Lavanya Dua, GP, 29.11.2020
This Christmas season will be like no other in living memory. The current Lockdown 2.0, threats of further lockdowns, thoughts of a different type of Christmas, worries about our loved ones’ health all in the midst of a global pandemic can be overwhelming for each one of us with the consequent adverse effect on our mental health. It’s totally understandable to feel stressed, sad and anxious because your holiday plans will look different during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
However, here are some thoughts as to how you can minimise your stress this Christmas. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.
In the run up to Christmas, these five tips will not only reduce the stress you might be experiencing but will actually improve your mental health:
1. Be realistic: Firstly and most importantly, in the coming days, acknowledge your feelings if you are feeling disappointed that this Christmas will not be how you wished or hoped that it would be. It’s OK to take moments in the day to cry or express your feelings to someone.
When we do this, our brains release endorphins, which help us feel less stressed, as well as releasing feelings of hope. This Christmas doesn’t have to be just like last year. Tell yourself it’s ok, and that everyone is in the same boat, going through the same challenges.
2. Be creative: Being creative releases natural anti-depressants in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin. It reduces anxiety, boosts your mood, and improves your physical health.
Take time in the next week to plan some new, creative ways to celebrate the holiday season. Maybe, plan to watch a comedy movie or a family Christmas movie in your home at the same time as friends or family watching in their own homes. Then meet on Zoom afterwards to have a hot drink, a chat and a laugh about the funniest moments. Maybe come up with a quiz about that movie which you can all do together afterwards. Another idea is to organise a Murder Mystery on Zoom. Do a Google Search for ideas!
3. Be nostalgic. It’s ok to chat with family and friends about ‘the good old days’ as long as you do it with a thankful attitude.
Science has shown that nostalgic memory has benefits which include boosting one’s confidence, strengthening our social connections especially when we feel lonely, and improving self-esteem. It also helps us to find meaning in life when we feel powerless and disconnected - especially important in this Covid season. So why not spend time watching movies that you loved from years ago and watch them with folk in your social bubble. Then share those memories and feelings with the younger generation, so that young people can catch on and also experience the good feelings of nostalgia.
4. Be kind. First and foremost, be kind to yourself in this season. Take time often to do simple, mundane activities such as sipping your coffee whilst looking out of your window, attending to your house plants, planting some winter bulbs, doing a bit of decluttering. Such activities will have the effect of switching off your stress response (which could be on constant ‘on’ mode because of lockdown) and releasing important neurotransmitters which boost your mode and have a brain-healing effect.
Secondly, be kind to family and friends. Remind yourself that no one is perfect. Try and accept them as they are; set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others are getting distressed or upset. They are probably feeling the same effects of lockdown and Christmas stress, just like you.
5. Be thankful. Our minds have a tendency to focus only on the negatives, which has the effect of releasing stress chemicals.
Regularly expressing gratitude by intentionally thinking of things you are grateful for has been shown to lower stress and depression, as well as increasing a sense of happiness. This habit of regularly expressing thankfulness has the effect of releasing dopamine and serotonin, which is also what anti-depressants do, but without the side effects! A great idea is to create your own version of a ‘Gratitude Calendar’ or Diary which is situated right next to your Advent Calendar!
So, instead of allowing the current atmosphere of uncertainty and gloom to cause you to dread the Christmas season, why not take control of the coming days and weeks, and make this Christmas a time that exceeds all your expectations, and indeed becomes a time of great peace and joy.
And have a beautiful Christmas.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger please call 999.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts reach out to the Samaritans at:
or call 116 123.