Depending when you're reading this, Christmas is either (a) fast approaching or (b) a distant memory. Either way, it's getting closer all the time. Most people will consider Christmas to be a joyous occasion, an opportunity to relax and spend time with family and friends. The thing is, if you're living with any sort of mental illness, that isn't always the case. The weight of expectation can be too much to bear. If you feel like you have to buy everything, please everyone, do it all, then its going to be a far from joyous time for you.
The festive period can be one big pressure cooker of emotions. The pressures can be financial, social or emotional. Sometimes all of the above. For those living things like (but not limited to) depression and anxiety, Christmas can be a difficult time. It can exasperate existing conditions or bring new ones all of their own.
Christmas will often include a change of daily routine that some may not enjoy, or the pressure to fulfil 'traditional' roles that make you feel uncomfortable. In short, Christmas can be a right kick in the crackers.
With that in mind and despite popular demand, we're giving you another of our 'Top Ten' guides to help get you through Christmas. In the spirit of giving, this is going to be a Top 12. Yep. 12 for the price of 10. You're welcome! Plus, whoever heard of the 10 Days of Christmas!
12 Credit Cards a'Charging
For many people, the most crippling aspect of Christmas is the financial side of it. Christmas, whether we like it or not, has become a very commercial entity. Many people end up spending more money than they can realistically afford. Please try and avoid the temptation to follow suit. The economic downturn has made money even harder to find, but it's ok. Money doesn't make Christmas.
Rushing around trying to find the last-minute presents doesn't help, so don't even try. The trick is to set yourself a budget and stick to it! Work out a plan of what you want to spend, what things you want to part of your Christmas (or don't want to be) and work towards that. Let's be honest, this can involve people too. Only spend what you need to and it will be much easier to handle.
11 Roads a Travellin'
Christmas usually involves some travelling. Whether you're driving home for Christmas (someone should write a song about that) from work or Uni or going to see family and friends over the festive period, you may well be upping sticks and heading off. If this thought fills you with dread, it may be a good idea to try and organise your travel plans well in advance.
Make sure you have enough medication to last you (order some if not), create a To Do list in advance to make sure you don't forget anything and, where possible, share some of the travelling arrangements. If you're in a country that can suffer badly with a turn in the weather (looking at you Great Britain) then factor in some contingency plans. These little things can make the ordeal a whole lot easier.
10 Shops a .com'ing
If the thought of the crowds fighting over last minute presents fill you with anxiety, there is another way. For those of who leave their Christmas shopping until the last minute, the craziness of Christmas can be very stressful.
Instead of fighting the crowds, you can probably do most of your shopping online (and you may even save money in the process). Either way, make some lists of who you need to buy for (cough, cough) and plan ahead. Get yourself on the interweb and make all your purchases without the need to get stuck in huge queues or trampled underfoot. By the way, did we mention our wristbands make an awesome present).
9 Dads a'Dancing
With all the food, drinks and time-off over Christmas, it's easy to spend day after day relaxing, but it's equally important to keep up some sort of exercise during the festive period. Exercise is a fantastic way to relax, especially during the Christmas chaos that will ensue. It can also make you feel more energised, ready to tackle the washing up or whatever else Christmas brings.
Exercising will cause your body to release endorphins, feel good chemicals which calm you down and lift your mood. They also act as a way to strengthen your immune system, perfect for the sniffles (or worse man-flu) that's usually going around. The weather might not always be your friend at Christmas, but try and make time to go for a walk, try out that new bike or enrol in an exercise class or two while you have the time. Fighting through the Boxing Day sales doesn't count but going ice-skating definitely does!
8 Saints a Volunteering
It's easy to forget that not everyone will be having the perfect 'traditional' Christmas. Often, through no fault of their own, Christmas can be a very difficult time. In the spirit of giving, why not consider giving something back by volunteering with a local homeless shelter, old peoples home or any cause that needs a little extra help at Christmas time. There will be plenty to choose from.
So many organisations are in need of a little helping hand at this / that time of the year and they will be so grateful for yours. If you think you won't get anything out of it, you clearly haven't felt the sense of satisfaction that comes from it. Give it go. If nothing else, you'll be a shoe-in for Santa's 'Nice' list next year.
7 Sheep a Sleeping
It's not uncommon, that is to say that is common, for our sleep patterns to take a hit over the Christmas period. With the 'rush rush' of things to do, places to go and people to see, not forgetting the odd party thrown in, can mean we don't get as much sleep as we need. Good mental wellbeing is intrinsically linked to good sleep. You see the problem.
