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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. Or you may have found Christmas difficult in the past, and you're dreading it again this year.

You may also enjoy Christmas, but not be able to celebrate it how you'd like to. Or you might find some parts enjoyable, but other parts stressful.

This page covers some of the reasons that Christmas can feel tough:

You may 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.

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.
  • 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 it 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 or understand your mental health problem, or if you encounter racism.
  • Difficult relationships, such as 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.
  • Stigma and misconceptions about mental health from the people around you or in the media. See our page on stigma and misconceptions for more information.
  • Feeling overlooked if festivals and holidays you celebrate, such as Eid, Diwali 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.
  • Impact on sleep and your routine. See our pages on sleep problems for tips to improve your sleep.

“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.”

Loneliness

  • Not having people around us can feel more difficult at Christmas when there are lots of images of families and friends together.
  • Even if you have a lot of people around, you can still feel lonely. This might be because you feel you have to hide your feelings or be a different person around some people.
  • If you are a carer or have a mental health or physical health problem, you might also feel like you cannot join in with all the celebrations.
  • If you have to spend Christmas in a care home or hospital, this can also feel lonely. Particularly if others around you have been able to leave for Christmas or have people visit.

See our pages on loneliness for more information.

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

Money and practical worries

  • Not having enough money or being in debt. See our pages on money and mental health for information and tips which may help.
  • Coping with the timings of payments, benefits or wages over bank holidays.
  • 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.
  • Travelling, logistics and staying somewhere else being difficult to organise. This may feel stressful or disruptive.
  • Being a carer, such as needing to make considerations for the person you are caring for around your Christmas plans.

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.”

Access to support and services

“[My advice is to] take your time. Christmas can be a very busy time of year, if you need a break don't feel bad about taking one.”

Being in hospital

  • Different hospitals will do different things during Christmas for those who have to spend time in hospital. This can make it difficult to know what your Christmas will be like.
  • If Christmas is already a hard time for you, it might feel more difficult than usual if you need to spend it in hospital.
  • Visiting rules might be different at Christmas, depending on where you are. You might not want people to visit you. Or you may have people in your life who won't visit. This can be upsetting.
  • There may be fewer staff, or different staff to the ones you are used to. There may also be fewer people on your ward if some people have been able to go home for a short period of time.
  • Feeling you are missing out on your usual Christmas. You might feel this in particular if you have been sectioned or your discharge has been delayed.
  • If you are able to spend some time out of hospital and at home at Christmas, this might you might feel pressure to take part or overwhelmed by social contact.

Visit our treatment in hospital pages for more information.

I'd be lost without Mind

“Christmas is still really difficult because of all my memories of the time I spent in hospital. I get flashbacks to how things were.”

This information was published in October 2021. We will revise it in 2022.

References and bibliography available on request.

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