‘Tis the season to be mindful

December 18th, 2019

‘Tis the season to be mindful

By Dan Whale

  • Anxiety
  • Social Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Family
  • Mindfulness and Stress
  • Relationships

The best way to make sure everyone is having a holly jolly Christmas is to appreciate that many of us may be dealing with issues that are difficult

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” as Andy Williams routinely reminds us. For many of us, that’s true - the Christmas period is a time for eating, drinking, relaxing and generally having fun with friends and family.

However, this is not the case for everyone. For those struggling with their mental health, this can be a very stressful time of year for a variety of reasons. Even for people who have positive relationships with their family, the pressures of simply ‘having a good time’ are highly exacerbated at Christmas to the point that some do not look forward to it at all.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions to make those that struggle over the holidays feel more at ease.

Eat, drink and be merry!

Over Christmas we often encourage each other to eat as much as we can, with little regard as to whether it’s good for us or not. This represents a shared feeling of guilt-free pleasure. We treat ourselves at Christmas knowing that this is probably not the way we act during the rest of the year and we bond through a collective ‘naughtiness’.

There is of course absolutely nothing wrong with this, and we are certainly not going to tell you to cut back on the mince pies. But for those with disordered eating or some forms of body dysmorphia, this pressure to eat can create a lot of anxiety. Try to remember that someone denying more food is not passing judgement on you having more. They just don’t want it, and that’s fine too. If you know that a guest or friend has experienced a difficult relationship with food and eating in the past, you might even want to ask them how you can best support them this Christmas - let them help you.

The same principle of unwanted encouragement applies to alcohol. The ‘oh go on’ attitude we often adopt over Christmas may seem like a harmless effort to help others loosen their inhibitions and have fun, but people’s approach to alcohol differs and changes over time. Some may be making a concerted effort to cut back on their intake, and pressure to drink will just make them feel as though they’re not being good company. Not having another drink doesn’t make someone a stick-in-the-mud, politely accepting their refusal might mean more to them than you think.

O come all ye faithful - but if you can’t make it, no worries

With the work parties, distant relatives visiting and general moving around, there are often lots of things going on over Christmas. Again, for many, this is one of the best things about it. However for those that struggle with social anxiety, the constant requirement to speak to people can be a source of dread.

It is natural to want to see your friends and family if you haven’t spent time with them in a while, but being understanding when they need time to themselves may well make your relationship stronger.

What’s more, those experiencing social anxiety might be reticent to excuse themselves from plans or games as they don’t want to seem like they don’t enjoy spending time with you. Let them know that if they want to go for a walk on their own or listen to music in their room for a little while, that is completely understandable - a bit of space is an underrated gift at Christmas.

All I want for Christmas is you (to listen to what I’m going through for just a sec please)

With all the adverts from mid-November, sparkly lights and festive music everywhere you’d be forgiven for thinking that Christmas is a six week holiday. However, it’s important to remember that Christmas is, comparatively, a very small part of the year.

If you’ve spent the rest of the year being bullied at work, or seeing a relationship breakdown, or dealing with the death of a loved one, you are still going to feel down for those few Christmas days, no matter how much cheer is in the air. What’s important is to let our loved ones know that that’s ok. They don’t have to try and be happy all the time as to not ruin the Christmas spirit. Giving them a chance to talk about what they’re dealing with may be what they need to enter the following year feeling more hopeful.

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Being mindful at Christmas isn’t about changing the way you act or denying yourself things you enjoy, but holding in mind and respecting that people need different things. By doing this we make Christmas more enjoyable for us all - Tiny Tim would be proud.

smiling woman in front of a blue wall

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