Christmas, Covid-19 and Mental Health

Christmas is just around the corner and some of us will be getting on with planning a few days with our ‘Christmas bubble’ households and looking forward to a long-awaited time to meet with loved ones again and to enjoy ourselves. We all know what we should be doing to protect ourselves and others from this dangerous virus when we are able to get together over Christmas, but this Christmas, perhaps more than any other, we mustn’t forget to look after our mental health and that of those we love – particularly after the stresses and challenges of the previous ten months.

To be able to get together at last will no doubt be a much-needed tonic for many – the chance to relax and enjoy each other’s company at least for a few days and of course still following the rules. That in itself will boost morale and mental well-being, but Christmas is going to look different this year, and it may not be what we would ideally like or be used to.

There are some who will not have or be able to join with another bubble household – or who this year simply choose not to celebrate with others in order to protect their own health and that of their loved ones preferring to wait until it is safer to get together. The last ten months have been a lonely time for many – and this will be felt even more acutely at Christmas time. It’s important to remember those who are alone, who are unable to meet with loved ones or who may have lost someone close to them this year.

Christmas can bring out long-standing tensions between family members as family relationships are placed under the strain of being together under one roof and sometimes alcohol-fueled festivities can cause tongues to loosen and inhibitions to drop – maybe more so when families are brought together after so many months apart.

Organising a Christmas celebration can be stressful even in ‘normal’ times. Trying to ensure everything is in place – from presents to the turkey to the tinsel on the tree – can be a logistical challenge at the best of times, as well as a financial strain. And this year of all years, there may be the added pressure felt to have everything absolutely perfect.

It is important to take the time to look out for how we and others are faring mentally this Christmas. What can you do to make this Christmas as mentally healthy as possible?

  • If you are spending Christmas away from loved ones, make the time and effort to keep in touch – digitally, in person at the garden gate, in the park – and concentrate on the thought that this situation is temporary and there will be other occasions soon when you can be with loved ones.
  • It’s particularly important to check on those who are on their own at Christmas and let them know you are thinking of them.
  • If you find yourself having to deal with family tensions and dynamics, take a break – even if it is just 10 minutes in the bathroom – gather your thoughts and try and relax before the situation gets the better of you and you say something you may later regret.
  • If you are the person organising the Christmas get together, pace yourself and don’t allow yourself to get too carried away. It’s a special day, but it is not worth stressing too much over, exhausting yourself or putting yourself into debt. This year in particular, it’s special enough to be able to get together and that is what people will appreciate and remember most.
  • And finally, if you have decided to put off your family get together to later in the year when the risk of infection has reduced and vaccinations are more widely available, take care of yourself – get some fresh air, take some exercise, treat yourself if you can to your favourite foods and use the time to relax and enjoy things you really like doing – be it watching Christmas telly, reading a good book, cooking or finishing that jigsaw – knowing that these strange times will soon pass and better and brighter times are ahead.
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