Tips to mind your mental health this Christmas

HSE Media Release: 23 December 2019

The HSE is advising people to look after their mental health during a stressful festive season for many - yourmentalhealth.ie.

The holidays can bring a lot of demands such as financial, social and family anxieties. This is especially true for vulnerable people, or people already feeling under pressure. At these times, it's important to plan ahead to avoid feeling overwhelmed. You can't choose when Christmas comes, but you can choose to help yourself get through it.

Dr Hester O Connor, Clinical Psychologist and HSE Principal Psychology Manager, offers the following the advice:

“This Christmas period, use the time to reflect on how far you have come and all you have achieved. A helpful way of doing this is to note down the things that you have achieved this year, reflect on what you managed to accomplish even if it seems small or insignificant. Taking note in this way is a concrete step that demonstrates to you what you have managed to achieve. When you have the list compiled have a feeling of gratitude towards yourself and towards others who may have helped you. We build resilience more easily if we are realistic and take stock of our current situation.”

HSE Mental Health shares some ways that might help:

Set realistic expectations - Be honest and realistic about what you can expect from the season. Don't compare yourself with other people. Don't expect that Christmas will be perfect. Instead, focus on one or two things that are most important to you at Christmas. This year, have a simpler festive season.

Reflect on what you've achieved this year - As the end of the year approaches, try not to be hard on yourself for things you thought you should have achieved by now. Accept yourself and where you are right now.

Practice self-care this Christmas – Treat yourself with kindness, we are often our own harshest critics, unforgiving and unrelenting in the pressure we put on ourselves. A way of beginning to learn self-compassion is to begin to notice your negative self-talk, for example saying to yourself, ‘I sounded stupid when I said that’, or ‘only I could have made such a bad job of that’ etc. The RAIN of Self-Compassion from Tara Brach1 is a very helpful tool to change your inner voice:

Recognise what you are saying to yourself

Accept - do not try and push it away

Investigate with kindness

Nurture yourself / Not React - learn to respond and not react to oneself.

Show compassion for others - Often at Christmas, some people can feel more lonely and isolated than normal. A thoughtful gesture can make a real difference. This could be spending time with someone or offering them a listening ear.

Healthy habits - At times like Christmas, it's easy to fall out of your normal routine. Your body clock can change and it's not unusual to over-indulge in many different ways. As a result, your motivation levels can drop and you can feel bloated, sluggish and unwell.

Maintain your healthy habits by:

  •  Keeping up a regular sleep pattern
  •  Making an effort to exercise outdoors
  •  Eating a good diet
  •  Limiting your alcohol intake
  •  Staying connected to others, isolating ourselves can make a bad situation feel much worse.

Dr O’Connor advises that it’s important to take time out this Christmas to rest and recharge when needed, “If you are feeling drained in any way, find yourself a quiet space to breathe, and restore your energy. Christmas might be all about giving, but it is important to give to yourself too. The science behind this advice is convincing. When we breathe into the belly even for short amounts of time like 5 -10 minutes we connect inside and ground ourselves in our bodies. Taking notice of the breath coming in and out helps us to come back into the present moment, the physiological effects are profound. When we do this simple practice we release important chemicals in our bodies that help us to calm down and to gather ourselves up which can help us to feel much better.

“Research shows that helping others increases your own sense of wellbeing. Research also tells us that when we are around others that we can more easily tap into the soothing system in our bodies. This is when we come out of fear-based reactions and into that part of our nervous system which is at ease and relaxed. This is conjured up by the image of a dog lying beside the fireplace or that of a mother soothing her baby to sleep. When we come into this soothing system we find it easier to relate to others and we release a hormone called Oxytocin which is the love hormone. The great news is that being around others helps us all to tap into this soothing system. What’s more, being around your dog also releases the love hormone in you and your pet! Our connections with others can make a big difference to how we feel this Christmas".

However please seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you might feel low, stressed, sad or anxious over Christmas. You can talk to your GP before Christmas about what support they can offer you or avail of mental health support services during Christmas.”

For more information on looking after your or a loved one’s mental health please visit yourmentalhealth.ie or call the 'Your Mental Health' Information Line – 1800 111 888. Freephone any time to find supports and services near you.

 ENDS

Last updated on: 23 / 12 / 2019