“TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY”.
So dictates the famous Christmas carol but for some people, the festive period is anything but jolly – it can be overwhelming, stressful, tiresome and can have a big impact on mental health.
Whether you’ve experienced mental illness before or not, Christmas can be a hard time of year which may trigger feelings of depression or bouts of anxiety. Especially as a student when you may feel a large strain on your finances, often spend the holidays away from friends and family and also have the pressure of the exam period to deal with.
Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind, says: “Coping with a mental health problem can be difficult at any time of year but at Christmas there are special demands that can leave you feeling worse than usual. Our research shows that people are struggling due to the stress, financial impact and pressure to join in when everyone around you seems to be having fun.”
However, if you are one of the people who can relate to the points above, or face other issues around the Christmas period, it’s important to remember you are not alone.
One in four people will suffer from mental ill-health at some point in their lives (this applies to the student community too) and last year, Mind – the mental health charity – reported that their research showed more than a third (36 per cent) of people with mental health problems have self-harmed to cope with the pressure of Christmas.
So with the pressures of Christmas, how can you still look after your mental wellbeing?
Here’s a few tips that might help minimise the stress that accompanies the holidays. However, if you are seriously worried about your mental health, speak to someone as soon as possible – all of the universities across Glasgow and Edinburgh have student support services who will be able to offer help and advice or alternatively make an appointment with your GP or contact a dedicated mental health charity, such as Mind.
On cold, dark mornings it’s always more difficult to get out of bed and hit the gym but regular physical activity, particularly if performed outdoors, releases endorphins (the ‘feel-good’ chemicals) and is associated with boosting self-confidence and lowering rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups.
Mind launched the Get Set To Go website to help people find the right physical activity for them and to encourage more people to be active.
Alternatively, check out the gym at your local university / college and enquire about the different sports clubs in your university / college too which could help you get active and meet new friends.
Evidence suggests that volunteering not only benefits the organisation being supported but it can also have a positive effect on the volunteer’s health.
A 2014 report by the Citizens Advice Bureau found that four in five people believe volunteering has had a positive effect on their health and that volunteering can boost self-esteem, employability and health – especially mental health.
The report also noted that three-quarters of individuals identified with mental health issues said that “volunteering helped them feel more able to manage their condition”.
The Mind website also recommends volunteering and notes that “doing something for someone else, such as helping a friend or relative with their chores or volunteering for a charity, has been shown to have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. It can help you improve your self-confidence and meet new people, and makes you feel that you are making a positive contribution to your community.”
There are hundreds of volunteering opportunities listed on the Volunteer Scotland website and you can filter all the different roles to find something suitable for you. Aside from benefiting your health and wellbeing, volunteering will also allow you to learn new skills, meet other people and make a difference.
Stick To Your Budget
Plan, plan, plan and plan some more. If you have a strict budget in place (and even an extra £50 or so to deal with emergencies) you’ll be able to ease some of the financial stress at Christmas, which should help you enter the New Year in a better position, instead of spending the first month of the year in debt.
If you have a large family, suggest a Secret Santa and set a budget of £40-50, this way you’ll all get a decent gift and appreciate not having to fork out for every family member.
Also, set some limits on your nights out. At this time of year, everyone always wants to arrange “a wee catch up” and it can become very expensive. Decide which nights are most important to you, people will understand if you want to wait until the New Year to meet and have a few nights sober, you’ll save a fortune and remember alcohol is a depressive and drinking too much can make you feel irritable, aggressive and low.
Relax, Sleep And Be Your Own Priority
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with all the festivities, be honest with those around you and acknowledge that you’re not feeling up to getting involved with everything.
It’s also important to remember that when you do spend more time going out than usual over the festive period, your sleep pattern can become disrupted and studies suggest not having enough sleep can have an impact on your mental health, so try to stick to going to bed at roughly the same time each night.
Don’t be afraid to cancel plans if you’re not feeling in the right kind of mindset, your friends and family will understand and sometimes it’s just really important to put yourself first.