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Why it is important to prioritise your wellbeing this Christmas

During these challenging times it is important to safeguard mental health

Be creative this year as you plan new rituals and celebrations with your family and friends that keep within the public health guidelines. Photograph: iStock/Getty Images

As we head into the festive season, it is important to acknowledge how stressful 2020 has been. The Covid-19 crisis has upended our worlds and imposed many losses and restrictions.

Though the arrival of vaccines bring hope, it will be several months before these have a wide community impact. Cases are still stubbornly high and while there is a loosening of some of the restrictions, the prospect of a lockdown in January remains possible. There is a long road ahead.

During these challenging times it is important to prioritise our mental health and wellbeing as we move into the Christmas season. Here are some tips:

Acknowledge your stresses

Even at the best of times Christmas and the new year can be a bittersweet season for many people. Christmas can increase the pressure on relationships and families, and many other people might feel more isolated and disconnected. While there are the joys of reunions and celebrations marking the end of the year, the season also sharpens our focus on the year’s losses and stresses.


People invariably look over the year and compare how Christmas was experienced last year. For those of us who have experienced isolation, job loss, illness and bereavement as a result of Covid-19, this Christmas is likely to be a challenging time. And for all of us, this Christmas, with restrictions and curtailments, will be nothing like anything we have ever experienced before.

The first step to coping well is to accept the reality of what we are experiencing. Rather than denying your stresses or repressing your feelings, it is important to take time to notice and express them. It is understandable to feel upset, stress, worry and grief as we head into the festive season. Remember that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. Make sure to reach out and talk to others about what is happening in your life – this is the best way to cope.

Make a plan

Each year I am a big advocate for making clear plans for the Christmas season. Don’t assume everything will simply fall into place and don’t repeat tired rituals because you think other people want them (when they may have outlived their meaning). Instead it is important to take time to visualise the ideal Christmas for you in your current circumstances and then to make a plan to realise as much of this as possible. In the year of Covid-19, such detailed planning is needed more than ever.

Don’t just focus on what is not possible or what is missing. Instead ask yourself: what is the best Christmas I can have now in the circumstances? How can I have a good Christmas in spite of the challenges and restrictions?

Plan carefully how to manage your social contacts and who to include in your social bubble.

Be creative this year as you plan new rituals and celebrations with your family and friends that keep within the public health guidelines. Perhaps you can organise a special Christmas walk with your family or a short outdoor street-meet with a few neighbours or an online gift-opening party for friends who can’t physically travel.

Take time to think about how you can help others over the festive season. During a collective crisis it is the people who help others who often cope the best. Consider ringing an elderly neighbour who might need assistance or include a single person living alone in your celebrations or get your children to prepare a festive hamper and to leave it on the doorstep of a family in need.

Focus on self-care

In the midst of Christmas and the new year, remember this is a time of increased stress and challenge. It is important to prioritise your own wellbeing and self-care. Make sure you focus each day on doing the things that boost your wellbeing.

This might mean making sure you always get out for your daily walk or taking time to exercise. It also means taking time each day to engage in your favourite hobbies such as reading a favourite book, playing music, cooking a new meal or listening to an interesting podcast.

Avoid overusing negative coping strategies, such as drinking to excess, and notice if you find your stress levels rising and take early action. If you find yourself getting depressed or anxious, reach out for support from friends or family or access the sources of help online or on the phone. Be gentle on yourself and realise that hard times will pass.

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