A list of tips on how to survive the holidays with a mental illness by Amy.

1. LIMIT ALCOHOL
Alcohol is common place in most adults Christmases, be it enjoying a few drinks at a work Christmas party or sitting alone having a stiff drink. Alcohol is a depressant, however good it may make you feel whilst drinking it, the after effects are never good. Your sleep may be affected and you may feel more depressed after an episode of drinking particularly if you have drunk heavily. Obviously you don’t have to become teetotal for the Christmas period but be mindful of how much you are drinking and try to pace yourself with soft drinks. It is an easy step to take to help yourself, drink in moderation.

2. MAINTAIN A BALANCED DIET
Another important point that few people consider is to eat well. This can be very difficult if you have an eating disorder, if you have a tendency to binge or struggle with bulimia life gets harder because of all the tempting sweet treats around. At Christmas when people have time off work, the structure of meals can be disregarded, but it is imperative to ensure that you eat three good meals a day to keep up your energy and your resilience to negative emotions. Eating a balanced diet can help prevent vulnerability towards difficult emotions. This is the same for overeating as under eating, neither is good and finding the middle ground is important.

3. REMAIN ACTIVE
Remaining active throughout the festive season is a sensible move, although may be hard due to adverse weather conditions. Making sure you get out every day if possible and do something to make you feel you have achieved something is so important as it can help build a sense of mastery, and stave off the depressive feelings associated with being a prisoner in your own home. Even just popping to the shops for a few essentials gives you a change of scenery for a few minutes. It can be so beneficial. Get involved with your local community goings on, take your children to the pantomime, go and see a feel good Christmas film, create a shopping list for some nice Christmas grub and spend hours trawling around a huge supermarket looking for it all, be active doesn’t have to mean going to the gym (although it can) it can mean get involved.

4. RELAX
From activity comes another important point it is imperative to have time to yourself and relax, take some me time and make sure you get enough sleep. Roughly eight hours is good for an adult, ensure you have a good sleep hygiene routine to enable you to get the best night’s sleep. This can include not drinking coffee for a few hours before going to bed, trying to start unwinding in the evening, having a hot bath, drinking warm milk, having a cool bedroom with warm covers on your bed etc. All these points can help you to get a better night’s sleep. However sleeping for too long can have an equally detrimental effect to sleeping too little, so try not to over sleep for too long on days off as this can add to feelings of lethargy and depression.

5. FOCUS ON THE PRESENT
Something else that can be difficult at Christmas are memories of the past, so it is important to try to focus on being in the here and now, rather than getting stuck in what happened during past Christmases. A good way of doing this is creating new traditions for yourself, they can be simple and sweet like buying yourself new pajamas every Christmas Eve, or deeply meaningful like starting to go to Church. Attending Church at Christmas is a good way to receive support and to bring meaning and focus into your Christmas, however if religion is not for you then there are other ideas you could try like going to a pantomime, or buying a special ornament for your home or for the tree.

6. ASK FOR HELP
Christmas is often hard for service users as services are predominantly closed throughout the festive period, which is very unsatisfactory and leaves people few options for help except the psychiatric liaison services at accident and emergency, which are often not suitable and may be unhelpful to someone in crisis. So why not try a helpline at Christmas, talking to an anonymous person about what is going on for you may seem scary, but can actually be really helpful and very liberating, so on a dark lonely and difficult night why not give it a try? Sane have their own line service open from six pm to eleven pm every day of the year and is available on 0845 767 8000. There are many other specific helplines also for example for eating disorders etc. (There is also Childline for young people).

*Image credit: @Fusillo.Foto

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