Mental Health over Christmas

By Ella Woodcock

For many of us, Christmas time does not bring the joy and merriment that it says on the tin. The strong focus on family advertising and ‘togetherness’ can be harsh reminder to those who have lost someone special or, are otherwise unable to enjoy Christmas.

The sad truth of it is that every year, millions of people struggle through the Christmas period as a result of trauma; divorce, bereavements, homesickness and broken hearts are all contributors to this. I think what people sometimes forget is there is no requirement to be happy. You should feel no guilt if your mood cannot mirror those around you. Happiness is not something that can be fabricated for the benefit of others, neither should it be. Finding peace and therefore joy, is not something you should have to do in accordance to season. In fact, it would be impossible to do so.

Looking after your mental health is important all year round. Christmas can bring strain to this and add salt to old wounds. I hesitate to come across naïve in this article, or to preach on issues I know that I do not fully comprehend. However, I hope to create a reminder to those who unfortunately do comprehend – that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you should not have to change your path and pace of recovery for an annual celebration.

Keep Busy

When you feel down, the most tempting thing is to lie in your bed, eat snacks and cocoon away from the world. This may be a necessary ritual occasionally but I cannot stress enough how unhealthy this is for your mental health in the long run. Introvert or extrovert, it does not matter. Get up and do something. Make plans with friends. If you do not want to do anything festive, you do not have to. Go for a drive and a sing-along, go for coffee, host a movie night. I find that even on my weakest of days, grabbing a friend or family member and going to the supermarket does wonders. If you do not feel like socializing, start a book – write a book! Go for a walk.

Grief is so hard. It can be so immense for those of us who experience it, and the consequences can effect us both physically and mentally. In giving yourself things to do you are able to target (even in a minor capacity) both sides of the coin.

Talk About It

I know everyone says this. Talk about your feelings, open up. Blah, blah. When we are really hurting to talk about what is happening to us real might seem like the biggest mountain to climb. Everyone is different. I know personally this is something I need to work on but my sister will call me seconds after something has happened to her to talk. Talking is healing. You need to have an outlet. If you do not feel like you can speak to somebody you know then get in contact with mental health services. There are a multitude of helplines available (listed at the end of this article) as well as the University services. Voicing your thoughts is important because it will prove to you that you have support but, there is sound psychological reasoning too.

Negative Schemas

I am not a psychologist. I do not do a psychology degree and I flunked my psychology A-Level. On paper I am in no way qualified to give information on how depression works, but I am going to do it anyway.

If someone is depressed they have a collection of what are called ‘negative schemas’. Essentially these are irrational pockets of thought. They are the reason that a lot of people who suffer with depression cannot see an end to it. Negative schemas are those voices that tell you “nobody cares”, even when the people around you are trying to help. Talking to someone and working through these schemas helps us to rationalize and break down what we are thinking.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works on doing just that, creating new and positive thought processes. I feel obliged to attach the following two articles to give some more insight in to these two issues. The first goes more in depth about schemas and depression, while the second explains CBT:

Look After Yourself

Do not brush how you feel under the carpet or put a brave face on just because it is Christmas and you feel obliged. Christmas is about unity and celebrating who you have, and who you may have lost. Think about that person. If it makes you cry for a few hours, that’s OK. To heal we have to come to terms with what has happened. Appreciate what you have left but never tell yourself you’re not allowed to be sad.

This article is prominent for Christmas time but I hope what I have said resonates in to the new year and beyond.

Like always, if you notice your mood remains low for a long period of time then do not hesitate in reaching out to a friend, family member or the university services:

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