The effects of Christmas on mental wellbeing

Whilst putting together my previous post a couple of days ago, I got thinking about the festive period and the effect it has on mental wellbeing. To satisfy my curiosity, I had a browse of online research looking at the relationship between Christmas and mental wellbeing. I found the results of others research to be mixed to say the least. For example, there are articles outlining factors that can have a negative effect on an individuals mental wellbeing such as loneliness (link here) or the dreaded ‘holiday blues’ (more information about this can be found here). But a literature review conducted by Sansone & Sansone (2011) suggests that Christmas doesn’t actually have a negative effect on individuals mental wellbeing. They suggest that at Christmas time, less people are carrying out self-harm behaviour or suicide attempts when compared to other points in the year (link to this here).

I thought it would be interesting to carry out a quick survey to find out peoples views on Christmas and how it effects them mentally. I posted a survey online which contained two questions for people to fill in. The first question asked people to indicate what effect they felt the Christmas period had on their mental wellbeing. The second question encouraged individuals to explain the reasoning behind their first answer. 189 participants kindly took part in this survey, and an outline of the results are below:

The chart shows that for most, the Christmas period does appear to have some affect on their mental wellbeing (only 11% stated that there was no effect). Like the research I had found earlier, there was mixed results, with relatively even numbers of people experiencing good and bad effects to their mental health. Some individuals stated that they experienced both good and bad effects to their mental wellbeing during the Christmas period.

When looking at the reasons given for their answers, the top five ways in which individuals felt the holidays have a good impact on their mental wellbeing are below:

  1. Family – This was by far the most common reason people stated for boosts to their mental wellbeing. Some individuals enjoyed being in the presence of their family and catching up with people they hadn’t seen in a while.
  2. The Christmas spirit – Everyone generally appears to be more upbeat at this time of year. For some individuals, this feeling of cheer and unity was found to have a positive impact on their mental wellbeing.
  3. Decorations – Seeing tree lights, tinsel and glitter made some individuals feel instantly happier.
  4. Break from work – Some individuals appreciated the extra time in bed in the morning and the break from the pressures of their job
  5. Time to relax – Just having extra time to do things they enjoy and look after themselves.

Conversely, the top five ways in which people felt the holidays have a bad impact on their mental wellbeing are below:

  1. Family – This was a very common response, with a lot more individuals giving this as a main contributing factor to their poor mental wellbeing during the Christmas period. Some felt the pressure of having to make conversation with relatives, others just felt that being around all their family tended to lead to stressful events and negative interactions happening.
  2. Financial stresses – Individuals wallets and bank accounts felt the strain of having to take part in Christmas. This strain can lead to stress.
  3. Gifts – One person labelled this as ‘gift anxiety’, individuals were worried what gifts to buy everyone and making sure that these were appropriate.
  4. Missing loved ones – Some individuals are separated from their loved ones and this time of year reminds them that they are not here anymore.
  5. Stress – This covered individuals feeling stressed and pressured to carry out family traditions and other obligations that arise at this time of year.

I found the results above to be very interesting, especially the fact that family is both the most common factor in both of the top five lists. I think this really stresses that everyones minds are different and their own; what some really relish in doing may not be another persons idea of a good time.

I find myself relating to items from both lists and generally I feel that overall Christmas time results in mixed effects for my mental wellbeing. I would like to know what effect do the holidays have on your mental wellbeing? Are there any tips you would give to help others who may be struggling?

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