Under pressure to have a merry Christmas


For people with a history of depression, anxiety or addiction, the festive season can be a difficult time

It may be the season to be jolly but, in reality, Christmas can be a time when our physical and mental health can suffer.

Those with a history of depression, anxiety disorders and addictions are particularly vulnerable to suffer a relapse of troubling symptoms during the festive season.

The idyllic scene of the perfect family sipping mulled wine and nibbling on mince pies around a beautifully decorated Christmas tree while their perfect children frolic outside in powdery white snow exists only in the movies.

Yet, as Edel Fortune, programme manager of the wellness and recovery centre at St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin, points out, people put themselves under such huge pressure to try to recreate this utopian Christmas that they can end up mentally and physically unwell.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent a relapse or worsening symptoms.

Warning signs

You need to watch out for and recognise early warning signs that you are becoming overwhelmed, create a plan to help with difficult situations, and take steps to care for yourself, Fortune advises.

Warning signs include sleep disturbances (sleeping too much or too little), racing thoughts, negative thoughts, irritability, change in appetite, overindulging in alcohol and lack of concentration and focus.

“People are under such pressure every year to be all things to everyone and this is coupled with financial pressures, which are a big worry for a lot of people this year,” says Fortune. “Everybody’s routine is out of kilter and there is no great structure to the day during the holidays. Routine is very important for people to maintain health and reduce stress.”

With people spending so much time cooped up together indoors, family “issues” may also rear their ugly heads, often exacerbated by alcohol and/or drugs.

Take action

“Sometimes you may just not feel right. You might feel vulnerable, overwhelmed, worried or concerned that something is going to go wrong. When you do experience warning signs or triggers, it’s very important to take action,” says Fortune.

“If things do not improve or get worse, contact your GP, who is a great resource when you are very stressed or when things get on top of you. Don’t put off getting help and try to struggle through until after Christmas like so many people do – get help early before you become really unwell.”

Ten tips to help prevent a relapse

1. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself – remember Christmas is really only one day .

2. Keep your routine as normal as possible. Try not to stay up too late at night and don’t lie in bed all day.

3. Delegate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you don’t have to be the one who does everything.

4. Get out of the house either to meet other people or just to go for a walk on your own.

5. Try to eat a well-balanced diet.

6. Look after yourself. Have some “me” time. Activities such as walking, art, music or writing can be calming and relaxing. Find an activity that you enjoy doing and set aside time to have that space in your life.

7. Don’t overindulge in alcohol. It is a depressant and can have a negative effect on your mood.

8. Get regular exercise.

9. Watch out for the warning signs that you may be overdoing things.

10. Seek help. Confide in family/concerned others if you feel you are becoming overwhelmed. If things do not improve, contact your GP, who is a great resource when things get on top of you.

If your GP is unavailable over the holiday period, Fortune suggests seeking support elsewhere. St Patrick’s hospital operates a support line at 01-2493333 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (apart from bank holidays). Samaritans is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 1850-609090.

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