Looking after your mental health over the holidays

A young person wearing winter clothes is peering around a corner looking at the lightening bolts and swirls that represent mental health during the holidays. The background is green

All I want for Christmas… is not to have a flipping nervous breakdown! 

If you’re struggling with your mental health, the in-your-face merriment of Christmas and New Year can be somewhat grating, leading you to feel even more sucky than before. If this is a reality for you, know you’re not alone – this is a really common challenge. 

Why is everyone happy apart from me?

When you’re feeling low at this time of year, it can feel as if everyone else is walking around in a bloody John Lewis Christmas advert. It can be isolating, making you feel you’re the only person not enjoying themselves. But if that was really the case, there’s be no reason to write this article. The truth is, lots of people struggle over the holidays. It’s a tough old time to get through, but please remember:

  • It is normal to feel like this. Depression and anxiety are normal emotions even if they’re unwelcome.
  • Remember that social media is utter bollocks where people filter the crap out of their photos to make life look better than it is. Try not to get caught up in the fakery of social media, and consider taking a break from it.
  • Try not to beat yourself up for feeling like this. People struggling with their mental health at this time of year often report feeling guilty for not enjoying themselves. Remember to be kind to yourself, and let yourself feel the way you feel.
  • When you’re feeling low, events like the office Christmas party can feel like a slog you’d rather sit out. But try not to avoid social situations entirely as this can lead to feelings of isolation – show your face, stick with your safe people, enjoy a mince pie and know that it’s fine if you need to leave early.

I find it difficult being around my family

Whether you get on with your family or not, prolonged periods of time spent with your family are nearly always challenging. Remember to give yourself breaks and try some of the following:

  • Give yourself a job. Having a part to play in Christmas and having something to focus on which gives you purpose can be a nice distraction from how you’re feeling. Talk to your family about what kind of role you might like. Perhaps you want to appoint yourself as chief mince pie maker. Perhaps you could run a card making workshop for the kids in your family.  
  • Take a bit of me time and go see your friends. If you don’t have friends nearby, give them a call – chances are they’re struggling with enforced family time too.  
  • Enjoy a drink but don’t get totally blotto. Now is not the time to start a drunken, political debate with your stuck-in-the-dark-ages uncle.
  • Try speaking to a family member you’re close to about how you’re feeling. Even if they don’t have all the right answers, it should feel like a weight of your shoulders.

Christmas is a lonely time for me

If you feel isolated where you live or you don’t know many people, Christmas and New Year can be an especially difficult, and sometimes lonely time.

    • If you’re feeling lonely and in need of Christmas plans, don’t be afraid to ask a friend or someone you know if you can spend the day with them. Try to have a couple of options and ask people in advance.
    • If you do spend Christmas day by yourself, try to get out the house for some distraction. For example, even if you’re not religious it can be nice to attend a church service.
    • Try something altogether different. Volunteering for a homeless shelter is an opportunity to meet lovely people and feel like you’re doing something really worthwhile.
    • Try to see any time off work as an opportunity to nourish your mind and body – eating well, exercising and getting lots of sleep can all have a positive impact on your mental health.

New Year’s Eve isn’t much better

So you’ve made it through Christmas, but a mere six days later you find yourself navigating yet another big shebang. New Year’s Eve can be a time of reflection and an opportunity to let loose but if you’re feeling low, it can feel like another hurdle.

  • Don’t expect to have the night of your life. New Year’s Eve is notorious for being a hyped up letdown so try not to put pressure on yourself to have the time of your life.
  • Do what you fancy. If a night in, curled up on the sofa with Jools Holland on in the background is what you fancy, do that!
  • Don’t bother with resolutions. School and work give us enough targets as it is without the added pressure from ourselves to get a promotion, eat more green stuff, save more money….
  • NYE may be a time for reflection but try not to reflect on underachieved goals. Give yourself a break, you deserve better than that.  

If you make one New Year’s resolution, let it be this

We know we told you not to bother with resolutions, but this one’s a goodie. If you make one resolution this year, let it be this – find the support you deserve. Your road to feeling better might include:

  • Talking to a trusted friend or family member. Sharing how you feel can be a big step in the right direction.
  • Talking to your GP. They will be able to refer you on to counselling services or talk to you about anti-depressants if that’s something you’re considering.
  • Taking up a new sport. Exercise and especially team sports are known to positively affect depression and anxiety.  
  • Taking up a new hobby. If sport isn’t your thing, starting a creative course can be just the distraction your mind needs. Try your hand at something like pottery or life drawing, drama or cookery.

Next Steps

  • YoungMinds are the voice for young people's mental health and wellbeing.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Olivia Capadose

Updated on 11-Dec-2023