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?

Advice and tips

The most wonderful time of the year? – Looking after your mental wellbeing at Christmas

The twinkling of Christmas lights, the sound of Bublé in the air and the sight of some truly terrible jumpers, Christmas can really be the most delightful time of the year. But despite this, it can still be a difficult time for those who suffer from anxiety disorders.

My anxiety wasn’t present during the first 15 or so years of my life. I guess Christmas was just exciting to me back then. Nowadays I find myself needing to look after my mental wellbeing more at this time of year. Things like gift buying, seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time and just other general stress at this time can have a knock on effect on my anxiety and mental well-being in general.

I thought in this post I could offer some tips on how to cope with the festive period if your mental wellbeing tends to suffer. These tips are by no means proven, they are based on my own previous experiences and having to learn to cope with my own anxieties at this time of year:

You are what you eat

For some this may not be the case, but I find that my anxiety tends to behave a little better the healthier I eat. This time of the year is associated with lots of delicious, but somewhat unhealthy food. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat all the exciting festive offerings (I’m not a total Scrooge), but I’ve found it to be beneficial to try and tame general indulgences. I’ve found this to be really helpful when it comes to things like caffeine and alcohol. It’s about getting that perfect balance between having fun but also considering the effects on consuming certain things on your mental well-being. Understanding your limits can really help, for example I’m happy to have a traditional glass of champagne, but I’ll always stop at one.

Have a break (Kit Kat is optional)

It’s totally normal for Christmas to be overwhelming at times, even for those that don’t struggle with their mental wellbeing. It’s important to take regular time out for yourself, this is definitely not a selfish thing to do. I will often take time out to do something I enjoy for a little while (for me it’s reading). Doing something that you personally enjoy can be a great way of eradicating or easing any negative feelings that you may be having at the time.

Be a lover not a fighter

Accept how you feel and stop working against yourself. No two people think and feel the same, what a boring place the world would be if that was the case. It’s okay to feel how you do. If you don’t feel festive, totally fine. Not in the mood to have in-depth conversations with relatives you see once a year? Then don’t. I fought against my own feelings for years and felt terrible because of the way I’ve behaved and felt in certain situations. Give yourself a break (it’s Christmas after all). Just accept that you feel how you do. If you become anxious, don’t fight it, I’ve found this to actually make the feelings worse. Instead, accept the anxiety and understand that the feelings will subside, like a storm in the ocean. Don’t let others tell you how you should be feeling, they aren’t in your body.

Keep active

It’s pretty common knowledge that exercise has positive effects on mental well-being. But as the nights draw in and the temperature drops, it can be difficult to keep active. Ensure that you do a little something each day, even if this is a short walk outside. Your mental well-being may thank you for it.

Keep your fire burning

I think this is my most important advice. It’s so easy to work your mental health into the ground these days, but this burnout can be detrimental and difficult to come back from. If you can sense that you are struggling the do something to help. This could be talking to someone, or delegating things in order to reduce stress. Don’t worry about being a burden by putting things on your friends and family, if they love you, they honestly won’t mind. It personally took me a while to realise this and be comfortable in asking others for help.

So remember, check in with yourself and your mental wellbeing on a regular basis and don’t be afraid to avoid anything which will have a negative impact on this. It’s not being selfish, it’s called self care.

To all my blog readers, I wish you all good health and a pleasant Christmas! 🙂