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How to have a happy Christmas

While Christmas marks a time of family celebration and summer holidays, some of us can find the stress and overindulgence of the silly season too much.If this sounds like you, Medibank Psychiatrist, Dr Stephanie Bradstock shares her advice on looking after your mental health this festive season.

Overspending, overindulging or overcommitting – the excesses of the silly season can leave you feeling worn out and in the red.

There can also be family conflict, especially when tiredness, alcohol and frayed tempers all come together.

For others, rather than a problem of ‘too much’, it can be a matter of ‘too little’ – with feelings of loneliness and social isolation after separations or loss.

Remember, if you struggle around this time of year, you’re not alone

Mental health and counselling services are generally on the alert over the holiday period.

While GPs, psychiatrists or psychologists may plan clinic closures to take a well-earned break – emergency services and hotlines stay open to provide around-the-clock care. We find that calls to telephone support lines increase as people experiencing distress reach out.

For some this may be to get help for increased symptoms of depression or anxiety; for others it may be to debrief about a situational stress or episode of family conflict. A few will seek assistance for a relapse of drinking or gambling.

Whatever the concern, counsellors are there to support callers to cope with the crisis and move towards appropriate ongoing care.

Manage your expectations and be realistic

If I was to offer some advice on coping with the festive season and staying mentally healthy, I would recommend a “glass half full” approach.

It is a drinking analogy that applies to overindulgence, but the emphasis here is more on managing our expectations and being realistic about what we can do or hope for.

A focus on the positives and being appreciative of what we have, more in terms of our connections with others rather than material things, will deliver the greatest joy.

Share the love and halve the load

I recommend you make this your guiding principle. This is how it might be applied:

  • Reduce the load. We are all familiar with that feeling of too much to organise and attend. So halve the load by prioritising and reducing your commitments. Then share the load by delegating to others to help. And share the love by being freed up to enjoy festive occasions and others’ company more!
  • Halve your financial burden. Focus on sharing the love rather than material goods. Make a budget and stick to it. Find creative ways to lower costs – you could send e-cards, trial Secret Santa for gift-giving, or ask others to bring a plate to a more casual meal.
  • Try to observe moderation. If you tend to overindulge, accept half a glass or only fill half of your plate. Maintain balance in other areas of your life by getting enough sleep, keeping up with exercise and maintaining a bit of down-time for rest, reflection and relaxation.
  • When it comes to family, share the love and focus on the positives. Halve the load by sharing tasks or limiting the length of the gathering. Structure time together with pleasant activities such as an after-lunch stroll or game of cricket. Indulge in moderation. And, manage your own expectations. Christmas is rarely the “perfect” family get-together we see in ads and magazines, but it can still be enjoyable.
  • If you are feeling lonely or isolated – plan something you’ll enjoy. Go to the movies, or out for a walk. Explore options for sharing with others such as community carols or a charity lunch. Consider volunteering to give your time and skills to help others. Look into organising your own “orphans” gathering in person or online, or take part in an online forum. Plan activities for the days after Christmas so you have something to look forward to.

If you need to reach out, someone is there

If you find the stress of Christmas building, do reach out – to friends, family or to support services such as Lifeline or beyondblue; they are there to help. A problem shared is a problem halved, and Christmas, like any other time of the year, is a great time for getting help to get back on top of things.

So, all the best for the Festive Season – share the love, and may your glass be half-full!

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