It’s a myth that suicide is more common around Christmas, spring is actually the peak. But sadly, you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface sparkle to see that Christmas cheer isn’t always a given. Financial pressures, unrealistic expectations and the stress of organising everything from decorating and cooking to finding the perfect gifts is a recipe for trouble for anyone, but especially those prone to depression. Here’s 10 tips to help you ward off Christmas stress and depression triggers:
- Plan ahead: Spend some time thinking about how to take care of yourself as well as others. Plan ‘me’ time, e.g. cheeky afternoon naps, a scented bath or reading a book and schedule them in between shopping and cooking. Even 30 minutes a day will give you something to look forward to and help you centre yourself.
- Forget perfection: How many perfect days have you had recently? That’s not how life works, so why would it be any different at Christmas? Concentrate on the little things that make you and your family happy, eight hours of deep, unbroken sleep, a meal cooked by someone else, staying up late to watch a film. Consider donating a toy or some food within your local community. These little things can help you focus on your blessings. You’ll have more than you think!
- Focus on what matters: Christmas shouldn’t be all about presents, but when you’re under financial pressure it can be easy to lose sight of that. Lower the stress and cost by agreeing a budget for gifts, or organising a low cost Secret Santa with friends or family. You can also bake gifts, or create traditions such as having everyone bring a dish or treats.
- Avoid family conflict: If you know there are going to be conflicts, prepare some neutral responses to defuse the situation such as, ‘Let’s talk about that another time’, or, ‘I can see how you would feel that way’ and then offer to help in the kitchen, or play with the kids. And have a sympathetic friend on standby if you need to let off steam!
- Don’t binge on food or alcohol: If we’re honest, overindulgence is as much of a Christmas tradition as opening gifts. Prepare for Christmas by eating healthy meals throughout December and follow the 80/ 20 rule, having a little bit of what you fancy over Christmas. If you eat a mince pie for breakfast, try to avoid the trap of thinking you’ve ruined your day so you might as well carry on. It takes 3,500 calories to gain a pound. One mince pie has around 300 calories, that’s about 10 or 11 mince pies! So if you eat unplanned foods, give yourself permission to shrug it off. And don’t use alcohol to dampen down your anxiety or deal with depression. Alcohol intensifies your emotions and lowers your inhibitions making you eat more and leaving you feeling worse when it wears off.
- Allow yourself to grieve: If you are mourning a loved one, try to remember there’s no ‘right’ way to feel. It’s not uncommon to feel angry at the person for leaving you alone or feeling guilty if you do enjoy yourself during. These feelings are a sign that you’re human and reflect where you are in your healing process. Consider talking about your feelings with a friend or a support group if you need to.
- Prioritise sleep: With so much to do it’s tempting to stay up late and burn the candle at both ends, but studies have shown there is a link between sleep loss and depression, so be extra careful about cutting back on sleep to get everything done and try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.
- Prioritise outdoor exercise: One of the first activities to go when we break our routine is exercise. The more stress we are under, the less time we feel like we have, the more irritated our mood and the more we need to exercise. Exercise has been shown to improve mood; taking a brisk walk for 35 minutes five days a week (or 60 minutes three times a week) can do the trick and will help burn some of those extra calories. If you are consistently tired, irritable, and low at this time of year, it may not be due to Christmas as much as to the lack of exposure to the sun. Seasonal affective disorder [SAD] can be treated by long walks during daylight hours or exposure to a light box for about 30 minutes a day. If you think you may be suffering from SAD, talk to your GP about treatment options.
- Ask for help: Lean on close friends during difficult times; they love you, they will want to support you.
- Cut back on commitments: If you feel like you just can’t get through one more party or family gathering give yourself permission to sit them out. Christmas is essentially 24 hours and that’s it. Think about what you need to get through those 24 hours, such as volunteering, or visiting a shelter or someone who is alone. Focusing on others can help alleviate depression.
Shani Shaker BA (hons), dipION, mBANT, CNHC, is a registered nutritional therapist with a focus on regenerative and functional nutrition, disordered eating, addiction and mental health. Based in London her services include one-to-one coaching, group classes and Skype sessions. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The information provided is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. Supplementation should only be temporary. If you’re eating a nutrient-rich diet, extra supplementation should only last for a month or two, just long enough to resolve the deficiency.