5 mins

Maintaining good psychological health during Christmas

How to be yourself while being with the family this Christmas

No matter where you’re from, or which religious traditions form part of your family’s background, Christmas has universally come to symbolise a time where we say goodbye to the year that’s been, and spend quality time with those we love. However, maintaining your psychological health during this season isn’t always easy.

In this article, we’re going to explore the many psychological highs and lows that occur at this time of year, and offer our top tips on how to enjoy your festive season both mindfully and with good cheer.

Working with a therapist to map out your key vulnerability factors

At the clinic, we work closely with our clients to help them prepare for peak times of year – for some clients, Christmas is one of those times. Typically, it’s where people are required to spend longer-than-usual periods of time with extended family members, and sometimes, this occurs within complicated situations. Triggers abound, and because we’ve usually spent some months working with our clients already, we are fully aware of their historical coping strategies.

Together we are able to map out and anticipate what a client’s personal triggers or vulnerabilities are, what expectations they have, what dynamics and issues are present and how to navigate through all these in a non-reactive way. Part of the mapping process can include anticipating likely situations and then providing our client with a safe space in which they can practice how they would best like to respond.

First up, what does your ideal Christmas look like?

In terms of tips we can provide right now, we’d suggest visualising what your ideal Christmas looks like. Part of this exercise involves being realistic about your own personal expectations. An example of this is to compare your dream version of Christmas, with an achievable ideal version.

So, perhaps your dream version of Christmas may feature all members of your family, including yourself, feeling totally happy and healthy in every way. While an ideal version of Christmas would be more likely to feature every member of your family exactly as they are right now – and you being absolutely fine with everyone as they are.

Often, a big part of the journey towards good psychological health is internalising the massive realisation that we can’t change others, we can only really change ourselves. Adjusting your expectations to a level that is realistically achievable is a first step to making the most of the holiday season.

Next, what are your personal vulnerability factors?

While it might sound complicated or technical, your vulnerability factors are usually the simplest of things. For example, some people get angry even if they eat lunch an hour or two later than usual (we all know the term ‘hangry’, for example!). So perhaps you need to keep a healthy snack with you at all times to prevent this from happening.

Some of our clients have cleverly worked out surreptitious ways of buying themselves a little time-out when things get hectic. So they’ll take the dog for a walk, or offer to entertain the little ones with a story. Or they’ll create a role for themselves, like offering to be the photographer or DJ, as a way of participating, yet not being in the thick of things.

You might also have personal needs around sleep or exercise to take into account. If you’re staying at someone else’s house, for example, you might want to take your own travel pillow to help you feel at home in a new place. And you may want to carve out a bit of time for exercise – even if you’re not regular gym-goer, simply deliberately doing an activity on your own for a short while will help you maintain a healthy sense-of-self while in a new environment.

What if you’re dieting, or avoiding alcohol this Christmas?

Anyone who’s on a journey of self-improvement needs to be ready to handle family members who want you to stay the same. For example, if you’re giving up alcohol, it might cause some family members to feel guilty about their own choices. Instead of facing their own uncomfortable feelings of guilt, they might prefer to mock you, or somehow sabotage your efforts at being healthy.

While it can be challenging to be yourself in family situations, we completely understand that being the new, improved version of who you want to be, can be even harder. That’s why it’s important to work with professionals who can help you ensure that your efforts at self-improvement provide accumulative returns, as opposed to being repeatedly chipped away by undermining patterns like sabotage or criticism.

Appreciating the simplest of joys

One of the best aspects of improving your psychological health, or embarking on a journey towards this end, is a heightened ability to enjoy the simplest of things. As you cease to look for external highs (say for example, from alcohol, or as another example, the approval of others), and find stability within, deep inner peace will bring you different highs in a different way.

Nothing beats just being with another human being in a real and authentic way, and also, being able to offer that quality of space to another person is equally amazing. It’s something we endeavour to facilitate at the clinic, especially through our mindfulness therapies and training. Regardless of where you are on your journey at the moment, we’re wishing you sound psychological health this festive season and ample moments that contain the simplest of joys.

We’ve helped countless individuals and couples get through the many challenges presented by this time of year. If you would like to discuss how we can help, then simply contact us for a confidential chat.

Dr Elena Touroni

Dr Elena Touroni

13 December 2018

"Dr. Elena Touroni is a skilled and experienced Consultant Psychologist with a track record of delivering high-quality services for individuals with all common emotional difficulties and those with a diagnosis of personality disorder. She is experienced in service design and delivery, the management of multi-disciplinary teams, organisational consultancy, and development and delivery of both national and bespoke training to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sector."

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Dr Stacie Tay

Dr Stacie Tay attained her BSc (Hons) Psychology at the University of Nottingham and worked as a psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, before returning to the UK to complete her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University College London.   

Dr Tay has worked in a variety of settings within the NHS for more than eight years, including primary and secondary care, specialist psychological services and forensic inpatient settings. She currently works as a Clinical Psychologist at the North East London Foundation Trust.  

She has extensive experience working with individuals and groups, providing evidence-based psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness-based approaches as well as Schema-informed therapy.   

Dr Tay’s clinical experience involves working with people who present with a range of mild to severe mental health difficulties. This includes depression, anxiety (OCD, social anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, health anxiety, phobia-related disorders, PTSD), stress related issues, low self-esteem, complex trauma, interpersonal difficulties, grief and bereavement, and long-term health conditions.