Christmas: Festive or Frantic?

Christmas can be a time for celebration but for many people it can be a time of stress, anxiety, disappointment or loneliness, especially for those going through difficult time. My family loves Christmas but I often enter the festive season with a little trepidation… 

Christmas comes with high expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying wonderful celebrations and gifts, but not all of us are able to live up to these ideals, and often many people are disappointed as these are hard expectations to live up to. 

Whatever this festive period means to you, it’s important that everyone feels able to manage their mental health throughout the holidays. Whether you’re unsure how to cope with the family descending on you, the loss of a loved one or the Christmas party is making you feel anxious, here are some ideas for looking after your mental health and keep you happy.

My Top Tips…

Plan ahead. Master the ‘to do list’. I am a planner and I love a list as this helps me to empty my mind of all the stuff that is filling me with anxiety and worry: Shopping, things to do by certain dates and of course your social calendar. Keep it in one place so that everyone can see it. And of course crossing those things off your list is very satisfying. 

Be Realistic.  Keep your expectations realistic, this can include setting a budget, working out where the stress trigger points for you might be, and remind children of all ages that Christmas is about being together and not just about the expensive gift – manage their expectations too. 

It’s OK to say no. You’re not being selfish by saying “no” to some things or asking for some help. As well as talking to your family about what they want to happen at Christmas be honest about what you want to do too. If you want to turn something down, explain why you don’t want to do it, and have a suggestion ready for an alternative. And delegate so that you can have some time to enjoy Christmas too. 

Make time for you! It is that selfcare word again, take time for you and have a look at this blog for some advice. I suggest go for a walk, ring a friend, find a quiet space to relax, put your headphones on and close your eyes. Remember If you are broken then you won’t be much use to those around you. 

Avoid comparisons, Don’t look at what other people are doing, everyone’s idea of a perfect Christmas is different. Also try and avoid being sucked in by social media and the perfectly shaped world that it portraits – Try not to be influenced by others peoples vision- It is your Christmas- your way!

Avoid overindulging  ‘ Tis the season for indulgence, and whether it be at a festive party or a family dinner, we are surrounded by extravagant foods and alcoholic drinks. Its true that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. 

Excessive stress raises appetite and cravings for sugary and fatty foods, and chronic drinking can further exacerbate stress by raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Keep active and get outside:  As I have said before in my blog on winter blues It is a fact that our mood is lifted by getting more sunshine and natural light. Try and spend some time outside every day. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get out but by exposing yourself to natural light you will naturally boost your Serotonin levels which will have a big effect on your mood. This one is obvious as exercise causes the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain. Go for a walk with your family or even on your own.

Get enough sleep. Sleep can have a huge effect on how you feel both emotionally and physically. Not getting enough can even cause major health issues. But stress and other distractions can wreak havoc on our sleep, so take care of your sleep environment too.

Finally if it all gets too much talk to someone. 

Christmas can be a very difficult time for some people and its always worth being mindful of this. If it all becomes too much for you please talk to someone about how you feel. That could be a friend, a colleague or a member of the family or your GP. Just reach out and talk. 

Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123

Enjoy, take care of you and let the festivities begin…

With the nights drawing in how can we feel happy when we maybe SAD?

With the clocks going back on Sunday 27th October there’s not much we can do about the changing weather and long, dark nights. But we can fight back against seasonal mood slumps. Light plays a huge role in our moods and daily rhythms and this is where the two chemicals in our brains really come in- Serotonin and Melatonin.

the science part…

“When night falls our bodies react to the lack of natural light entering through our eyes and the pineal gland in our brain produces a chemical called Melatonin. Melatonin makes us feel sleepy and lethargic and prepares us for going to sleep for the night. In the morning bright daylight entering our eyes signals to the gland to stop producing melatonin which helps to wake us up and make us feel refreshed. At the same time, the light boosts production of the chemical Serotonin which is our ‘feel good’ hormone.”

This is why when the darker nights arrive the that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the production of melatonin and serotonin and the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) 

As someone that is affected by the lack of light – I believe that I should have been born as a hibernating creature – I really understand the need for looking after ourselves in the autumn and winter months 

So here are my top tips for helping us to feel better in the darker months…

Practice positive thoughts

Positive thoughts release endorphins and a positive attitude improves these brain chemicals. So my first recommendation is to treat a positive attitude as an asset and work on it- starting with some self-care. Pamper yourself with a massage, sit down with a box set or even learn relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or meditation, this will all have a positive effect on your mind.

Try and avoid isolation 

This time of year I just want to crawl into bed and avoiding human contact. That’s one of the worst things you can do for your health. When you’re in this mood it is easy just to get into a habit of isolating yourself, and that exacerbates the winter blues. Keep talking and keep in touch with those important to you, even if it is just through a text!

