‘Tis the season to be mindful of your mental health

Christmas is meant to be a time of joy and happiness, but for some the festive season can be anything but jolly. The pressure to feel, and be seen, to be having a good time can be overwhelming. There are temptations to overindulge in food and alcohol, expectations to socialise with friends and family, pressure to post the perfect Christmas update on social media, and of course the financial strain on our bank balance.

Christmas can be overwhelming for anyone, but if you’re dealing with a mental health or emotional challenge, it can be even more of a struggle. With recent statistics showing that up to 1.7 million people in Hong Kong suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem, here are our top 3 tips for mental wellness during the holidays.

  1. Everything in moderation

The celebratory spirit of Christmas and New Year often means an increase in social drinking. Although the consumption of alcohol in moderation is supposed to make you feel relaxed, reaching for a drink won’t always have the effect you’re after. Excessive drinking can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and narrow our perception of a situation. When under the influence of alcohol, we’re more likely to hone in on something that could be interpreted as threatening and miss the other less threatening or neutral information. For example, we might focus on our partner talking to someone we’re jealous of, rather than notice all the other people they’ve also been chatting to that evening. It’s also worth remembering that drinking alcohol can have an effect on the quality of your sleep – yet another reason not to drink excessively.

There’s a tendency to over-indulge at Christmas due to the availability of food and for some, as a way of covering up difficult feelings. It’s hard to admit that at such an exciting time of year, we don’t actually feel that great, but talking about our feelings can improve our mood and make it easier to deal with the tough times. By avoiding over eating we in turn minimize feelings of guilt and disgust prompting the desire to lose weight in the New Year.

  1. Have realistic expectations

We put special significance on Christmas as a ‘time for family’. Spending time with loved ones can be incredibly therapeutic; however, friends and family can also trigger feelings of sadness, isolation and loneliness. Christmas can put additional pressure on already strained relationships. Being realistic about what you can expect from this time together will help avoid disappointments and arguments.

It has been said that, “holiday family gatherings can be ‘the ultimate mindfulness training ground’: if you can remain centred and calm in the middle of Christmas dinner, you can presumably do so anywhere”. Those of us heading back to childhood homes or reuniting with the people we spent our childhoods with, be prepared to regress. Old patterns of behaving die hard and these holiday homecomings tend to stir up complicated family dynamics. When you accept what cannot be changed, you can respond instead of react, to the chaos created by the people around you.

Allow yourself to take a ‘time out’ if you feel your stress levels rising.  This could be a walk, going out for a coffee or listening to music – whatever will help you to relax or unwind. Saying ‘no’ can be difficult if you feel pressured to join in with family parties, however setting limits is important for your own wellbeing.

  1. Take a break from social media

Everyone knows that social media can be the perfect catalyst for perpetuating feelings of low self-esteem and self-comparison, as it encourages us all to believe we should have a ‘perfect Christmas’. Facebook and Instagram puts immense pressure on us to have a ‘perfect holiday’ as our newsfeeds continually update us on the developments of other peoples’ “so-called perfect” lives. Remember, that most of us just share the ‘best bits’ of our lives on social media – as the saying goes, people are not who they post to be.

Social media encourages us to be almost constantly on our phones over Christmas and be absent from our surroundings. Some screen time is probably unavoidable but try and set aside the phone or computer whenever you get a chance and engage with the world around you, this is after all what the festive season is all about.

It’s important to remember that there are many support organizations who are still there for you over the holidays. Make sure to check in with your own support systems and reach out to the ones below if you need to.

The Samaritans                                    24 hour hotline                                    28960000

Caritas Family Support Centre             24 hour hotline                                    18288

Youth Outreach                                  24 hour hotline                                    90881023

*All services listed above are in English & Cantonese

Dr Sharmeen Shroff is Clinical Psychologist who works at Central Minds Ltd.

About The Author

Sharmeen Shroff

Dr Shroff has worked in the field of psychology for over 14 years in school settings, community mental health centers, medical clinics and hospitals (inpatient and outpatient units). She is one of the few clinical psychologists in Hong Kong that have been intensively trained to practice psychotherapy from a psychodynamic depth perspective.