Managing a mental health condition can be a challenge 365 days of the year, but for some, winter feels especially tough. By the time you have settled into a routine of "just about managing", it seems that the festive season has reappeared, with all the stresses that come along with it.
Whilst this is a season of cheer for many, this is not always the case, particularly if you are struggling with a mental health problem. From navigating through crowded streets filled with stressed-out shoppers, to large social gatherings with relatives or colleagues, this time of year can feel like the ultimate sensory overload. And for those who are isolated at this time, you can feel even more lonely and vulnerable.
So what can you do to survive the festive season if you are struggling? How can you ward off panic attacks or manage your energy during a season which involves a constant stream of activity.
None of us like to admit defeat, but as humans we are not infallible. We are not machines that have a constant supply of electricity to keep us going for days on end. Just as each of us have our own personality traits or physical attributes, we also have a varying level of baseline energy. This is evident when thinking about sleep. It’s so important to make sure you get enough rest and sleep time to you, and what you need may vary.
With this baseline level of energy in mind, we must be kind to ourselves and be careful not to hurtle ourselves through a hectic schedule without risking an almighty crash at the end. It’s ok if you cannot attend everything, or stay until the end of the party. It’s ok to go for a short while, or to rearrange a smaller catch-up over a cup of coffee during the daytime. Talk to people about how you feel and let them know that you need a bit of time out, or that you could really do with a chat or some company if you are feeling low.
It has been shown that deep breathing exercises have the capacity to calm the nervous system, reducing the likelihood of symptoms of anxiety. There are some great mobile apps which I find really helpful, such as Calm. These exercises can be done on-the-go, and can fit into your schedule if you can find a quiet few minutes to yourself. In the past, I might have incorporated this into my day during the morning Underground commute, my lunch break, in my car before meeting relatives, or a quick bathroom break. Mindfulness and yoga are other great practices which I have found really useful.
A little ‘me time’ is an essential element to a weekly schedule over the festive period. Everyone has different things that they know makes them feel good and helps them relax or unwind. Whether that’s reading a book, doing a puzzle, going for a walk or taking a night out to pamper, like I like to do, make sure to make time for that, if you are able to. Even a few minutes a day can make a big difference.
Amidst the television adverts full of cheer, happy families and Christmas songs, we begin to feel like there’s something wrong if we aren’t living up to the representation of constant joyousness. If you are struggling with depression, you can feel even more isolated from the world. It is important to remember that Christmas movies and retail advertising are often exaggerated versions of reality. At any point, up to one in four adults have a mental health problem. The invisible nature of the illness – and the masks that we put on to get through the day – can just make it feel like you’re the only one feeling this way.
If you have friends and family members that you trust, make sure you let them know what you need. They may not be aware how difficult you find this time and may be able to support you more than you realize. When you’re feeling low, lonely, overwhelmed or just need somewhere to turn to, there is always someone out there that you can speak to.
Stay strong and look after yourselves. Happy Holidays!