As Christmas and 2021 approaches, the combination of government decisions, a pandemic and the inherent stress that the holidays bring for many could be a problematic mental health cocktail. Thinking about our needs in simple real ways and creating awareness about how we can celebrate will help. However, it may not be enough. Do you know how to access mental health support? Equipping ourselves with this elementary awareness could be very effective in navigating what is likely to be a stressful time.
- Government assigned rules around COVID safety during Christmas remain undefined, confusing and ever-changing. Families prepare small gestures in keeping the festive spirit alive.
- Consider innovative ways to spend Christmas – socially distanced meetups or just staying at home and getting together online.
- This year’s Christmas will be like no other with many struggling to manage the combined challenges of the regular holiday stresses and the pandemic.
- Gain awareness of your personal challenges and find opportunities to make the most of a challenging situation.
- Do your homework and find out what mental health support is available to you in case you or others you know need it.
Holiday confusion increases stress
Christmas in 2020 will be, like much of this year, like no other. Reminiscent of the Grand Ol’ Duke of York, mixed messaging from the government has left us not knowing whether we are up or down the hill. This confusion doesn’t help and the irritation about whether to stay home or make plans is leaving many unsure of what the best thing to do is. Whatever the final outcome, as we approach the holidays, many will be left feeling more anxious than ever and this will all make our holiday that little bit harder to endure. Whether in lockdown or not, we can only hope that the decision is the right one for the long run and think about finding ways to make the best of a bad situation.
Families consider innovative ways to spend Christmas this year
The Guardian spoke to UK families who expressed their plans to see family safely and be able to share some joy this Christmas. Awareness and respect for safety during the pandemic is really impressive and thinking about how to make the best of the situation is probably the most sensible way forward. We have spent months isolated from those around us, our families and friends and, frankly, the news has been grim. So looking for inspiration from others for ideas on how to do this safely is suggested. Families have planned in advance to have video calls and do small special gestures to feel festive. Whether it be safely delivered presents and Christmas dinners, or online games in groups, families can support each other and prioritise wellbeing. Scheduling in a number of virtual interactions can allow you to spend time with many more loved ones than may normally be possible.
The Holidays can be a particularly difficult time for some of us
Whilst the media and shops normally drive us to distraction with Christmas marketing, it is only fair to recognise that the holidays can be a particularly difficult time for some of us with mental health issues. Juggling the many unrealistic expectations and stresses that come with the holidays can be a daunting challenge. In ‘normal’ years many charities report increased demand for support services during the holidays. However, combined with the added impact of COVID-19, increasing involuntary isolation and limiting access to therapy, support and other mental health services, there is a need to be honest with ourselves about where we are and what support we need.
COVID-19 is like a marathon with long term impacts
COVID-19 has become a marathon that’s testing our endurance. Mental Health Research UK has launched a fund to raise money to research this. Understanding the impact of these pressures is not a weakness but gives us as individuals, families and communities the opportunity to galvanise ourselves so that we can carry on functioning. The marathon that COVID-19 has turned into has increased pressures on us. The likelihood of increased sustained isolation is particularly difficult for those living alone, so identifying ways to pass the holidays with some structure could offer significant support. This could include those planned video calls or even virtual discos with friends and family.
Mental Health Support providers are ready. Are you?
However, for some of us, that may not be enough. Understanding your mental health support needs and the organisations that you can access is important. You could be eligible to access an employee assistance support programme (check your staff webpages) or want to access a national helpline like Mind or the Samaritans, or specialist organisations for LGBT communities (like Switchboard). A really helpful resource is Hub of Hope, the UK’s leading mental health support database, which provides information on locally available support services. There are lots of services out there – take the time to find out about them. It could benefit you or a loved one when you most need it.