Looking after your mental health and well being this festive season

The festive season is a time of joy but for many people it can be one of the most stressful times of the year.

It is therefore perhaps even more important that at this time of year we all remember to look after our mental health and wellbeing, and also to keep any eye out for each other.

Richard Thwaites, the clinical lead for the First Step service in Cumbria which helps adults with mild to moderate mental health issues such anxiety and depression explains:

“Christmas can be a difficult time for people who are already struggling, whether its people who are depressed and find themselves comparing their Christmas to others and being self-critical or people with social anxiety who find some of the social demands of this time of year even harder than usual.

“For some people it might be a good time to think about whether they need to seek help and there are a range of avenues available such a finding self-help books from the Books on Prescription Scheme (https://www.cumbria.gov.uk/libraries/wellread/well_read.asp )in the libraries across Cumbria or discussing medication or psychological therapy with your GP.

“There are a range of options through First Step such as online therapy or face-to-face CBT or counselling (https://www.cumbriapartnership.nhs.uk/our-services/mental-health/our-mental-health-services/first-step ).”

The Mental Health Foundation’s top tips for looking after your mental health over the festive period are below, and remember these tips also count throughout the year so don’t forget about them come January!

  1. Talk about your feelings

It’s hard to admit that as such an exciting time of year you don’t actually feel that great. But talking about your feelings to someone you trust can improve your mood and make it easier to deal with the tough times. It is part of taking charge or 'self-managing' your mental wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy. It's important to create space for these conversations and also worth identifying who you can speak to if you are concerned about your wellbeing.

  1. Do something that you are good at.

As the busy holiday season gets underway try and make time for activities and hobbies you enjoy all year around. You could make these into festive activities like making gifts and cooking mince pies or playing Christmas songs. Doing something that you are good at will improve your mood and make you feel better about yourself.

  1. Ask for help

None of us are superhuman and at times we can all get overwhelmed by how we feel, especially when things go wrong. If things are getting too much for you in the next few weeks and you feel like you can’t cope its ok to ask for help. Samaritans are available to speak to all year round - their free helpline number is 116 123 and calls to this number do not appear on phone bills.

  1. Eat well

Christmas is typically a time of overindulgence but what we eat can sometimes impact on how we feel. For example, too much sugar can have a noticeable effect on your mental health and wellbeing in the short and long term. The high of the sugar rush is followed by a low of the sugar crash, it can heighten the effects of anxiety and impair the body’s ability to cope with stress. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a little overindulgence but a good tip is to balance this out over the festive period and remember to have balanced meals - everything in moderation.

  1. Take a break

The holiday season is a perfect time to take some time out of your day-to-day life and gain some perspective to reflect on the year. This doesn’t mean jetting off somewhere it just means spending dedicated time in a place where you can re energise by giving yourself a change of scene or pace. Perhaps the garden or a local park, your bedroom or on a walk away from the hustle and bustle of the festivities. Its good for you. Practicing mindfulness can also be a great way to unwind. Find out more on how to learn mindfulness and take a free stress test.

  1. Keep active

It’s no surprise that cold weather and short days are not the greatest motivation to get you out of bed and go on a 5k run, but research has shown that doing exercise releases chemicals in your body that can make you feel good. Going to the gym, swimming, walking or cycling anything that raises your heart rate will make you feel better. Regular exercise can boost your confidence and help you concentrate, sleep and feel better. Exercise also keeps the brain and your other vital organs healthy. So use that Christmas spirit for physical health as well as mental health you may even enjoy the crisp air! Help your body help your mind.

  1. Keep in touch

When putting the finishing touches on holiday plans we can often become distracted from the support systems around us. Friends and family can make you feel included and cared for. They can offer different views from whatever is going on inside your own head, keep you grounded and help you solve practical problems – enjoy this time to catch up. If alone and/or away from family, the Campaign to end Loneliness provide some helpful resources.

  1. Accept who you are.

Some of us make people laugh, others cook fantastic meals. Some of us share our lifestyle with the people who live close to us, others live very differently. Don’t feel any pressure to be like someone else, be yourself and if you have mental health problems don’t’ feel under pressure to do any more that you feel up to this Christmas.

  1. Drink sensibly

Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only ever temporary. It's great to catch up with friends or colleagues in the pub - spending time on good relationships is essential for good mental health - but know your limits. It's important to maintain your personal wellbeing, too, so drink plenty of water. If you aren’t sure how much you should be drinking check out this drink aware campaign, which gives you top tips of how much is safe and help to reduce how much you drink.

  1. Care for others

Present-buying is not the only way of showing that we care about others. Christmas is the perfect time to reach out to those who you haven’t spent as much time with as you would have liked in the past year; ask how they’ve been and whether they have plans for the holidays. Caring for others is an important part of keeping up relationships with people close to you. It can even bring you closer together and make you feel good!