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Buffering your mental health for the holidays

Buffering your mental health for the holidays

Maybe because I’ve been away and have arrived back at the start of December it’s more obvious to me this year, but honestly it feels like the second we turn the kitchen calendar over to whatever image adorns the last month of the year (for me it’s a long-haired black and tan dachshund) the energy changes and not necessarily for the better!  I usually save a blog about mental health at Christmas for my last one of the year, however I’ve been prompted to get ahead of it this year because I’ve been struck by how many people are already not feeling the festive spirit or who are actively dreading the holidays.

Here’s my list of festive red-flags for the holidays, with some tangible strategies for how we might do things differently:

  1. You’re just not feeling the ‘holiday vibe’

If you’ve had a really tough year with your mental health the fact that it’s December isn’t going to suddenly make that magically improve – in fact, for many people the pressure to feel festive can actually exacerbate existing mental health challenges.

Know that you don’t have to force yourself to be happy (remembering that this is just a fleeting emotion like all the others) and you are not the only one feeling this way.  As anti-Christmas as it may seem, it’s better to voice our feelings than to try numbing them with alcohol or other substances (which will only serve to make anxiety and depression worse in the long run).  Where possible hang out with other people who feel similarly to you, or who are empathetic to the multitude of very real feelings that come up at Christmas.  It’s definitely not a time for ‘faking it ‘till you make it’.

  1. You’re navigating loss, grief and trauma

If you’ve been navigating trauma or it’s your first holiday period following loss, it’s a totally reasonable response to have some additional anxiety and trepidation leading up to Christmas.  This might be made worse because your usual routine and support mechanisms might be on hold for the holiday period.

The week’s leading up to the Christmas break is the time to plan for alternative supports that might need to be used if things get tough and the usual go-to options are on leave – you might never have called a helpline for example, but to have that option as a back-up with the numbers on hand just in case you need them ready can be a really helpful way to help plan for any potential need.  Better to be prepared and not need to use the resources than the alternative.

You might also want to actively consider how you want to ‘celebrate’ Christmas and all the associated traditions this year.  Does it feel right for you to honour your usual approach or do you want to do something completely different?  Could you create a new tradition to honour or acknowledge loss or change?  As challenging as it might feel, I believe that trauma and loss almost give us a ‘get out of jail free’ card to change things up.

  1. You don’t want to do all the social stuff

The pressure to join in with the socialising, the catch-ups and the parties can be completely overwhelming, especially if you’re just not feeling the same level of joy as those around you.  Whether it’s because of where your mental health is at, interpersonal or family tension and trauma or simply because you’re a hardcore introvert and Christmas involves just way too many people, it’s super important to set reasonable and realistic expectations around how much you can tolerate. This also involves getting comfortable with saying ‘no’.  There really is very little difference catching up with people in December versus seeing them in January!  Or just not catching up at all. That’s also ok.  The important thing is to communicate your decisions to the people that need to know.

In addition to the emotional cost some of us experience with the socialising effort involved during the holiday season, there’s also the labour and financial costs to consider – for many of us (often the women in households, but not always) the efforts are massive across the board and again it’s important to manage expectations and boundaries.  Think about spaces to make it easier, cut corners or at the least make sure to create time and space for yourself in amongst the demands required.  All of our resources are precious whether financial, emotional, social or time it’s important to plan, budget, set expectations and be clear with our communication.  That includes when we might need to tap out and ask for help!


If you’d like to have some space to debrief how you’re feeling before the holidays, please get in touch with us as some members of our team have immediate availability: / / 03 9077 8194.