How to cope with festive distress

For some people, the festive season can be an uplifting time and one to look forward to, but for others, it triggers a lot of emotional distress – which can lead to a set back for people who are struggling with depression, anxiety or other psychological problems.

Why does this happen?

There are many things that can trigger emotional distress:

  • People often feel an increased sense of loneliness, as Christmas is considered a time to surround yourself with loved ones and close relatives when this is not always the case.
  • Family stress is often exacerbated as people spend a lot of time together.
  • SAD symptoms may also play a factor, as these festivities tend to take place in the heart of winter, SAD reduces peoples mental resources that are needed to prepare for and to face the celebrations.
  • Inflated expectations of the “perfect Christmas” and significant financial pressures are commonplace and add to the stress that already exists.
  • The festive season can also be difficult for people who have lost loved ones or have had difficult experiences at this time, bringing back painful memories.

How do people cope?

A lot of people try to keep their head down and get through it as best they can. Others opt out altogether, staying at home or even going away. But some people are left feeling overwhelmed and unhappy. So what can you do to help yourself if the festive season is a time you are dreading rather than looking forward to?

  • Keep it healthy: Whilst Christmas and New Year is a time where healthy lifestyles take a back seat, what your body really needs during times of stress is routine, healthy eating and exercise. This will help us cope with any psychological onslaught, even when our instinct is to reach for the drink and comfort food when we are feeling down or anxious. So in the build-up to Christmas, eat regular meals, don’t snack, drink plenty of water and get into an exercise routine. You may even want to take a multivitamin to reduce your chances of catching a cold or virus which will have an impact on your psychological well-being.
  • Take time out: Time to relax and focus on yourself is vital to recharge batteries so you can cope with any anxiety, distress or upset that may come your way during the festive period. If you can build a little time out into your daily routine, it will benefit your overall stress levels and improve your mood.
  • Don’t do it on your own: If you are still struggling, despite doing everything you can, reach out and seek help. This can be people close to you who you can ask for help, or professional sources. Go to your GP and see what local community resources are available or charity based organisations that offer free guidance. Not only will this help you with the current festive fall-out, but you may also be able to make in-roads into making changes for the new year.
  • Maybe this year things will be different: Think about what triggers or exacerbates your mood around Christmas time. Maybe this year you will be able to improve your reaction to the festive season. Monitor how you feel, what are you thinking and what is happening around you that changes your mood or stress levels. Monitoring these things is the first step towards change as it increases your understanding of who you are and how you react.
  • Do your own thing: Develop your own Christmas celebrations, or even non-celebrations, if you are trying to break away from past anxiety. Go on holiday, arrange to see friends instead of family, or donate your time to charitable organisations who need help during the festive season. You can do anything!

My Possible Self is a clinically-backed mental health app that is designed to help people tackle early symptoms of stress, anxiety, and low mood. Download the app or sign up online, and try our FREE ‘Managing Fear and Anxiety’ module today!

Sam Weston

Social media manager, content writer and an all-around good guy - I set a world record once upon a time!