12 ways to look after your mental health at Christmas

For many people the Christmas season can be a time of joy and a great opportunity to spend time with loved ones. For others, it can also be a stressful or lonely period. There is the expectation to be happy and carefree, to juggle responsibilities, and cope with feelings of depression and anxiety

There can be pressure to socialise with friends and family, temptation to overindulge in food and alcohol and then there is the financial strain that gifts and celebrations can put on our bank balance.

Here are some ideas to help you navigate what can sometimes be a festive season:

  1. Plan your time: Schedule exactly what you want to do including Christmas Day. Include some activity, such as exercise, going for a walk or spending some time outside. Balance your social commitments with self-care.
  2. Self-care: Take a break – having time out helps to prevent stress and maintain energy levels throughout the day. Self-compassion is also good for your mental health.
  3. Make a Christmas playlist: Studies show that music releases dopamine (the feel-good chemicals) in our brain.
  4. Avoid making comparisons: It’s easy to make unhealthy comparisons with what others are buying or doing. Limit your exposure to social media and TV advertising.
  5. Let go of unrealistic expectations: We all have our own version of what Christmas should be – this can mean living up to certain expectations that can be too much to take on.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: If you’re feeling overwhelmed, ask a friend or loved one to help with some of your responsibilities – this is a sign of strength.
  7. Connect with others: Spend time with family and friends – close and positive relationships help us to feel like we have a sense of belonging.
  8. Help your local community: Get involved by volunteering or donating gifts or food – this can provide a sense of purpose and connection with others.
  9. Remember we are all very different: Thinking of Christmas can elicit feelings of happiness or joy, but for some it may evoke feelings of loss or overwhelm. Do what you can to extend understanding and empathy to those who are struggling – we are all humans in need of connection.
  10. Moderate alcohol use: While alcohol can initially make us feel more relaxed, remember it’s a depressant and too much can make us feel irritable and low.
  11. Try to eat healthily: Over-indulging over Christmas is normal but try to keep your diet balanced (fruit and veg) so you can avoid energy lows that can reduce your mood.
  12. Sleep: Over the holiday period we often stay up later than usual and alcohol reduces the quality of our sleep. Try to limit the number of late nights and keep to your sleep routine as much as possible.

Need more support? Samaritans 116 123 (24 hours a day, free and calls to this number do not show up on phone bills)

4 Myths about CBT

MYTH 1:  The ultimate goal of CBT is to shift negative thoughts to positive ones.

CBT does focus on challenging negative thinking patterns and for this reason many people believe  clients are simply invited to think positively about their problems. CBT actually encourages people to take a realistic look at their lives and explore more flexible, helpful ways of thinking. If a client has negative thoughts about a situation, they may well be right. Their job may  be very difficult or they may have a challenging health condition. CBT helps people identify, accept and embrace both pleasant and unpleasant thoughts and feelings and try to find alternative, more helpful ways of coping with life’s demands.

MYTH 2: CBT isn’t interested in deeper causes. It’s all “surface stuff.”

A common misconception about CBT is that it isn’t interested in deeper rooted problems. However, while many clients will improve by working solely with how they think about current events, CBT therapists will often work directly with client’s long term negative beliefs (rather than just their present negative automatic thoughts) and part of this inevitably involves childhood historical events in order to understand where these beliefs have come form. 

MYTH 3: CBT is a rigid, mechanical approach designed to simply retrain the brain.

While CBT has many tools in it’s tool box, people’s individuality is not ignored. In addition to the mainstream version of CBT originally developed by Ellis &Beck in the 1950′ and 60’s, CBT now includes a range of approaches developed to treat different types of psychological, emotional and behavioural problems. Some of these include:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
  • Compassion Focused Therapy
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy
  • Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
  • Schema Therapy

MYTH 4: CBT is ‘quick in, quick out’.

While some problems may be treated in as few as 6 sessions, CBT is not particularly ‘quick in quick out’. The outcome research for CBT typically assumes 12 to 15 sessions on a weekly of fortnightly basis. This can represent the better part of a years work and is typically longer than many forms of counselling.  Therefore, CBT is more accurately described as a medium term psychotherapeutic modality.

In summary CBT teaches clients how to convert personal insight into tangible improvements in dealing with distress, solving problems, improving relationships and changing behaviour. It is orientated to helping people to manage problems and live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.



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