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Approved by Dr Adil Jawad MBBS, DPM, FRCPsych — Clinical Lead for MindClinix

Christmas can be a lonely and difficult time if you’re struggling with your mental health. It’s a time when the world is programmed to be joyful. But if you’re battling with clinical depression, shifting yourself into a happy mindset isn’t as simple as flicking on the fairy lights. 

Traditionally a time of coming together with family, Christmas 2021 will at least present a positive shift from the disappointment and isolation many people suffered last year, due to COVID restrictions. 

This year, different generations will be able to come together over the festive period and experience the positivity of companionship and communication with loved ones. If you’re fortunate enough to have family, December’s celebrations present a real opportunity for your mental health to receive a positive and uplifting boost. 

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your precious festive family time.

 

1. Engage in play with the kids. 

Being active is a great way to fight off the effects of depression. Children keep you on your toes, their curiosity is endless. So, engage with them, say ‘yes’ when they ask you to come outside to play hide and seek. Bounce on the trampoline! 

And have lots of games at the ready to fire up their competitive edge. Turning your attention to Gin Rummy or the Monopoly board will provide a positive and healthy distraction from being wrapped up in your own thoughts.

 

2. Go for walks.

We’ve discussed the benefits of taking exercise to your mental health. According to research, regular exercise can be as good for controlling depression as taking medication. So pull on your wellies, wrap up warm and take to the nearby fields, streets or lanes. A good walk is fantastic for clearing the head, getting some fresh air into the lungs, and a perfect time to catch up with a family member, through some simple walking and talking.

 

3. Eat Healthily.

Christmas is all too often a time of over-indulgence. Eating too much can leave you feeling lethargic, uncomfortable and guilty. 

Being at home with family at Christmas creates an expectation of abundant food and drink. In most families, it’s part of our culture to provide generously for the returning clan. But this can often result in a sense of obligation to overeat. 

So see what can you do to eat healthily and stay in control of your diet: 

  • Take small portions. The less you put on your plate, the less you’ll eat. Think about using smaller plates. The size of our plates has increased over the years, along with portion sizes
  • Go veggie. If you’re in charge of the menu, how about exploring the wide range of vegetarian and vegan alternatives to the traditional roast turkey dinner?
  • Don’t go back for seconds. Enough is enough!
  • Eat slowly. By taking your time, you’ll feel fuller and won’t eat so much.
  • Walk it off. Taking exercise after you’ve eaten will feel so much better than sleeping it off in front of the Bond movie.

4. Take pleasure in giving.

Christmas is not all about receiving. Of course, there’s nothing better than the feeling of unwrapping that gift that you’ve always wanted, but research has shown that giving to others can improve your wellbeing and reduce levels of stress. Giving is good for you!

So take special time this year to plan what you’re going to give your friends and family. Avoid last-minute Christmas Eve panic buying, as you’ll almost inevitably end up spending too much on presents that they won’t really appreciate. That feeling of over-spending and under-thinking is not good for maintaining a positive mindset.

It’s much better to give yourself the mental space to consider what your relatives will really value. Show some love by choosing something personal, or making a gift yourself, like some fudge or chutney. The effort you put into crafting your own gifts is likely to be repaid in improved mental health.

 

5. Show gratitude and notice the small things.

In the same way that giving can be a helpful contributor to alleviating your depression, being grateful is good for your mental health too.

Research by positive psychologist, Martin Seligman, revealed that simply writing a letter to someone who hasn’t properly been thanked for their kindness increased the writer’s happiness levels.

Other surveys have found that showing gratitude can specifically benefit people struggling with poor mental health. Reducing negative thoughts, words and actions can have positive psychological effects. So, take time to express your gratitude to your family for their kindness, hospitality and gifts – and for being there and supporting you. 

And be grateful for the little things around you – the morning view from your window, a snowdrop, the beautifully decorated Christmas tree. No matter how hard life is for you, there should always be something you can be grateful for.

 

6. Take time to talk.

It’s all too easy to feel alone when you’re suffering from depression. The illness can cause you to avoid social situations, preferring the safety of your own space and thoughts. It’s tempting to shut out the rest of the world.

Instead, take the opportunity this Christmas to benefit from the company of others. Hopefully, you’ll be fortunate enough to be surrounded by family, or at least to be able to share some time with a relative you know, trust and feel comfortable with. 

Talking is a healthy way of airing your feelings. Being listened to can be a great comfort, and you should feel a lot better after a good chinwag! You don’t have to vent your innermost problems and issues. Just taking the chance to open up and discuss subjects of interest with another person can be a real tonic, and a refreshing change from the silence and introspection you may have been experiencing.

It’s good to talk!

If you think you may be depressed please do get in touch with us. There’s lots of support available. Or you can easily test your depression with our simple test kit.

Written by Al Brunker.
November 2021.

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