Christmas and mental health: how to look after yourself during the holidays


Current world events and the “perfect” Christmas don’t seem to go hand in hand these days, and if the pressure to celebrate and have a good time is making you feel more anxious than usual, you are not alone. Not everyone experiences Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year, and studies show that stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression are quite common around the holidays. 

Why does Christmas affect our mental health? 


The holidays can affect your mental health for many different reasons: 


  • Christmas shopping puts a strain on your budget 
  • You have more responsibilities at work towards the end of the year 
  • You have to balance work and family responsibilities 
  • You feel pressured to attend social gatherings that make you uncomfortable 
  • Christmas reminds you of the loss of a loved one 
  • You feel alone or left out
  • Other events in your life prevent you from enjoying the holidays


No matter what’s affecting your mental health, these strategies will help you manage the pressure that comes with this time of year and focus on yourself: 

Start by looking after your physical health.

There’s a tight relationship between physical and mental health, and the stress and anxiety around Christmas time can make you forget to look after yourself properly. Binge eating, excessive alcohol consumption, and irregular sleeping patterns can make you feel worse, which is why the first thing you should do is look after your health. 


Around Christmas time, overindulging in sweets, comfort food, and alcohol may seem like a good way to cope with stress, but these habits are harmful in the long run. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of red wine or some mince pies, abusing them might leave you feeling more anxious. Try to eat balanced meals, get enough sleep and get your daily dose of exercise – even a daily walk helps. 

Managing Christmas spending 

Money is one of the most common reasons why people feel stressed around Christmas. Between getting everyone gifts and buying everything for Christmas dinner, you may feel that there’s not much money left to cover basic expenses. In fact, one study found that about a third of Brits are afraid that they won’t be able to afford the Christmas they want. 


To prevent money from becoming a major stressor, create a realistic Christmas budget and try to stick to it. That may require missing out on a Secret Santa party or two, but dealing with the consequences of debt in January will take an even greater toll on your mental health. 


Exploring low-cost gift ideas, buying less food, and focusing on meaningful experiences rather than excessive spending will not only help you save money in the long run but also avoid the stress and anxiety that come after. Sometimes, simply making a Christmas shipping list and sticking to it is enough to cut Christmas costs by hundreds of pounds. 

Learn how to avoid family tensions 

Christmas is usually a time when the entire family gets together to catch up and spend quality time together. However, family members don’t always see eye to eye, which may lead to tensions. It’s important to remember that perfection doesn’t exist. The average family dinner rarely looks the way it’s portrayed in Christmas commercials, so don’t feel guilty if you’re not too excited to go. 


If you don’t have the best relationship with your family, casual conversations can easily become conflicts. To prevent that from happening, make a plan before getting there. Not staying late or bringing someone along can make things less uncomfortable but, if that’s not possible, you can get some breathing space by doing things like washing the dishes or playing with the kids instead of joining the discussion. If you and your family have opposing views on certain topics, it would be best to elegantly avoid them. 


And lastly, if you’re concerned that a Christmas gathering may be unsafe, the risk isn’t worth it. Calling them to cancel might not be pleasant, but sending them gifts, seeing them over Zoom, or having a smaller get-together after the holidays is a good compromise in the post-pandemic era.

Find meaningful ways to connect.

Christmas can be an overwhelming time if you’re struggling with loss or don’t have someone to celebrate with. It can reawaken unpleasant memories of grief, neglect, or abuse, leaving you feeling sad, isolated, or depressed. 


In addition to practising self-care, finding meaningful ways to connect can help you cope with these symptoms and find joy in Christmas. These connections don’t necessarily have to be with friends and family. If you don’t have a support system, getting involved in a charity and volunteering for the holidays (not necessarily with money) will make time pass easier and boost your self-esteem. 


If Christmas reminds you of the loss of a loved one, finding positive ways to celebrate their memory can make you feel better. For example, having a walk in their favourite park or cooking a meal they particularly enjoyed is better for your mental health than isolating yourself and refusing to talk about it. 

Don’t hesitate to get help. 

If you’re struggling with mental health this Christmas, remember that you are not alone. Opening up to a friend and telling them what they could do to help you feel better is always a good idea. In fact, one survey has shown that two out of five Brits feel stressed around Christmas, so you might discover that your friends are going through the same things.


People with pre-existing mental health conditions may find it harder to cope with Christmas and, if this is your case, don’t hesitate to discuss your concerns for the upcoming period with a certified therapist. They can help you manage your symptoms, find healthy coping mechanisms, and overcome this challenging time.

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