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?


Sadfishing – the latest social media trend or something more sinister?

The other week, I was watching daytime TV (something I rarely do these days actually) and there was a panel discussion show on. I heard them mention a word that I’d never heard before – sadfishing. On the TV show they had a discussion about it and the impact it can have on young people’s mental health. Watching this got me intrigued to know more about this latest social media behaviour and understand exactly how and why it can have such a detrimental effect on the mental wellbeing of some individuals.

So what is sadfishing? Put simply, sadfishing involves an individual posting an emotional message on social media in an apparent attempt to attract sympathy or hook an audience. They often exaggerate their feelings in order to elicit a desired response. This term was coined at the beginning of 2019 in response to Kendall Jenner sharing her ‘raw story’ and ‘awful’ past skin experiences on Instagram in order to encourage people to buy Proactiv, a type of skin care product [3].

An example of ‘sadfishing’

The phenomenon has also been used by other celebrities, with Justin Bieber recently telling his 119 million Instagram followers: “It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning when you are overwhelmed with your life.” These behaviours are starting to be copied by young people, with some of them being more open to sharing their sadness and mental health woes online.

But the uprise of this latest social media trend appears to be affecting the mental health of some individuals. Digital awareness UK recently released a report stating that the uprise in sadfishing is making it difficult for young people who are facing genuine mental health difficulties to seek online support [2]. They surveyed 50,000 teenagers (aged 11 – 16) and they found that for most of them who had posted something regarding their mental wellbeing, they had faced being bullied as a consequence of their post. This lack of online support may leave young people feeling disappointed can subsequently make their emotional or mental health problems worse. 

Sadfishing can also lead to a person becoming addicted, they crave the attention that they get from their actions [1]. If they don’t get the attention they desired, this could have a detrimental impact on their mental wellbeing. Sadfishing behaviours may result in individuals oversharing information, which can leave them vulnerable, as sometimes complete strangers may be reading what they post. The digital awareness report [2] describes a case study where a teenage girl who, after posting about her depression online, was approached by a friend of a friend who shared their experiences in a supportive manner. But this relationship soon turned sour, and ended up with him pressuring her to send explicit pictures.

In response to the information above I thought I would conduct a short survey to see if sadfishing is something that is still currently happening and try to understand the effect it has on the individuals carrying out these behaviours. I created a survey which I posted on Reddit, the results of which are quite interesting. 82 people completed the survey, all of which were under 30 years old.

When struggling with mental wellbeing or feeling sad, 26% of people stated that they were likely to post about it on social media. 27% of people indicated that they had posted about their mental wellbeing on social media when they had been struggling in the past. Of these people, the diagram below highlights what kind of response they were expecting from posting such information online:

What kind of response participants wanted

Compare this to the actual responses they state they have received:

An overview of actual responses received

When asked what effect sharing this information on social media had on their social media:

23% said it had a positive effect on their mental wellbeing.

27% said it had a negative effect on their mental wellbeing.

45% said it had neither a positive or negative effect on their mental wellbeing.

This survey is far from scientific quality, but I feel it outlines the role that social media plays as a method of communicating when an individual may be struggling with their mental health. I found it interesting that 1 in 5 of the people that posted information didn’t expect any response to it, almost like the process of posting was more of a cathartic release for them. I also feel the results show the difference in the effects of posting to social media on each individuals mental wellbeing. It would be interesting to investigate this further to understand what factors influence the effect of posts on mental wellbeing.