Eat right 

There is no “superfood” that will cure a mood slump and winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pasta and my favourite bread- but this can actually leave you feeling lethargic and tired. Plus they can lead you to gain weight which can lead to feelings of frustration and depression.

Committing to a healthy eating pattern will make a difference. There are individual foods that might be especially good for our brain chemicals like foods with antioxidants in like blueberries, kale and pomegranates. So don’t forget to include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.

Get outside

It is a fact that our mood is lifted by getting more sunshine and natural light. Try and spend some time outside every day. It can be hard to motivate yourself to get out but by exposing yourself to natural light you will naturally boost your Serotonin levels which will have a big effect on your mood.

In people who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD basically the most intense variety of winter-blues) doctors often prescribe ‘light therapy’ where you sit in front of specialised lights that mimic natural sunlight. I have used one of these and I can recommend them although nothing beats real sunlight, even if it is just for 10 minutes. 

Get exercise

This one is obvious as exercise causes the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain. It is proven that exercise 3 times a week is effective against depression too. And the bonus is that If you have a tendency towards Seasonal Affective Disorder, outdoor exercise will have a double benefit, because you’ll gain some daylight and vitamin D too.

As a counsellor this time of year brings a steady stream of clients both young and old who present with symptoms of depression, which include low mood, anxiety. So if you’re one of the many people who recognise that your mood and wellbeing can take a nosedive over the darker months ahead, please do take comfort in knowing you are not alone, help is available.

Myth Busting-Counselling Myths and Misconceptions

The truth is counselling is purely about having time devoted to helping yourself, for whatever reason, it is about self -care.

I remember when I was first told that I would benefit from counselling, I was 19 years old during the early 90’s and had just moved away to university. I was incredibly homesick and was feeling down and after a visit to the GP it was suggested that I see a therapist. I remember thinking to myself  ‘why do I  need counselling I have lots of friends and family to talk too’ and ‘that counselling is only for people with mental illness’, ‘why do I want to talk to a stranger’. We all have misconceptions and pre-conceived ideas. 

This was a time when mental health wasn’t in the public domain and it certainly wasn’t something that was discussed as freely as it is today, so with this in mind I am going to try and break down the myths and pre-conceived ideas that I had and that you might have around counselling.

It’s easier to talk to friends and family about my problems.

There is a common belief that seeking the support of your friends and family is just as good as getting professional counselling. But while being able to share your problems with your friends and family is obviously helpful, it is very different from the relationship with a trained counsellor who has specialist skills in exploring and treating a range of cognitive, behavioural and emotional issues. What’s more, counselling is confidential, meaning you don’t have to take the feelings of your loved ones into account when you speak. This is something that I personally found invaluable!

Counselling is only for people with serious mental health issues.

© simpsons

Many people believe that in order to see a counsellor, you need to have a psychological disorder or be seriously mentally ill, of course the reality is entirely different. Counselling can be beneficial for everyone. Whether you seek support for everyday matters such as stress management or relationship issues, mental health challenges like depression, or life events such as a bereavement, counsellors are expertly trained to help people with a wide range of concerns. There are lots of reasons speople choose counselling, it is a very positive step to take.

I have found in my client work that some people just need a few sessions to gain clarity about a specific issues, and for other counselling can take a lot longer, but it is always driven by the client’s needs. 

Going to a counsellor is a sign of weakness.

The reality is sometimes we think strength is about keeping everything in and not being effected by difficulties, it’s a very British way to “man up and get on with it’ However I believe that it shows enormous strength to face your problems and try to improve ourselves and our lives. Counselling is a positive step towards helping yourself, and it is all about self care. 

The counsellor will tell me what to do.

Professional counsellors do not give advice. I may give you information, but don’t expect me to say whether I think you should do A or B. It is my job to help you explore issues, so you can make up your own mind about what you choose to do. You know yourself and your stuff better than anyone else, and you know what’s best for you, its’ my job to help you discover that.

And my personal favourite myth…I will have to lie on a couch.

Thanks to countless cartoons, TV programmes and movies a lot of us wrongly believe that a counselling session involves lying down on a couch, staring at the ceiling!

© simpsons

Counselling is an active process that requires the client to be just as engaged as the counsellor and for the client to commit they need to be involved in the process.  Sitting in a comfortable chair or on a sofa is a more appropriate position and is adopted by the vast majority of clients, and the counsellor will typically sit opposite their client in a similar way. I have worked in many different settings, school offices, doctors surgery’s, therapy rooms and even in clients own homes. Where ever you are it is important that you feel comfortable and if you are not, just say so to the counsellor!

The key for me is that you need to feel comfortable with whichever counsellor you choose as it’s the quality of the relationship you have that is important – all counsellors are different and have different personalities, styles and approaches.

So don’t let myths about counselling prevent you from getting help!