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Christmas and mental health

Learn how Christmas might affect your mental health. Find tips on how to cope and ways to support someone else.

Supporting others at Christmas

This page has tips for supporting someone else who finds things difficult at Christmas.

There are lots of reasons that someone in your life might find Christmas difficult. They might worry that they're a burden, or feel like they can't participate. Or they might have mental health problems that make some parts of Christmas more difficult. 

This page has tips to help you support someone who finds Christmas hard:

You can also visit our pages on helping someone else to find guidance on supporting someone with a mental health problem.

Things that can help

  • Understand that Christmas means something different to other people, and may bring up very different feelings. You might feel like you're sharing a celebration, but they might not feel the same way.
  • Let them know you understand Christmas can be difficult, and that you're there for them.
  • Tell them they're not alone. Reassure them that it's common to find things hard at this time of year.
  • Listen to what they say, and accept their feelings.
  • Ask them if there are certain things about Christmas that are difficult for them. And ask what they think might help. For example, it could be helping them plan how to deal with difficult conversations. You could also support them if they want to avoid certain situations, such as religious celebrations or visiting family.
  • Try to make Christmas more inclusive. For example, if someone has caring responsibilities at Christmas, try to arrange activities around their schedule so they can join in.
  • Think carefully about gifts. Some presents may not be appropriate for everyone, such as food or alcohol-related gifts. Or if someone you know has problems with hoarding, it may be unhelpful to give them new items as Christmas gifts. If you want to give them something you could think of alternatives, like going out to do something together.
  • Remember they aren't trying to spoil Christmas. No one chooses to find things hard.
  • Let people know you're thinking of them. If someone you know is struggling or feeling lonely at Christmas, it might mean a lot to them to hear from you. You could give them a call, send a card or pop by to see them.
  • Look after yourself. Supporting someone else can be difficult. For example, you might feel sad or conflicted. It might help to talk to someone you trust about how this is affecting you. Our pages on coping when supporting someone else have lots more tips.

The expectation to be happy over Christmas can feel like a huge burden following you around. You might feel forced to be cheery and smiley but in reality you are feeling like the weather – dark and grey.

Things to avoid

  • Avoid making assumptions about why Christmas is difficult for them. There are lots of reasons that someone might find Christmas hard.
  • It can help to talk to someone about how they're feeling. But try not to ask intrusive questions, or make them feel like they have to explain themselves. You might want to know more, but you can support them without knowing their reasons. It could help to tell them you understand this and that they can share as much as they're comfortable to.
  • Don't force them to cheer up. For example, try to avoid saying things like "but Christmas is supposed to be a happy time" or "you could enjoy yourself if you tried." You could also avoid saying things like "everyone else is enjoying themselves" or "there are people who have it worse." Your intentions might be good, but these often aren't helpful things to hear.
  • Try not to take it personally if they don't join in. It may feel disappointing, but it doesn't mean they don't care about you. Some mental health problems might make it harder to cope with social events or parties. For example, if they experience anxiety or panic attacks. You could let them know that you understand if they need to take some time away from socialising. And try not to put pressure on them to join in.
  • Don't make assumptions about what they can afford. Christmas can be a stressful time for managing money. There may be more accessible ways you can arrange your Christmas for everyone, such as setting a spending limit for gifts. Money Helper has more information on managing money at Christmas.
  • Try not to pressure them to eat or drink more than they're comfortable with. And avoid making comments, even nice ones, about anyone's appearances or eating habits. Christmas meals or food traditions can be stressful, particularly for those of us who experience eating problems.

I would like Christmas to be a time of giving, care, love and attention, to really listen to someone who needs to be heard. To empathise and try to understand that we are unique and our basic needs are met through understanding, showing compassion for someone who is hurting.

This information was published in November 2023. We will revise it in 2024.

References and bibliography available on request.

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