• Saturday, 10 December 2016

    How to Look After Your Mental Health at Christmas

    Christmas can really suck at times. The festive season is meant to be cheerful, jolly and bright, but for those of us that suffer from depression, anxiety or any other mental illness it can all feel very false. Trying to force yourself into the Christmas spirit, when you're struggling to get out of bed can be exhausting and demoralising. It's very easy to look around at all the happy people in December and wonder why you aren't like them.

    Here are a few of my tips on how to survive the festive season and how best to look after yourself:

    1. Remember you're not alone. Now, this is pretty much the number one thing people always say to anyone suffering from depression. It's a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason. It's really easy to believe that nobody cares about you or that nobody can understand what you're going through, but I promise you there are. And I can make that promise, because hey, if you're reading this, know that this stranger on the internet cares about you and is going through the same thing. I get why that might not be very comforting... But, in all honesty, the internet can make a really good support system when needed. If you really need to talk, the Samaritans are also an excellent service (116 123)

    2. Schedule! Okay, you're going to have to bear with me, because I'm a little obsessed with scheduling. It's something I learnt from my course of CBT and it works well for me - when I stick to it. If you plan your days and you schedule in things with a set time, you're much more likely to do them. But I think there are three things that are important to make time for around Christmas:

    - Fun things. Pick the festive things that you love. Whether that's a particular Christmas movie, decorating the tree or meeting up with old friends for Christmas drinks. If you hate all things festive, just do something else you love.
    - Tasks. All the stuff that needs to be done before Christmas, the gift wrapping, the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning? Yeah, plan when you're going to do that. Plan it in, allow yourself plenty of time and get it done way before the main day so you can relax, knowing it's taken of. Don't allow yourself to become overwhelmed by it. Organised lists and spreading it out over time so it's never too much are the way forward. There's a reason I get my shopping done in November.
    - Free time/Me time/Down time. Christmas is always crazy busy. Whatever you want to call it, some personal quiet time is essential. I know there's always such a focus on being with family and friends at Christmas and if your family are likely to pressure you to stay with them, perhaps feign tiredness and go to bed early just for some winding down time.

    3. Get outside. I know that everybody hates that person who's like 'Oh, you're depressed? You should try running! It fixes everything! And have you tried eating nothing but avocado and kale and drinking coconut water? And how about these super vitamin tablets?' Bleurgh. Those people suck. But, there is some science that does prove that vitamin D and a bit of gentle exercise will improve your mood. I know, we all already know that and we're all trying, but in December, when it's dark when you wake up and you're encouraged to spend the whole day inside, it's extra important. Particularly for those who are affected by SAD (I always love the naming of that illness, did they do it deliberately?).

    4. Be around children and/or pets. Now hear me out, because I know that those of you who know me well are all like 'Martha? Children? Call the authorities!' Yeah, I'm not the biggest lover of kids. But since my niece, who isn't my niece (long story) turned up in my life and I've now had three Christmas' with her, I will say that it honestly does bring some of the magic back. It helps that my niece is a well behaved child who doesn't get too hyper. But Christmas is practically made for kids and being around their excitement is almost guaranteed to cheer you up. As long as you like kids. For those of you who don't like kids (don't blame you), pets work just as well. I mean, cats love Christmas, shiny paper, boxes, things to knock over, it's just the best. And dogs are just excited all the time anyway.

    5. Be honest. I know this is horribly tough and can be tougher depending on who your family are. But, you're going to be around these people for a while over the Christmas period, chances are and taking the time out to talk to them about how you feel and what you need should 95% of the time improve things. I remember telling my family and my friends that I was taking anti-depressants and no, it's not a fun conversation, but it makes them more aware of it and how I'm feeling. I'm lucky to have a really strong support system, who understand when I can't make it to certain things, when I haven't eaten all day because I can't leave my bed and when I can't do something simple, because, well anxiety. Even if you can't tell them all, tell one person. Having just one person on your side to distract people whilst you run off to take some quiet time or to help with those difficult tasks makes such a big difference. Be honest with yourself as well. Know your own limits and try not to push yourself past them.

    I wish you all a bright, loving and cheerful Christmas.

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