6 mins

Feeling down at Christmas: how to support your mental health over the holidays

Contrary to what we see in the movies, Christmas isn’t always the warm, cosy, festivity-filled holiday we’d hope it to be.

For some people, Christmas can be an especially isolating time.

The holidays are filled with expectation with an added pressure to be out socialising having fun.

If you’re someone who already suffers with their mental health, seeing everyone out there enjoying themselves can highlight feelings of low mood. And all the expectation can leave you with the sense that there’s something you should be feeling or experiencing…. And when you don’t, that you’re somehow falling short.

Similarly, family celebrations don’t look the same for everyone. This time of year can be especially tough for those who are missing someone important, don’t have family or have challenging relationships with certain family members.

In fact, for these reasons, studies have found that rates of depression are highest around Christmas time.

If you can relate to any of these feelings, you might be feeling very alone. But please know that you’re not. Holidays can be a tough time for lots of people.

The most important thing you can do is reach out and talk about it. Find connection and support – whether that be in therapy, with a friend or through a local group.

In the meantime, we’re going to look at some of the steps you can take to ensure you’re looking after yourself over the holiday period.

Supporting your mental health over the holidays

Christmas can be challenging for all kinds of different reasons, and we’re going to break them down here.

If you’re feeling anxious about going out

If you suffer from social anxiety, the build up to Christmas and all the expectation to be out socialising can cause a lot of stress. Firstly, you should never feel the pressure to be out and about if it’s something you don’t want to do. But there are also some steps you can take to make the experience a bit easier. Here are some ideas:

Limit how much you drink – if you’re prone to anxiety, drinking might offer some temporary relief but the fallout is likely to be much worse the following day. It’s all about balance. Have a couple of drinks to treat yourself (if that feels good) but make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.

Speak to someone who’s going beforehand – walking into a party solo can be daunting if you suffer from social anxiety. Try reaching out to someone who’s going beforehand and tell them how you’re feeling. Sometimes having a bit of support can make all the difference.

Plan topics to talk about – it might sound silly, but doing some preparation in advance can alleviate a lot of stress. Write down a few ideas so you don’t feel under pressure to come up with something to talk about last minute.

If you’re feeling lonely at Christmas

Whether it’s because you’ve lost someone close to you or you’ve simply lost an important connection (divorce, relationship breakdown, difficult relationship with a family member), holidays have a tendency to highlight those absences. Whilst we can’t necessarily fill these gaps, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting enough connection during the holiday period. Below are a few ideas:

Find connection everyday (no matter how small) – try and strike up conversation with someone everyday, even if it’s the barista that serves you your morning coffee or the local shop-worker.

Talk it out – connection is the antidote to loneliness. Make sure you confide in someone about how you’re feeling – whether that’s your therapist, a friend, family member or online community. Most of us know what it feels like to be lonely, and no matter how alone you feel there is always someone who is ready to listen.

Make Christmas about you – If you’ve got a quiet Christmas on the horizon, take it as an opportunity to focus on doing all the things you love doing. Order in all your favourite foods, a few books and run yourself a long, indulgent bath. Make this Christmas all about self-care.

Volunteer – studies have shown that helping others has the power to boost our own happiness, and it can also take our minds off our own struggles. Supporting other people who are struggling (even though it may be for different reasons) can create a feeling of community – and it’s always great to feel like you’re making a difference in someone else’s life.

If you’re managing difficult relationships

Spending such an intense period of time together means Christmas can be a difficult time for some families – particularly if there are already challenging family dynamics at play. Ideally, it would be best if it was possible to address issues throughout the year instead of allowing them to accumulate but that’s not always possible. Below are a few ideas for how to better manage difficult relationships:

Be realistic about how much time you spend with family – take account of how you really feel about those relationships and what usually tends to happen when you spend extended periods of time together, and plan accordingly.

Avoid sitting around the house all day – if you’re staying for a long time together, try structuring your days so that you’re going out for walks and doing activities. Getting out and about is going to help you avoid tensions building in the house.

Limit your alcohol intake – be mindful of how much alcohol you’re drinking or you may decide to cut it out completely if relations are especially difficult with certain family members.

Know your triggers – make a conscious effort to recognise particular patterns and dynamics you usually fall into with your family so you can respond differently. Getting clued up on your triggers will help you become less reactive and make it easier to avoid conflict.

It may be called the most “wonderful time of the year” but the reality is that depression can come about in any season. If you’re struggling over the Christmas period, know that there is support out there. You don’t have to battle it out alone.

Talking it out with a therapist can be really beneficial, and help you put some plans in place to find the connection you need and make the holidays feel less overwhelming – and that little bit brighter.

Dr Elena Touroni

Dr Elena Touroni

2 December 2022

"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 Elena Touroni

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.

Having obtained a first degree in Psychology (BSc) at the American College of Greece, she completed her doctoral training at the University of Surrey. Dr Touroni is highly experienced in the assessment and treatment of depression, anxiety, substance misuse, personality disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, adjustment disorder and relationship difficulties. She works with both individuals and couples and can offer therapy in English and Greek.

Dr Touroni has held a variety of clinical and managerial positions including as Head of Service in the NHS. Further she has held academic positions for the University of Surrey and the Institute of Mental Health lecturing on specialist postgraduate Masters and Doctorate programmes.

She is trained in several specialist therapeutic approaches such as schema therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness-based approaches and Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT). As well as holding a variety of NHS positions, Dr. Touroni is the co-founder of a private practice in Central London that has been a provider of psychological therapy for all common emotional difficulties including personality disorder since 2002. She is the founder and one of two directors of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.