But regardless of whether you’re that November Christmas tree person or the “I’m just here for the office party” type elf- the ‘silly season’ can also bring its fair share of another Gremlin. Stress. Because no matter where you fall on Santa’s list, it can also be a time of financial strain, busy schedules, lofty expectations and dealing with those relatives again.
Stress levels and anxiety can really ramp up over Christmas and New Year, and it’s not unusual for our mental health to slip. Statistics often show a spike in presentations for mental health supports this time of year. Whilst at first glance this seems surprising (joy to all right?!) if you’re riding that wave you’re definitely not alone. Events, difficult memories, family strains, financial issues and pressures to be/buy/do/bake can all make the holiday season fairly full-on.
Stress is a complex mixture of thought, emotion and physical reactions and has the potential to adversely affect our physical and mental health now and in the future. On top of that, letting the stress Gremlins run away on us can rob us of enjoying a time we really deserve to be. It’s not something we’re powerless to push through, however, so to help with the silly season stresses and turn those mental health hits back into the jolly holiday give these tips a go…
It’s easy for healthy routines and regular exercise to be pushed aside in the festive season, but when things are stressful staying active is vital. Even light exercise can improve our sleep, reduce anxiety, stabilize mood swings and boost a low mood. It can be as simple as getting outside for a walk with the family or swimming a few laps in the pool. The Christmas season usually also comes with extra festive foods – so keeping some regular activity in can be a gift to our physical health (and waistline) too.
Work parties, travel and kids who are too excited to go to bed can make sleep in short supply. Not only does stress and anxiety impact on our sleep, but the reverse is true too. Less sleep makes us more prone to stress, anxiety and low mood. Not only that, but our ability to problem solve and stay on top of stressful situations is lower when we’re tired. Aiming for 7-8 hours a night, and boosting sleep quality by dimming lights in the evening, limiting nightly use of laptops/mobiles, and limiting caffeine can all help.
Between ticking all the items off the to-do list, Christmas can start to feel more like a chore than a holiday. Taking time out for you and allowing yourself to step away from the kitchen to enjoy time with friends and family can lower stress and anxiety. Laughter, family time and specific time to relax is key to keeping stress, anxiety and mood issues at bay. I’m a major advocate for some regular mindfulness time, and this can do wonders for stress levels – even a daily 2-minute breathing exercise (check out the Headspace app) can really help.
The holiday season is often synonymous with over-indulging when it comes to alcohol and substances, and this can have blowback effects on our stress levels, sleep and mental health. Keep a check on how much you’re drinking, and be wary to how substance use impacts your mood and emotions. Hydrate before, during and after drinking, and always eat beforehand. Hangovers are a major source of anxiety and mood issues during the silly season, and moderating how much we’re drinking, rehydrating after and banking as much sleep as possible can all mean to limit them.
Whether it’s understandable stress, or more pressing issues with anxiety, mood or safety, reaching out and asking for help is key at any time of the year. In all the commotion we often forget to stop and think about how we’re thinking and feeling. As always, it’s often what we’re not saying or voicing that can lead to things really snowballing – as hard as it is, resisting the fact to avoid being honest is the best move so keep communication lines open. Research shows that even talking about what we’re going through and how we’re feeling with a trusted person can significantly help. More frequent contact with family and friends over a stressful time of year can also leave room for relationship struggles and issues.
Reach out and speak up – it’ll only mean we’re better able to get through and enjoy the good things this time of year can bring. If you’re really worried for yourself or someone else, it’s vital to contact your local area mental health service (Google your area + ‘mental health service’) or reach out to LifeLine on 13 11 14