With many people feeling the pressure of Christmas expectations, this blog is particularly topical. It is written by Dr Chloe Mitchell, Chartered Counselling Psychologist & Resilience Coach.
Millions of us are building up to what we hope can be a perfect Christmas day, juggling the tensions of family and work. We shop, we plan, we budget, we go to great lengths to navigate family tensions and see beyond differences, we attend Xmas dinners and parties and we take it upon ourselves to be as happy and positive as we can.
It is, however, a time of intense personal stress for many, with 1 in 4 people already coping with a Mental Health condition and this does not go “on hold” just because it is Christmas.
Safeguarding our Mental Health through Christmas is a big priority. With a good self-care plan we can all maintain our emotional equilibrium and remain resilient.
How we do this, depends largely on how much we acknowledge that we need to monitor and moderate our Mental and Emotional health. Here are my top tips to help you stay mentally and emotionally resourced through Christmas.
- Mindset is everything. What you think becomes who you are and to remain positive and strong through Xmas, you need to practice mindfully thinking good and positive things about you. Self-compassion has been found again and again in studies to be a fundamental scaffold for good Mental Health. If you keep telling yourself that you are failing, or useless, or inadequate, this increases your cortisol levels and increases negative personal tension and stress; whilst also depleting you psychologically. To build a positive self-compassionate mindset, you will need to practice daily, positive self-affirmations. Think of your thoughts as roadmaps to wellness. With every thought you pave that path and establish it as your route. It does have to be daily and it does need to be done positively. Here is an example of what you can do: write down a positive affirmation for you in your phone and have it coming up as your daily reminder. Start your day like this. I personally like – “Don’t sweat the little things. You are strong and good enough just as you are!” If you don’t like the idea of a digital reminder, write a positive message down for you and stick it on your mirror or in your diary. Speak it out loud and let it land within you. You matter and the first person to put that into action is you. If you like you, it doesn’t matter so much what toxic or difficult family members say or do to you, because ‘you’ve got you.’
- Recognize that having boundaries is everything. So when you have to sit through Xmas day next to a family member who irritates you or bores you or just makes you feel belittled practice mindfully keeping them outside your boundary. You don’t have to let the energy of other people ruin your inner state. You can do this with a very quick visualization exercise. Picture yourself in a pyramid of protective white light, impenetrable and totally protective and positive for you. You are in your white light pyramid and they can’t spoil your vibe. Do this as often as you like. If this sort of thing doesn’t work for you, imagine the person who is tricky for you in your mind’s eye and mentally make them very small. So small in fact you can barely hear them or see them. Imagine flicking them out of your way.
- Take time out as and when you need it. There is no need to become superhuman and endure all tensions, without a little break for you. Accept that some situations will inevitably be tense and demanding on you – a psychological marathon in fact – so you need to make sure that you have pit stops and emotional refueling posts. This is normal and a good coping plan. When planning the Christmas festivities, think about what would give you relief and comfort and make sure you speak to your friends, or a family member and ask them to support you through this. It is ok to ask for help and to need some time out. How much time out is a personal choice. The key is that you check in with how you are feeling and you take positive action. If you are coping with really difficult Mental Health symptoms have a code word with your partner and let them know that with this you need to get some quiet time. This is ok. During your time out, practice mentally visiting a happy place or time for you and spend 3 – 5 minutes remembering this place. Notice what is in your mental picture and allow yourself to be anchored in this happy experience. Mindful thinking like this will reassure you and reduce your cortisol levels. Affirm to yourself that you will get through this with your integrity intact. Deep breaths and hold onto your positive self-loving perspective. I find that if you can’t forgive how people are behaving then you can forgive their lack of insight, or their psychological confusion. Many people are not emotionally intelligent and you don’t have to take that on. Boundaries and a self-protective mindset are your priority.
- Stay physically healthy by being careful about what you feed yourself. What you eat affects what you feel and with sugar-loaded food everywhere try and set a good nutrition plan for each day. It is tough to do, I know and you probably think I will eat as much chocolate as I like to get through this, but this is not you practicing compassion. This is you in self-sabotage mode. Sugar makes every negative feeling much bigger and it is so bad for your Mental Health I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep it to a minimum. Sadly the same goes with alcohol, so be mindful of this. If you are going to indulge in what you eat, drink lots of water and don’t be recriminating about it. It happens. Not the end of the world. Go back to your plan and moderate it. You can do this.
- Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to boost your mental health and will help you manage stress levels through Xmas. Exercise doesn’t have to be long sessions in the gym. Doing 10-15 mins a day will keep you energized and your vital organs oxygenated which is a health boost. It is such an important aspect of your wellness and taking long periods off exercise is more self-sabotage. Speak to your partners, friends and make sure they understand that at some point each day through the holidays you will need some support to take time for you to exercise and reduce your stress levels. Exercise is just as effective as any other treatment choice in reducing Depression, Anxiety and Stress so long as you practice it with a positive mindset so make it a priority through Xmas.
- Get outside. No such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothes! So get outside every day and enjoy nature. Nature really boosts your mental health and has been found to reduce your stress levels significantly. Every day a 15 mins walk will help you cope. Exercising and especially connecting with nature really helps with establishing good sleep which of course safeguards your Mental Health.
- Don’t try and control what you can’t control. Recognize that there are limits that are beyond your control and make it your priority to focus on the values you have, do what feels meaningful and important to you and accept that this is more than good enough. A bit of time to reflect on this helps you to recognize what matters to you. If you find that journaling helps, journal your de-brief of the day and reflect on what you are learning through this that is helpful for you. Conclude your journaling with a gratitude list. This will help you recognize the gifts of your life and shift your mindset to one of love. This matters just as you matter.
I hope these tips help. Remember, expecting the perfect Xmas day is a high risk strategy. I say invite in and enjoy a “good enough” Xmas day and take the credit when it is due.
Have a happy Christmas
Dr Chloe Paidoussis-Mitchell is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist & Resilience Coach with 22 years of experience helping people recover from Mental Health difficulties. She is a Grief and Trauma expert and regularly blogs, speaks and writes to raise awareness around Mental Health and break the stigma. To follow her sign up at www.dr-chloe.com or