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On TV, the Christmas holidays are a time of happy families, delicious food and great presents. But for many people, the festive season is a difficult time – in 2017, the Samaritans received 400,000 calls to its helpline during December, including 11,000 on Christmas Day. Christmas without family is currently a top concern for Samaritans callers.

Here are some ideas on how to manage your mental health if you are struggling to cope at Christmas.

Laurence Baldwin, a former nurse consultant at Derbyshire Healthcare and now Assistant Professor at Coventry University, gives the following advice about maintaining positive emotions over the festive period:

Prepare for the family ‘fun’

Lots of families are so busy that they don’t spend much time together – except during the holidays. Being around family members for several days non-stop can be nice, but it can cause arguments and stress…

Try and think ahead about what emotions you might feel over the holiday period. If there are things that are likely to bother you, try to plan how you might deal with them. You might decide Christmas is not the right time to talk about them. Or you may find there’s someone who can ‘have a quiet word’ on your behalf, to pave the way for a happier time.

The more families, the merrier

The ‘normal’ family you see in adverts isn’t so normal any more. Lots of people have parents living separately and deciding who goes where can be tricky – and tense… 

Try and appreciate the time you have with each part of your family. If you can’t be with someone you really care about on the ‘big day’, try to look forward to the time you will have with them later.

If you are feeling lonely, think about whom you could call, even if it’s just for five minutes.  If you know someone else who may be lonely, send them a text or ring them and say ‘hi’.

It’s right to remember

If you have lost a loved one, or lost contact with someone, the holidays are often the time you miss them most… 

Remember that it’s normal to miss someone you care about, so expect to feel a bit sad – but focus on the positives too. Remember the good stuff about that person and what makes them special to you. If you want to shed a tear, that’s OK too.

Reflect on the good as well as the bad

At New Year, people often think about what has happened over the last 12 months – and end up reliving only the disasters and disappointments…  

Our bodies are trained to remember moments of crisis and fear, so that we don’t repeat mistakes. But it’s important when we look back to think about things that have gone well, too. There will always be successes, even if they seem small.

Planning to make New Year’s resolutions? Try to make them realistic and have a plan to succeed.  Then you won’t feel bad that you haven’t achieved something that was too ambitious. 

Leanne’s festive top tips

Derbyshire Healthcare expert by experience Leanne Walker recommends…

Friends – “Sometimes being around your family for a long time can feel too much. Arrange to spend time meeting or talking with friends.”
Get out of the house – “Ask a family member to go for a walk with you – getting some air and stretching your legs can give you breathing space.”

Step back – “When things get tense take a slow, deep breath, step back from the situation and approach it when everyone is feeling better.” 

Alone time – “Take a break from the celebrations and spend half an hour on your own. I find putting on my headphones and listening to music a great way to relax.”

Hobbies – “Have something you can do to take your mind off things if you feel overwhelmed. Drawing, writing and being creative can really help.” 

Be mindful – “Enjoy the good moments in the good moments. Take in how they feel and what’s special. I write down good moments on a piece of paper and keep them in a jar, then read them when I feel sad.”

Sleep – “Being over-tired can add to negative feelings. Get plenty of sleep so you’re refreshed for the day ahead.”

Contact a Samaritan

If you need someone to talk to, we listen. We won’t judge or tell you what to do. Call Free on: 116123

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