I wrote this piece originally for Young Minds, a charity that helps young people who struggle with their mental health. I’m reposting it here as I experience a stressful, busy, challenging run up to Christmas, in the hope that it may help if you are feeling similar.
The most wonderful time of the year
According to the classic song by Andy Williams, Christmas is the “hap-happiest season of all”. The song famously continues, “everyone telling you to be of good cheer, it’s the most wonderful time of the year”, but you’re not alone if Christmas is a really challenging season. Everyone from our closest friends to the national media tells us that Christmas is a time for excitement, joy and romance, but for many it can be a cripplingly lonely and confusing time.
A Christmas full of painful memories
Two and a half years ago, in the summer, my mum passed away – unsurprisingly I dreaded Christmas that year. Ever since, it’s been a time tinged with sadness despite my love for all the songs, decorations and parties. On the surface, I love Christmas, but it is traditionally a time to spend with family, and that is a constant reminder of the family member that is missing, and often causes flares up with my depression and anxiety.
Despite the bright lights of Christmas, it falls in the depths of winter, and I personally hate the dark, cold nights and frosty mornings. The world seems sad and closed off in the winter, and we can all feel a little less happy to be getting out of our warm beds in the morning. It’s normal to feel a little sadder in the winter months; the darkness, illness, loneliness, feeling cold, money worries – there are lots of things that can take the joy out of Christmas, however small they may seem.
What Christmas means to you
What I’ve come to learn is that Christmas doesn’t have to be as chaotic and colourful as the big brands tell us it has to be. Quiet Christmases with close family are just as beautiful and special as hugely extravagant Christmases with late-night parties and too many gifts. If the crowds make you anxious, you could do your shopping online. If you don’t want to spend time with your family on Christmas Day, perhaps consider volunteering with one of the food banks who will provide a special meal for the homeless on Christmas Day. Prioritise whatever it is that will help you relax and feel calm – whether that is the Boxing Day walk, a small Christmas tree with only a few lights, or watching Love Actually on repeat for ten days.
The essential thing with any mental illness is to allow yourself the time and space you need to cope – not to feel pressured into anything or guilty for any of your decisions. Make sure you’re honest with those around you, if you’re able to, as it will make it easier for them to know how to look after you best this Christmas. And most importantly, have a very merry Christmas, whatever that looks like to you. It’s a special time of the year, and there are no rules. Whether you’re Santa or the Grinch, be proud of everything you’ve achieved this year and treat yourself to a few days of rest and recuperation. I really hope you get everything you wish for this Christmas.