The Department of Health is providing ‘top tips’ designed to help the public maintain their mental health and wellbeing during the festive period – whether its people finding themselves stressed out, or those feeling lonely and isolated.
Julie Bennion, Specialist in Mental Health Promotion, said: “For most of us, Christmas is a really enjoyable time, with celebrations and spending time with friends and family. However given the pressures involved with modern day Christmas celebrations, our mood can be impacted on dramatically at this time of year – often at very different ends of the spectrum.
“On the one hand, the festive period can be a very stressful and challenging time, and understandably some people can find it difficult to cope. The extra pressures of worrying about preparations, finances, relationships with family and friends when added to everyday worries, can become overwhelming. Many people can experience symptoms of anxiety and stress such as irritability and problems sleeping, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and feelings of panic.”
“On the other hand – almost the complete reverse – some people can find themselves feeling extremely lonely and isolated during the festive period, heightened when seeing the intense preparations of others going on around them.”
One in four people will experience a mental health problem during their lifetime, and mental health issues related to stress, anxiety and depression may become intensified over the festive period. Recent research carried out by YouGov for the UK’s Mental Health Foundation revealed that, in general day to day living, 59% of British adults said they found life was more stressful than five years ago.
Tips on avoiding stress and anxiety at Christmas include:
- Plan ahead and be realistic about what can be achieved and what is affordable
- Share the work – delegate jobs amongst family or friends who are celebrating Christmas with you
- Drink alcohol sensibly – don’t drink to excess and remember that alcohol affects mood
- Eat sensibly
- Be active – get plenty of fresh air and exercise
- Make time to stay in touch with friends and family – especially any who may be lonely or vulnerable
- Take time to relax – make sure you have a break
- Do good – help others – why not volunteer, or look out for vulnerable neighbours?
- Get enough sleep.
The Mental Health Foundation has information on dealing with stress at Christmas, which can be found here, along with a free e-booklet on dealing with stress in general, which can be downloaded here.
Tackling loneliness is a very different issue to stress and anxiety, but the sense of isolation loneliness brings can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing. In the minds of many people, loneliness is a problem experienced mainly by older people, but it can and does affect people at any stage of their lives with Age UK estimating that as many as 800,000 people in England could be classed as ‘chronically lonely’.
Tips on avoiding and tackling loneliness at Christmas include:
- Keep busy – make the extra effort to keep in touch with neighbours, friends and family. If you’re feeling lonely think about how you can extend your social circle with new activities, or if you’re vulnerable try to find out how the Department of Social Care or charities might be able to assist you
- Be a volunteer – many organisations need help over Christmas and it’s a great way to meet people
- Get your heart pumping – even gentle physical exercise is proven to enhance mood and it gets you out of the house, increasing the opportunity for social interaction
- Eat and drink sensibly
- Don’t suffer alone – find a listening ear, whether it’s a friend, neighbour, relative or, if you feel loneliness is having a serious impact on your mental health, speak to a GP or the Department of Social Care. There are also organisations such as The Samaritans and The Silver Line for older people, which are available 24 hours a day via telephone.
The UK mental health charity Mind has information available on how to tackle loneliness which is available online.
Loneliness amongst older people is widely recognised as a growing problem. Age UK estimates that 450,000 over 65s will spend Christmas Day alone this year. As well as the steps individuals themselves can take to tackle a sense of loneliness, it’s an important time of year for a community spirit, checking on neighbours, friends and relatives who may not get to speak to, or see people very often.
Further information on loneliness is available from the Campaign to End Loneliness, along with advice for dealing with living alone as you get older from Independent Age.
Julie added: “Taking those first steps to address a problem can be the most difficult. It’s important we remember that we can all improve our mental health and wellbeing – no matter our age – by taking simple steps or by making small changes to our lifestyles. I hope that by making this information available we can encourage people to look after their mental health and wellbeing at a time of year that for many can be a mix of intense and differing emotions.”
Support, advice or a listening ear is available from:
- The Samaritans – 663399 or 0845 790 9090 – a safe 24 hour helpline for any sort of worries or problems
- ChildLine – 0800 1111 – the free, 24 hour, confidential helpline for children
- The Sliver Line – 0800 4 70 80 90 – the free, 24 hour, confidential helpline for older people.