Christmas can be a painful time of year for many people - a time when grief, loneliness, health struggles, depression, anxiety, lack of money, or family trauma can be that much more prominent. And what adds to the pain for many of us, is the loud, deeply contrasting message that this is a happy, merry, joyous time. A time of togetherness, of fun, of treats. A time of spending lots of money and receiving lots of gifts. A time of family. These societal messages can be like salt in our wounds.
Yet this common human experience isn’t often talked about. In a spirit of acknowledging our human struggles and sharing ways to care for yourself through tough times, I’ve put together these mental health first aid tips for the holidays.
There are tips for those who are:
-feeling exhausted emotionally and physically
-impacted by toxic family, and
-for those who are struggling to sleep.
If you’re feeling burnt out... (physically and emotionally exhausted)
Reduce or take a break from caffeinated drinks (coffee, black tea, cola, energy drinks). Through their diuretic effects, caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee, colas, kombucha, energy drinks, and even decaf rob your body of the very nutrients needed for stress recovery and energy – B vitamins and magnesium. Consider swapping your coffee or black tea for restorative herbal teas like chamomile or hibiscus, and check the tea shelves at your local organic shop for anti-stress herbal blends. Rooibos tea is a great, caffeine-free swap for black tea, too.
Enjoy summer berries and leafy green veg to boost your vitamin C and B9 levels - two nutrients the body uses a lot of when we are stressed. Be sure to give any sprayed veg and fruit a good rinse first, to help remove pesticides.
Take naps or lie down when you feel the need. Practise the art of doing nothing more often. Rest is necessary for recovery from burnout.
If you’re struggling with lack of sleep… (falling asleep or staying asleep)
Take 150-300mg magnesium citrate or glcyinate at bed time. BioTrace and BioBalance are good quality brands available online in New Zealand from Healthpost. In the US, Seeking Health and Thorne are good brands you can purchase online.
Reduce or take a break from alcohol and caffeinated drinks (coffee, black tea, cola, energy drinks). Again, the diuretic effects of alcoholic and caffeinated drinks rob your body of the vitamins and minerals needed to make GABA – a soothing, calming neurotransmitter needed for sleep, calm, and literally slowing down brain cell activity.
If waking at night is a problem, this may occur because your blood glucose has dropped during the night. To prevent this, have a small snack at bed time that includes nourishing fats and protein. Almond butter on toast, nutty, seedy granola with coconut milk, a hardboiled egg, a pea protein shake, or a leftover chicken wing or drumstick are all good options.
If you’re experiencing grief… (because of the death of a loved person or pet, the end of a relationship, cutting ties with toxic family)
Allow yourself to cry as much as you want.
Don’t go it alone – seek counselling. You deserve to be supported through grief. If money is tight, check if you are eligible for financial assistance for counselling by contacting WINZ in New Zealand and your government social welfare agency anywhere else in the world.
Take it day by day and don’t give yourself long to-do lists – getting one or two things done each day is fine.
Prioritise your self care – sleep, good food, lunch with a friend (ask them to come to your house if you don't feel like going out), long baths, pet cuddles, a massage, time in Nature, watching favourite films, library books.
If your appetite has reduced, try eating small, nutrient-dense meals four times a day instead of three larger meals. Avocado or salmon on toasted sourdough with lemon, a good quality granola, scrambled, poached or fried eggs, a smoothie, and a chicken salad with plenty of olive oil are all good options.
If you’re impacted by toxic people…
You don’t have to spend Christmas day with family if they worsen your mental health, criticize or try to shame you, harm you, become drunk and abusive, touch you inappropriately, deny past abusive behaviour or make you anxious. Really, you don’t. Looking after your mental wellbeing is important and does not make you selfish.
If you do have to be around difficult people on Christmas day, it’s ok to just go for an hour or two then leave - you can say you agreed to look after your neighbour’s dog or your good friend from overseas/down south/up north is calling you. Additionally, while you are there, hang out with the kids if children are present.
Don’t go it alone – seek counselling. You deserve to be supported if you’re affected by family trauma. If money is tight, check if you are eligible for financial assistance for counselling by contacting WINZ in New Zealand and your government social welfare agency anywhere else in the world.
Buy yourself a Christmas gift or experience you’ve been wanting. Be an excellent friend to yourself.
If you’re experiencing suicidal feelings…
In New Zealand: Call 0508 828 865, a free, 24/7 helpline for any person who is thinking about suicide. Your call will be answered by a qualified counsellor or trained volunteer in Auckland or Christchurch.
Book an appointment with your counsellor as soon as you can, or seek a counsellor who you feel comfortable with. If money is tight, check if you are eligible for financial assistance for counselling by contacting WINZ in New Zealand and your government social welfare agency anywhere else in the world.
Avoid drinking too much alcohol or taking non-prescription medications - mainly because they can change your thoughts and feelings in unhelpful ways.
Just as suicidal thoughts take time to appear, so it will take time for them to fade. Take it day by day and don't expect too much of yourself. Even if you can't see a way forward now, you can be certain the way you are thinking and feeling about things, and your life, will change.
Christmas often isn’t a merry time of year for many people. Be kind to yourself and seek help, especially if your mental health has changed or worsened. You deserve kindness and you deserve to be supported.
May your Christmas be filled with self kindness and self care. Wishing you peace.