Why Christmas isn't easy for everyone and its impact on mental health
Christmas is a time we all expect to be at our merriest. With so many friends to see, families to reunite with, and parties to attend, the opportunities for fun are virtually everywhere. But it's not so for everyone. For some people, Christmas can be the most stressful time of the year, given the financial pressure and expectations to keep up with Christmas traditions. It can also trigger feelings of loss, grief, and trauma.
Here, we discuss some mental health challenges Christmas presents and how to cope.
The holiday season can be especially difficult for individuals who have experienced trauma or live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Intrusive thoughts and anxiety may be more common during this time of year.
Of course, Christmas is an annual event, meaning it can come with memories of the past, including a traumatic experience associated with a particular Christmas. It's like thinking, "so-and-so event occurred in so-and-so-year, right before Christmas."
If you've lost a loved one, spending Christmas without them can intensify feelings of grief as you remember all the beautiful Christmas memories you've shared. This isn't hard to imagine, especially given that we often try to reach out to friends and family during Christmas, and the absence of one person from such gatherings can be highlighted.
So how do you cope with such situations? Just try to be honest with yourself. If you intend to pretend to be happy at that Christmas party even while grieving inside, please don't. If you know going to a particular place will amplify your grief, it may be better to stay back. But you don't have to deal with it alone. Find someone you can confide in and tell them how you feel so you don't have to feel alone while grieving.
Pressure to drink excessively
For people who have experienced alcohol addiction and are on a path to recovery, Christmas can bring back intense pressure to indulge once more. Friends may persuade you to drink just a little to "let loose and have a good time." They might even take a dig at you if you don't.
But you have to consider that your mental health is more important than what anyone thinks of you. True friends will respect your decision and would even be happy that you've firmly resolved to abstain.
Pressure to binge eat
Another reason why Christmas is difficult for some people is because of the pressure to eat at random. People with binge eating disorders like to stick to a routine with food. But mouth-watering food trays are displayed on TV, social media, and at every turn you take. With friends and neighbors offering you sumptuous dishes almost every hour during the holidays, it can be hard to stick to your routine.
But if you have a binge eating disorder, Christmas is a time you want to be particularly cautious of. One of the best steps is to let your friends, neighbors, and visiting family know in advance. It can be embarrassing to tell them something like that, but it's also rude to turn down their offers without a valid reason.
You can fight the urge to binge eat by telling your guests to help themselves in the kitchen. Avoid laying a variety of mouth-watering food bare on the table, as the temptation can be too overwhelming to ignore.
Financial stress and anxiety are among the most common mental health challenges many people experience during Christmas. Some have to dig into their life savings just to live up to expectations. Christmas decorations and parties can be expensive, especially when one's finances haven't been great all year. We can worry that we wouldn't be able to afford the holiday we and our kids wanted. This can lead to anxiety.
One way to work around this is to create a budget you can stick to. While you shouldn't overspend on Christmas, it isn't best to not let go of your problems and enjoy the moment either. It's a time to de-stress and share love, which is beneficial to your mental health. So try to limit your spending and gifts and find other ways to share love, such as doing free activities together.
Depression and loneliness
The holiday season can cause feelings of depression and loneliness. Our isolation is heightened when we see others jubilating with their friends and families. This is arguably the most significant impact of Christmas on mental health.
For older adults with an empty nest, this is evident. People with depression may find themselves feeling uninterested in going out or being around people during Christmas. At one point, they may fall sad for being lonely. On the other end, they just want to be alone. It's tough. And there's the pressure to fake excitement for extended periods in the midst of other people.
If you're willing to do something even though you don't have family and friends around, you could explore some volunteering opportunities in your community. Doing something impactful for others can make you feel better about yourself. And if you're struggling to cope, mental health support is always available, even during Christmas. Reach out to one near you.