Many of us look forward to Christmas as a time to celebrate, spend time with friends and family and a have a break from the normal 9 to 5 of life. In this blog – Dr Jennifer Opoku, Chartered Counselling Psychologist and Clinical Partner London, discusses 10 ways to make sure your mental health doesn’t suffer at Christmas.
Christmas can be a time of the year that brings a lot of challenges in terms of our mental health and many of us find this time of year stressful, exhausting and overwhelming.
1. Don’t expect miracles - just because it’s Christmas Day does not mean your family will suddenly behave differently – if anything tiredness, overexcitement and the effects of alcohol may make things worse! Forget the images of a perfect family and try and appreciate the day for what it is.
2. Keep your expectations low and you will hopefully be pleasantly surprised, not disappointed. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create the ‘perfect’ Christmas only to have our hopes dashed when all your hard work goes unnoticed, presents aren’t appreciated, children bicker, the food isn’t quite as you hoped and a board game turns into a disaster. Keeping expectations in line with reality may help you feel less anxious about getting it right. Ask yourself, am I putting too much pressure on myself, setting up expectations of myself that are impossible? What would be more realistic?
3. Cut corners – looking after a household can be a full time job at Christmas and take days to plan – which can put a huge amount of pressure on you. Where possible accept help from other people – can you ask guests to bring breakfast foods along or do a pudding? Can other people in the family help prepare the house? Chances are, getting others involved will help everyone feel they have had a role to play. It’s very common to adopt a ‘matryr’ attitude when you have a houseful, but try and remember it is your Christmas too and you will be at your best when you are relaxed and able to enjoy everyone’s company. So, where possible consider shortcuts – ready prepared veg or puddings can make a huge difference to how much time you spend in the kitchen and the likelihood is no one else will notice the difference or care!
4. Delegate, delegate, delegate – putting the pressure on yourself to do all the list making, shopping, wrapping and cooking can feel overwhelming. Enrol the kids, friends or a partner to help out – you will have to accept that things might not be done to your standards, but as with point 3, it will help everyone feel involved and your guests won’t feel as guilty about invading your space.
5. Prioritise yourself – with so many other people to think about, you might find yourself at the bottom of the list – but if you are stressed out, exhausted and feeling resentful no one will be happy. Seeing your needs on a par with everyone else’s might seem alien to you – we often think we have to go without to enable other people to enjoy themselves, but these kind of thoughts can be very damaging to your self-esteem. Try and give yourself a present, but making sure you get to relax or enjoy something you really want to do.
6. Let go of perfect – with a house full of guests something is bound to go wrong. Instead of worrying about it, try and remember that no one else will care and if it was any other day of the year, neither would you.
7. Routine makes us happy – we all draw comfort from the routines of our lives and Christmas is no different. The solitary dog walk or morning cup of tea in bed does not need to go simply because it is Christmas. Tell guests that is what you are planning to do and invite them to do whatever it is they need to de-stress.
8. Take up offers of help – if guests offer to bring a meal or wash up, gratefully accept. They will enjoy feeling useful and it will take some of the pressure off you.
9. Decline invites – you don’t have to do it all - if you don’t have the energy to attend social events, politely decline or go for an hour or two. Your hosts will understand. This is especially important if you suffer with social anxiety and the thought of having to go to the office Christmas party is filling you with dread – it’s ok to say no.
10. Take a breather – the dishwasher can wait, people can help themselves to drinks and is it so bad to let the children play quietly on their games console? Make time to sit quietly and enjoy having your loved ones around you.
Dr Opoku is available for consultations in our central London clinic.
Clinical Partners is the UK’s largest private mental health partnership – helping thousands of families just like ours, to access expert mental health care. For more information about how we can help you, please visit www.clinical-partners.co.uk