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Christmas and mental health

Explains how the period around Christmas and new year might affect your mental health. Gives tips on how to cope and suggestions for supporting someone else.

Why Christmas is a hard time

Christmas can be difficult for anyone, at any point in their life.

You might be struggling this year for the first time. This may be because things feel different to previous years, when you enjoyed Christmas. Or you may have found Christmas difficult in the past, and you're dreading it again this year.

There are lots of different reasons that you may find Christmas tough. This page covers some of those difficult experiences:

You may also be struggling with how the coronavirus pandemic might affect Christmas this year.

Our page on Christmas and coronavirus has information and tips which may help.

"I find it extremely lonely and isolating. It all seems to drag on for months as well."

People who aren't around

  • Estrangement – when you're not in contact with family members. Find support from the estrangement support charity Stand Alone.
  • Bereavement, whether that's recent or if some time has passed.
  • Fertility problems. Tommy's has lots of information about pregnancy and fertility.
  • Divorce and break-ups. Relationship charity Relate can provide help and support.
  • Isolation or loneliness, and other people's assumptions.
  • Health problems, for example if you or someone close to you is unwell, and this means you need to spend Christmas apart when you'd rather be together.

Christmas isn't the same without Ruth

"Although I was expecting it, it was like watching it all happen to someone else."

People or situations you want to avoid

  • Abuse and other trauma, whether is from the past or happening now. This may include seeing people who remind you of difficult or traumatic experiences.
  • People not accepting you, for example if family members don't accept your LGBTIQ+ identity.
  • Difficult relationships, for example with a partner, family member or co-worker. Relate has support and advice which may help.
  • Dealing with other people's expectations or decisions, including family norms or cultural expectations.
  • Demands on your time, including pressure to socialise or see people, whether it's online or in person.
  • Difficulty setting boundaries and having less privacy. For example, having to spend time or share your plans with other people.
  • Listening and empathy, including feeling pressure to be available for others.
  • Worrying about gifts, such as what you buy, who you buy for and how they'll be received.

"I usually have to visit family but as I have autism I find this difficult as it breaks my normal routines and my coping strategies are not accessible. I try and keep the visits as short as possible and then usually come home and sleep."

Society and the outside world

  • Pressure to enjoy yourself and look happy.
  • Media, adverts and representations of Christmas being upsetting and hard to avoid, and feeling different to your experience of Christmas.
  • Feeling overlooked if festivals and holidays you celebrate, such as Eid, Diwali, Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, aren't given the same attention or recognition as Christmas.
  • Public spaces with more noise, lights, smells and long queues than usual, which can be overwhelming.
  • Food and alcohol. This may include pressure to eat and drink things you don't want to, or can't. Or comments about food, diet or lifestyle. See our pages on eating problems and recreational drugs, alcohol and mental health for information which may help.
  • Travelling, logistics and staying somewhere else can all be difficult to organise, stressful or disruptive. This may include uncertainty about what you can do, where you might be allowed to travel, or who you can spend time with.
  • Impact on sleep and your routine.

"Feeling 'other' in conversations about how people had happy holiday seasons can really take a toll, and it can make you nervously anticipate or resent upcoming holidays where a happy nuclear family is idolised in the media."

Money and practical worries

  • Not having enough money or being in debt. See our pages on money and mental health or visit the Money Advice Service website for information which may help.
  • Coping with the timings of payments, benefits or wages.
  • Things being closed when you need them. For example, food banks and other support services might be able to help ahead of Christmas, but are often closed on public holidays. You can search for food banks in your area on the Trussell Trust website.
  • Extra costs and pressure to spend money, for example on presents, outfits or food.
  • Existing problems with managing money and your mental health, which might feel more difficult at Christmas.
  • Childcare, such as having to work when children are at home and being unable to spend time with them. Or worrying about the cost of Christmas for your family.
  • Finding enough time to do everything to prepare for Christmas.

My Christmas with BPD

"It's a fight that I'll win, but it's a tough fight all the same."

Access to support and services

  • It can be harder to find out quickly what service to use, because opening hours change.
  • GP surgeries tend to close over Christmas, and appointments are harder to book. For medical help, you can contact NHS 111 in England or NHS 111 in Wales.
  • Therapists usually don't work over the festive period. This may include if you have online or telephone appointments.
  • Some services may not open or may run a reduced service, for example crisis teams and some helplines.
  • Pharmacies close and it can be harder to get medication. The NHS has information on getting out-of-hours medication and emergency prescriptions.

Coping with depression and anxiety at Christmas

"I'd go for the meal to be polite and then escape as quickly as I could from the packed pub or restaurant."

This information was published in December 2020. We will revise it in 2021.

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