Dr Ardyn Ross shares her top tips for looking after your mental health at Christmas

12th December 2022

Whilst Christmas is an exciting and happy time for many of us it can also be a time of year that adds extra pressure and can affect our mental health in lots of different ways.

The festive period can disrupt our routines and we often forget to look after our own wellbeing. It can also trigger unhappy thoughts of people who are missing from our lives or of previous difficult times. As a result, many of us are left feeling overwhelmed, sad or perhaps burned out, which is very stressful.

Taking time to look after your physical health will help your mental health too.

My top tips are:

  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. Try to keep yourself hydrated – have a soft drink or glass of water in between rounds. Avoid drinking on an empty stomach, pace yourself and avoid binge drinking. Keep up with your vitamins and minerals as they tend to leave our bodies very quickly.
  • Balance food and activity. Holidays give us a license to indulge ourselves; let’s face it, many of us love to sample all of those festive treats. However, we also know it’s important to balance that out – especially as feeling bloated can leave us feeling tired and lethargic. Weight gain that makes you unhappy can be difficult to shift. So why not plan some family or “me time” brisk winter walks around the festive period or fun activities that don’t involve eating?
  • Make sure you get enough sleep. Without rest and sleep, we can become ill. It’s easy to deprioritise rest when you have so much to get through. Alcohol can also interfere with our sleep and make us sluggish. Lack of sleep and rest leaves us tired, irritable, and unable to function properly.

Now that we have talked about how to look after yourself from a physical perspective, let’s look at the emotional side.

Two of the five strands of wellbeing are ‘Connecting’ and ‘Giving’. Giving your time and care can make a really big difference to your mental health. Connect with your family, friends, or your local community. Get involved in local charities they all need additional support over the festive period.

If you like to sing why not participate in a local community choir –or just go carol singing and fundraise with family and friends?

If you have children in the family, channel your inner child and play with them. Board games are cheap and a fun way to spend time with the family. Sharing the traditions, you enjoyed as a child such as baking gingerbread houses, making Christmas cards, wreaths, or your own cranberry sauce. How about starting new traditions such as Christmas story telling or getting your teens to teach you a new tic tock dance.  Exploring the countryside in wellies or walking along a wintery beach spotting seals can be great fun.

If you can afford it why not donate gifts or your time to a food bank? Avoid loneliness and connect with people through positive activities. Have a look at volunteering opportunities with Voluntary Norfolk over the festive period www.voluntarynorfolk.org.uk

A small act of kindness will positively impact your mental health.

With the cost-of-living crisis and mounting fuel bills affecting us, you’re not alone if you’re feeling the strain. Worries about money, loneliness, and feeling overwhelmed are just some of the emotions that Christmas can trigger in many of us. Be aware of those triggers and plan how to protect yourself.

Avoid getting into debt just to make one day perfect. Just spending time together is often enough. Thoughtful gifts such as letters or poems to each other, handmade knits or pictures can be more meaningful.

Manage people’s expectations and your own in terms of buying presents – do you need to buy a present for everyone? A great idea is to limit present giving to children only, so they get the magic of Christmas and adults avoid the pressure to give and receive.

If you’re spending time alone why not make a self-care box. A scented candle, some special photographs, a face mask, or your favourite record can lift your mood.

If you’re worried about affording food visit the Trussell Trust website www.trusselltrust.org/ to find a food bank near you

Struggling with debt? then please talk to the Money Support Service at Norfolk County Council, call 01603 223392 (option 4) or email: MSS@norfolk.gov.uk

If Christmas is a hard time for you, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There is support available.

The NHS Wellbeing Service is offering a range of talking therapies and social activities by telephone, video call, messaging, and webinar for anyone experiencing low mood, depression, or stress. You can self-refer by visiting www.wellbeingnands.co.uk or calling 0300 123 1503.

Or you could visit a Wellbeing Hub. With a focus on wellness, not illness, you’ll always find a warm welcome and supportive staff to offer help, advice, or a listening ear.

The REST Wellbeing Hubs in Aylsham, Norwich, and Thetford are operated by Mind Norfolk and Waveney. Visit their website for details of other services they provide. www.norfolkandwaveneymind.org.uk

The STEAM House Café Wellbeing Hubs in Gorleston and King’s Lynn are operated by Access Community Trust. Visit their website for details of other services they provide. www.accessct.org

Qwell.io also provides online anonymous digital support from trusted counsellors.

If you start to feel unsafe, or distressed, you can call the urgent mental health helpline. Call 111 and select the mental health option. The team is available seven days a week through the festive period.

Dr Ardyn Ross, GP and Clinical Mental Health Lead for NHS Norfolk and Waveney