It's important then to get some quality shut-eye, and there are a few simple things you can do to help yourself. With all the parties and 'dos' going on, there's nothing wrong with enjoying yourself. Just stay clear of the office photocopier and know where your pants are at all times. Its important to get back into your regular sleeping patterns as soon as you can. This usually involves consuming less (yes less) alcohol during the festivities and getting back into regular exercise as soon as you can. Get them zzzz in and you'll be OK.
6 Goals a Getting
Christmas can be a blur. Everything associated with the festive period can hang heavy on the mind. The things is, Christmas can, and should be, exactly what you want it to be. Don't be pressured by tradition or the need to please others. It sounds a little selfish, but that's ok. It's your Christmas too.
There will be things you like about Christmas and there will be things that you don't like so much. Acknowledge the bits you do like and set yourself some realistic expectations and goals for what you want your Christmas to be and it helps to put the whole shebang into some sort of perspective. Don't go to parties you don't want to go to, don't feel pushed into 'hilarious' fancy dress-themed nights out and you'll feel so much better. There's a lot to be said for 'Bah humbug'.
5 Golden Ring Donuts
Ahh Christmas; the excessive food, the slobbing out on the sofa, the gorging on selection boxes. Nothing says Christmas more than copious amounts of food and drink, but that's sometimes the problem. It's lovely to kickback for a little bit, but bear in mind that lots of food + little exercise = problems! With that in mind, go easy on the chocs and try to avoid third helpings of Christmas pud. It might well bring you comfort in the short-term, but weight gain and lethargy caused by a lack of exercise can negatively impact on your feelings of self-esteem.
Everything in moderation, including moderation. Take it easy on the high-sugar, high-fat foods and try and keep a balanced nutritional diet. Indulge yourself a little, but don't go wild. Try and eat plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates which help to fill you up and maintains your blood sugar.
Christmas favourites turkey and nut roast are great sources of tryptophan, an amino acid that creates our old favourite serotonin. Other festive foods like nuts (particular brazil, almonds and walnuts) are also brain-friendly foods.
4 Calling Cards
Christmas is often a great time to catch up with friends and family who you may not have seen for a while. They might come to you, or you go to them, but this sense of enforced social interaction can be difficult. Sometimes, the longer the gap since you've seen people can make it more difficult to reconnect. If the thought of seeing your long-lost Uncle or cousins you've never met fills you with dread, try another way.
There's no law that says you have to visit relatives or they have to visit you. A telephone call, a Christmas card card or message on social media might be enough. Sure it's not the most personal, but a heartfelt conversation on the phone might be worth so much more to them that a get together full of awkward silences.
If you do have time on your hands and want to, then make the time to reconnect with people you haven't spoken to for a while. Interacting with other people produces a chemical called oxytocin, which is beneficial for both our mental and physical well being. If you're on your own, then remember there will be local charities and organisations who organise get togethers in your area so you don't have to be alone.
3 Shots a Neckin'
We've talked a little about food, but the celebratory spirit of Christmas (and more so New Year) usually involves a little social drinking. Sure it might make you feel relaxed, but remember that alcohol itself is a depressant. If you're already feeling low, drinking more won't help. If it involves drinking to excess, then it can lead to lower mood, feelings of irritability and potentially aggressive behaviour. These might not directly affect you, but other people are just as susceptible to them. Stay within limits you know are safe for you and you'll enjoy it so much more.
2 Much To Do
The lead up to Christmas can be so much more stressful that the day itself. The pressure to get last-minute presents, preparing for the Christmas dinner, decorating the house, writing cards and feeling like your responsible for the happiness of other people can be debilitating. If find yourself with a to-do list longer than a particularly long to-do list, don't feel like you have to do it all yourself. It's time to delegate.
If you feel your anxiety levels rising, tell people how you feel and rope in family and friends to help out. Spread the load wherever you can and don't feel like you have to do it all. It's OK to say "No" and it's definitely OK to ask for help. The Beatles even wrote a song about it, and they did alright.
and a Some 'You Time' In A Par-ty (for one)
We touched on it earlier, but the main thing to remember is to look after you. It's OK to be a little bit selfish, if that's what you need to stay well. Take the opportunity to do the things you enjoy. Make a positive choice to embrace the extra free time and use it wisely. Whether that's spending more time with the kids, reading those books Santa brought you, going to the cinema with friends, whatever it is, however small, do something for you. Take your mind off the commercial aspects of Christmas, but enjoy the things it can bring. Happy Christmas everyone!
If you've got any hints and tips of your own, please leave a comment below.