
- Scotland: 0808 801 0432
- Wales: 0808 801 0433
- Northern Ireland: 0808 801 0434
You can also email Beat at firstname.lastname@example.org. Beat are offering online support groups, carer workshops and video support, as well as advice for managing Christmas with an eating disorder. You can find out more here.
Shout offer a texting service that can give anyone support, at any time, 24/7. Text them on 85258 for free, confidential support that remains anonymous.
Christmas can also be a really difficult time for the LGBTQ+ community, with or without the presence of biological family, for many complex and nuanced reasons. Mind provide a specialist helpline with advice and support for trans, non-binary and genderfluid people, you can call them on 0300 330 5468 or find out more here.
MindOut is another specialist mental health charity for LGBTQ+ people, and they have an online support service running on a limited basis around Christmas.
Anxiety around the pandemic and self-isolating over Christmas
With the threat of omicron, worries about a lockdown in the new year and what that might mean for work, finances, relationships and access to the things that often allow us to independently manage our mental health (such as time spent with friends or spending our free time doing things that bring us joy), it is normal to feel anxious right now.
Unfortunately, the very nature of a pandemic means so many things are left to uncertainties, which in of itself can be very anxiety provoking. Anxiety itself is so often about ‘what if’s’ where we might find ourselves assuming the worst-case scenario or, catastrophising.
Something that can really help with uncertain times and to battle the anxiety that comes with catastrophising is what is called ‘grounding’. It might feel slightly silly, or even pointless at first, when you’re feeling anxious, but with practice and regular use, proper grounding so that you stay present in the current moment can be extremely effective.
- Breathing: it may sound simple but proper breathing can slow down the parasympathetic nervous system which is often triggered in states if severe anxiety. Try out the 4/7 technique where you breathe in for four beats through the nose, and out for seven beats through the mouth. If you’re feeling an anxiety attack coming on it can also be effective to try alternate nostril breathing, this might sound strange but it’s actually really simple. Hold your hands up to your nose and hold a finger down on your left nostril and breathe in through your right, then lift that finger and hold a finger down over your right nostril and breathe out through your left; this can take a little while to get the hold of but is really useful when you’re needing to slow down and control your breathing.
- Engage the five senses: if you’re feeling anxious, get yourself to somewhere you feel safe. To recognise where you are in that present moment, and that you are in fact safe, you can look around the room and identify five things that you can see, five things you can feel, five things you can hear, five things you can smell and five things you can taste. It’s not always as easy to engage the smell and taste senses so just do what you can.
With rising cases and more and more people testing positive, there is a possibility you or people around you might be self-isolating over Christmas. There is a lot of pressure for Christmas to be experienced as something specific, so finding out that you might be alone or with only the person/people you live with might be hard news to take.
- See also: '‘Gender-affirming hormone therapy is linked to increases in transgender youth wellbeing’'
- See also: 'Women’s Aid launches platform for survivors to share their experiences'
- See also: 'As Christmas approaches, Samaritans raise awareness and call for support'
For those spending Christmas alone this year or not as they had hoped, some simple self-care tips might help make a difficult time a little easier:
- utilise video calling technology: we might all be feeling a little sick and tired of Zoom and Teams by now, but feeling connected to the people you love and care about, even if you can’t be with them can help us to feel a little less lonely.
- try to do something physical every day: being stuck inside or in isolation can feeling really restrictive, suffocating and monotonous, it might be tempting to spend all day sat down, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with using time on your own or in isolation over Christmas to fully relax, but getting active once a day can boost your immune system, help to regulate your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system as well as help to release hormones such as endorphins, that can aid in alleviating the symptoms of depression.
- find ways to treat yourself: whether that’s with some food you really enjoy, a film you love, or listening to some music that makes you feel happy, it’s important at this time to not resign to only allowing yourself negative experiences, positive ones can be had, and should be had too.
- eat some foods that have plenty of vitamin C and B/B12 in them: sweet yellow peppers, thyme, kale, kiwi, broccoli, lemons, oranges, strawberries (vitamin C), sardines, beef, bran cereals, tuna, eggs (B12), spinach, romaine lettuce, edamame beans, chickpeas, sunflower seeds (Vitamin B complex). All of these foods will help your immune system recover and boost your energy levels.
Other helpful sources of support for mental health and mental distress:
- women’s aid has an online chat service that offers support to women and children affected by domestic abuse and violence.
- Refuge offer a helpline on, 0808 2000 247 for immediate support for victims and survivors of domestic abuse and violence.
- Shelter offer support for those experiencing issues with their housing status via their free helpline on, 0808 800 4444.
- Mankind is a charity designed to specifically offer support to male survivors and victims of domestic abuse and violence, you can call them on 01823 334244.
- NSPCC provides a helpline if you’re concerned about the welfare of a child, you can call them on 0808 800 5000.
- Childline offers support for children and young people every night on 0800 1111.
- Survivors trust offers support to those who are survivors of sexual abuse via their helpline on 08088 019 818.