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When it comes to mental health, Ellina Webb looks at the importance of taking a break over Christmas

A wise person once said “you are not a renewable resource”, which is why rest and wellbeing are such important processes for us all to undertake in order not to burn out. For me, the perfect time to do this is Christmas; its down time for most businesses, pretty much everyone is out of the office and you can get away with spending at least a week in your pyjamas because heck ITS CHRISTMAS!

But on a more serious note, resting and re-energising over the Christmas break is crucial to your mental health, even if you only manage to secure one day off.

For many people, mental health can worsen over the festival period, mainly due to things such as expectations, how we should be feeling, stress and loneliness. A friend of mine lost her father around Christmas almost 10 years ago and each Christmas thereafter has triggered a deep feeling of sadness and grief; which is actually more common than she realised before she spoke out to those around her and online.

Christmas can be tough, no matter what your age or your situation, it can even be triggering when it comes to gambling or comfort eating, and while talking to close friends and family will be far more useful than reading this article, here are some suggestions that I hope can help in the meantime.

There are a multitude of different Christmas experiences, some good, some bad, but I’m pretty sure none of them match the movies!

Ellina Webb Ellina Webb Marketing Services Manager

Allow yourself to think of Christmas as a rest

For a lot of people, Christmas is the busiest time for the year, especially if you had kids; Parties, plays, dinners and the dreaded panto! What Christmas break should really be however, is a chance to have rest, at least from work (or school).

Winding down from work and ensuring you’re ready to mentally check out from the day job is crucial and now is the time to start. What can you really have finished by the time you head off onto annual leave?

Setting realistic deadlines and setting realistic expectations with your staff or your manager (or yourself!) will help you get your ducks in a row and feel organised. It also means over the break you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed with a back breaking workload. You should also look to block out in your diary the first few days that you’re back so that you can catch up with your to-do list, emails, etc at a time and pace that doesn’t overwhelm you.

This means you can have the head space to ease your way back into the New Year and you can prioritise the key tasks that lay ahead.

But back to enjoying your break… the most important thing is to allow yourself to think of Christmas as a rest and as a time to enjoy yourself, however that might be. Sit around in your pyjamas, party each and every night away (if you really find that relaxing!) or head off to some luxury resort in Mexico.

For my mental health I ensure I plan both my rest days and my busy days so I have things to look forward to but I don’t overwhelm myself with a busy schedule. I also ensure I don’t fall into the trap of FOMO (fear of missing out) by taking time away from social media which can almost ruin my Christmas if I’m having a bad day. The detrimental impact of social media around the holiday season is a topic that more and more people (and the media) are discussing “Those of us with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may feel even more pressure to have a ‘perfect holiday’ as our feeds continually update us on the developments of other peoples’ lives.” – Anxiety UK.

Balance social with self-care

So the reason I plan my Christmas break into busy days and rest days is to balance social with self-care. Over Christmas the pendulum can easy tip onto one side of the scale, leaving you either burnt out or bored. Of course your friends and family will want to catch up, exchange gifts and head to the pub for festive drinks, just make sure you factor in (and prioritise) some days to lounge at home or spend time alone.

Go for a walk, watch a film, and get stuck into your favourite hobby.

One of the main problems that can also affect the mental health of many of us over the Christmas period is SAD – seasonal affective disorder. Also known as winter depression, the symptoms include persistent low mood, irritability, feelings of despair and lack of energy. One of the easiest ways to tackle this is to try and get as much natural light as possible and to exercise regularly. Going for a daytime walk for example is a great way to ease the unwelcome feeling and this can be undertaken as either a social or a solitary activity.

Whilst we're talking about balance, Christmas is also a time to moderate what you are eating and drinking because when it comes back to that pendulum swinging, it can be very easy to overindulge. I don't know about you, but I can easily devour a box of Ferrero Rochers in a 24 hour period!

Christmas is the number one time for people to overindulge which can have a noticeable effect on mental health. It’s easily done and it’s hard to control, just make sure you’re not thoughtlessly over consuming and be mindful of what you’re doing.

Be realistic with your vision of Christmas

If I think of all the Christmas films I have ever watched over the festive period (and I love Christmas films!) I can’t think of one that doesn’t have a happy ending! The perfect couple, the most loving family or just the general warm fuzzy feeling that they ignite will develop a perception of how Christmas should be and how it should feel.

Even social media taunts us with pictures of stunning light displays, outrageously expensive gift sets and of course sickeningly happy friends and couples. According to this article on The Independent, millennials feel the pressure of Christmas because the media creates the perfect vision of family Christmas.

We all know that social media is the “high-light reel” of someone’s life, but we all need to be mindful of how our posts could make another person feel. We also need to be mindful of our own visions of Christmas (again this is easily said than done). 230,000 older people will be on their own at least one day over Christmas, almost a million older people feel lonelier at Christmas and one in ten people aged between 25 and 34 have no one to spend Christmas with.

There are a multitude of different Christmas experiences, some good, some bad, but I’m pretty sure none of them match the movies!

Seek enjoyment in the little things

There is pressure in the having the perfect Christmas, in fact one in ten people struggle to cope with the pressure of having the “perfect Christmas”, but everyone’s perception of perfection is different and the little things can have the biggest impact; although it’s easier said than done. The perfect hot chocolate (just how you like it), the perfect comfy spot on the sofa and the perfectly cold beer; it may seem simple and silly but it all adds up.

As I mentioned before though, just make sure the little things don’t get out of the control and snowball into one big thing. Betting for example starts as a small thing but can get swiftly worse the more you get carried away. For many, Christmas is the trigger when it comes to overdoing it with gambling and that’s usually because it becomes the method to escape the Christmas stress and the quest for perfection.

Ellina Webb is Marketing Services Manager