How to survive the festive season and protect your mental health


Christmas is undoubtedly a stressful time for all of us. We’re busier than at any other time of the year with the shopping, decorating, cooking, socialising and general to-ing and fro-ing, it’s a wonder that any of us enjoy it at all. However, most of us tend to get something from it when all said and done but what if you are one of those for whom Christmas isn’t just a bit of temporary stress followed by the warm afterglow of too much turkey and one to many sweet sherries?

For some, Christmas is an extremely challenging time. The financial burden, family difficulties, painful memories and loneliness can really add up causing us potentially huge stress and sadness. The weight of expectation is often hard to bear making Christmas for some a huge source of anxiety and misery.

If you are one of those for whom Christmas is anything but joyful, the following tips might help you ride out the storm with minimal risk to your sanity and ensure that you go into 2020 with your mental health still intact.

  1. Accept that things don’t have to be perfect

Nothing ever is no matter what social media might tell you! Even the most perfect looking Christmas rarely is. Even the closest families fight and let me tell you…there is ALWAYS compromise when it comes to gift buying! It is incredibly difficult to see your little ones disappointed on Christmas Day if you haven’t been able to deliver what they wanted but the sad faces won’t last for long. You can distract little ones with crafts and games and older kids I have found respond well to honesty. Please don’t resort to financing your Christmas. Debt will last longer than disappointment…believe me. Equally, don’t derail your Christmas Day by crying over burnt sprouts or whatever. It’s ok. No-one will mind, they can fill up on Quality Street later which is absolutely fine as it’s Christmas!

  1. Don’t drown under the weight of expectation

This is so important! Christmas is all about expectation and excitement. None of us ever really deliver so get comfortable with the fact that we cannot make all people happy all of the time. If all the social events you have to attend makes you want to reach an unsteady hand towards the gin just thinking about it then maybe it’s time to prioritise yourself and cut back. No one will even remember if you came to their drinks party in 6 months’ time and if they do…well, that’s a little unfair

  1. Minimise the stress

One thing I have now got down to a fine art is planning ahead. It doesn’t suit everyone, but I find that if I pre-order food (and yes, I buy most of it prepared…I haven’t peeled a sprout since 2001) no one knows, and more to the point, no one cares. I insist on us eating late which is genius as it ensures that everyone has had lots of time to relax and play with their presents and watch the TV whilst I pretend to slave over a hot stove…a twilight Christmas Dinner is actually lovely. Try it!

  1. Managing family

There’s nothing like family to put the tin lid on ruining Christmas. The expectation, being forced to entertain people you’ve managed to tolerate in small doses throughout the year, too much alcohol and the need to control what is watched on the TV is enough to send the calmest person into a bit of a meltdown so my advice is…don’t. Agree that you’ll pop round with presents at a time of day that suits you and that you’ll stay for a cuppa and mince pie and then stick to it. Sometimes, you just have to look after yourself. You can’t always make everyone happy; you are not pizza!

  1. Deal with loneliness

Ok, so it’s all been fairly light-hearted up until now but this one does actually bring a lump to my throat. I wonder if we should all be grateful for some of our Christmas stresses. After all, feeling the pressure of too many social events, having loved ones to buy presents for or cook for means that we are connected human beings with people who we care about and who care about us. What if we didn’t have any of those things and found ourselves truly alone on Christmas Day? No turkey to cook, no relatives to argue about Brexit with, no one dropping by, even if it is only for half an hour. Loneliness is a dreadful problem throughout the year but at Christmas it’s worse than ever. Loneliness can affect anyone at any time. Divorced parents whose kids spend Christmas Day elsewhere, young people who were in care and have no families, people who for whatever reason cannot be with their families, the bereaved and the elderly. It’s pretty heart-breaking to think that the things that we moan about are the things they would happily deal with if it meant they didn’t have to be lonely. If you yourself are lonely, there are various voluntary projects going on in your area that you can join on Christmas Day.  It will be full of perfectly nice people who have found themselves isolated on Christmas Day and want to do good things for other people. Very Christmas spirited and kills two birds with one stone. Equally, if there is someone in your community that you are concerned might be lonely, why not call in for half an hour. You could get together with friends or neighbours to do a rota. That way the pressure isn’t just on one family and the coming and going of fresh faces will be enough to get them through.

Christmas isn’t a cakewalk for anyone, but some may struggle more than others. Go easy on yourself, have a grateful heart and you’ll survive until the next one! Merry Christmas!

Deborah Cross is a CBT Therapist, Mental Health Trainer and Writer and can be contacted on 07538 785958. If you find yourself in crisis at Christmas or at any other time and need to talk to someone, please call Samaritans on 116 123 or visit your GP.

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