It is difficult to escape the fast approaching festive season. Shops are ditching the witch costumes and replacing them with selection boxes and tinsel, the annual argument of whose turn it is to host the festivities is well underway and you’re just waiting to hear the familiar sound of The Pogues. It can only mean one thing, Christmas is on its way.
When suffering with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, the prospect of Christmas can be a terrifying one. It’s a time of the year when happiness is almost expected and it is easy to feel very pressurised to join in with the frivolities. For many people there’s a hope they’ll be able to switch off their mental illness for the festive season. Unfortunately, this is not the case, with mental illnesses often getting worse over the Christmas period.
Last year, mental health charity Mind conducted a survey revealing that of the 1,100 people that took part, over half of them considered harming themselves due to the pressures of Christmas, while 45% considered taking their own lives. They revealed how, in 2014 more than 21,000 people suffering from mental health issues spent the holidays in hospital. These findings were revealed in the lead up to last Christmas as the charity anticipated a rise in the number of people calling their information line for support. Finances, stress and feelings of loneliness were amongst the main reasons people were seeking support from the charity.
Christmas brings with it a lot of unrealistic expectations. The emphasis on ‘perfection’ and the excessive commercialisation of the period certainly does not help, leading to feelings of inadequacy and critical self-reflection. Christmas becomes a time of ‘compare and despair’, when everyone else seems to be ‘outdoing’ you. Pressures to spend more and be jolly, both internally and externally, are leading to not only social but also financial anxieties.
It’s important to remember that mental health is indiscriminate and can impact anyone at any time. It is not something you can switch off as you switch on your Christmas tree lights. Last Christmas I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be bothered to decorate the house or join in with present wrapping. I couldn’t get my head round the fact it was supposed to be the happiest time of the year and I wasn’t feeling happy. I was mad at myself because of that. I felt like I was wasting what should be the most magical time of the year, whilst also making it a tough time for those around me. I really put all my energy into keeping my spirits high and I felt like I was letting my family down.
These thoughts were, of course, counterproductive and just made things worse for me. It’s been really important for me this year to remember not to expect any Christmas miracle. Accepting that there will still be bad days over the festive period and, actually, if things aren’t perfect it’s okay, has made me feel a lot better about Christmas. If you are struggling with your mental health over the festive season, be sure not to put too much pressure on yourself to be the life and soul of the party. Be sure to make time for yourself and know that you’re not alone, which can be very hard to remember when everyone around you is singing carols and getting tipsy. One of the most effective ways to deal with feelings of isolation is to reach out for support. Whether that be family, friends or a therapist, talking about how you’re feeling can be really beneficial.
Take care of yourself and remember, just as you should at any time of the year, that small steps are important. Even at Christmas time, it’s okay not to be okay.