Mental Health

Coping at Christmas with Poor Mental Health

Christmas is a stressful time of the year for many, but if you are living with mental illness, the festive season can be unbearable.

A pressure to spend quality time with family, be outrageously cheerful and eat mountains of food can force many people to relapse and struggle with daily tasks.


As someone who has spent the past few Christmases begging for the New Year to be rung in just a bit earlier, I can attest that mental health certainly drops this time of year.
Panic attacks and avoiding family gatherings have become my norm, even with medication and the full support of my family, Christmas time is certainly anxiety inducing.


The mental health charity Mind has warned that Christmas can be a challenge and that self-harm and suicidal tendencies are more likely during mid to late December, with 45% of people surveyed reporting that they considered taking their own life during the Christmas period


But why does mental health get worse at Christmas?


With the clocks going forward, wintertime often causes Seasonal Affective Disorder, a temporary depression in people due to the lack of sunlight.
Christmas is also a highly stressful time of year. There are consumer pressures to spend large amounts of money, often getting people into debt.

Organising meet ups and dinners at this time of year are difficult, and lonliness can be a suprising factor.


For those with eating disorders, there is a huge pressure to sit and eat a large Christmas meal with family; this can cause stress and conflict between all members of the family.

Piling these seemingly small matters on top of each other can build until everything gets too much. In today’s fast paced world, it’s not surprising that one in four will have a mental health illness in their lifetime.


But there are some things that you can do, when things seem to be getting too much:


Self care is a vital tool in modern therapy. Learning to know your body’s needs and following them is a vital part of recovery.

Cheap (you don’t want to spend any more money at this time of year) ways to take care of yourself can be as simple as having a full day off – no study or work- running a bath or cooking your favourite meal. Going for walks can also calm your brain down, as can talking honestly to a loved one about how you are feeling.


If you suffer from panic attacks, why not look into cognitive behaviour therapy techniques. 

Waiting lists for talking therapies on the NHS are extremely long, so any means of helping yourself can
Knowing your triggers can be an excellent starting point. For example, crowded rooms and loud music will get me hyperventilating in no time. Because of this, I have implemented escape plans into every Christmas party I go to (if I haven’t managed to talk my way out of attending them)

Discussing how to deal with panic attacks with close friends will prepare them if they strike, there is nothing worse than having a panic attack and everyone around stifling and flapping about.


Finally, accept the fact that Christmas is just one day of the year. If the plans don’t go perfectly (they rarely do) it is not the end of the world.
It is okay to hide in your room for hours on end, if that makes you comfortable.
It is okay to keep Christmas small, and not invite all family members.
It is okay to take medication and veg out on the sofa.

Know your limits and stick to them.


Vicky is a third year journalism student studying in Brighton, UK. She enjoys writing about local news, opinion, and lifestyle issues such as mental health, feminism and student life.