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Looking after mental health during the festive period

Christmas is often associated with feelings of excitement and joy, but it can also be a difficult time financially, emotionally and physically, especially for those already struggling with mental health problems.

Over 1,000 people were surveyed by Rethink Mental Illness about how Christmas impacts their mental health and wellbeing and it turns out that the festive period isn’t always the most wonderful time of year:

  • 77% of people said they feel lonely and isolated even when surrounded by their loved ones during Christmas
  • 84% of people said they feel symptoms of their mental illness are worse around Christmas
  • 88% of people said they feel pressured to enjoy or put on a pretense during Christmas

If you can relate to any of these statements, you’re not alone.

We chatted to some of our Mental Health First Aiders to gather their thoughts and advice on how to look after mental health when feelings of loneliness and depression can be heightened.

Mariam Shaikh, Project Management Degree Apprentice

How can you help others through this difficult time?

If someone is comfortable in opening up to you about a difficulty they are facing, it’s so important to be a good listening ear for them, without judgement. Be attentive and offer emotional support to show them that you care and are there for them. Check in regularly with friends, family, and colleagues; healing is a gradual process, and just being there for someone can make a significant impact.

What support services would you recommend?

Helplines such as Samaritans and SANE are good services for urgent assistance and apps such as Clic, Headspace and Calm provide resources, tools and exercises that can be used to manage mental health. It may also be worth checking if your employer has an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which provides services such as counselling and a 24-hour confidential helpline.

Rethink Mental Illness have created advice on ways in which you can connect with others and feel more socially included here.

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Selin Demirci, Sustainability Engineer

How can you take extra care of yourself, particularly when you feel you are experiencing poor mental health?

If talking to a loved one feels overwhelming, try letting it all out by journaling, or even taking a video for your future self to remember and reflect on that difficult time and how you got through it. Focus on the small things, take a shower, cook some nutritious food, clean your living space. These can all help to shift mindset and activate the reward perception in our brain.

Why is it important to talk openly about mental health?

We might not realise it, but talking helps us to release and process the emotions we carry. It helps us feel heard. It helps us to resonate with others’ stories, making us feel less lonely and more connected. Hearing another perspective can also help us to look at things in a different light, which can make the load a little less heavy.

Sabian Fernandez, Senior Revit Technician

What are your top tips for looking after mental health during the festive period?

The pressures of Christmas can be overwhelming, especially with the expectation to attend multiple family meet ups as well as purchase gifts for an ever-increasing nice list. This can make it easy to want to say bah humbug to it all and isolate at home in the warm! Sadly, this can contribute to feelings of loneliness or depression. So, during the festive season, try to remember that sometimes the best present we can give is a thought. A thought to the ones we care about to call and say “how are you?”, a thought to say thanks for the people that have helped us get to where we are. These are easy ways for us to feel connected to the people that matter and make us happier!

How can you help others through this difficult time?

  • A simple text to check-in
  • Volunteer to a charity or organisation
  • A smile and a “thank you” to a stranger
  • There are many more ways to help, so keep an open mind as we’re all able to make a big difference no matter how small the act.

Rethink Mental Illness have also created this A-Z of Tips on how to combat loneliness.

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Laima Campbell, Senior Mechanical Engineer

How can you take extra care of yourself, particularly when you feel you are experiencing poor mental health?

Prioritise your self-care and take time out to relax or choose an activity that brings you joy and fulfilment. This could be taking a walk outdoors, spending time in nature, reading a book or listening to a podcast. Practicing mindfulness and incorporating this into your daily routine is another way to take care of yourself. It’s a great way to unwind and help you feel calmer.

What support services would you recommend?

Mountains for the Mind is a campaign from Trail magazine promoting the benefits of being outside for better mental health. It’s a great way to meet other people and discover new parts of the country with free guided walks.

For further tips and support on looking after your mental health during the festive season or if you'd like to make your own donation to the charity, please visit Rethink Mental Illness.