For many people, Christmas and the prospect of dark, cold and lonely winter days in January can affect our mental health.  This can trigger Christmas stress and anxiety because of the focus on social interaction and time spent with family and friends where sometimes there can be difficult relationships.  Or this time of the year can trigger sadness and loss for those reminded of loved ones no longer with us.  The feeling of loneliness can exacerbate and persist into the winter months of January and February.

How to cope at Christmas

If Christmas is a hard time for you, it's important to remember that you are not alone. HDS provide counselling and psychotherapy where you can speak to one of our counsellors.  If you need urgent help or support for yourself or someone close to you, there are organisations who may be able to help.

Click here to if your require urgent help

Christmas can affect your mental health in many ways.  For example:

  • Wish you didn't have to deal with Christmas, or find it stressful because of other events in your life.
  • Feel alone or left out because everyone else seems happy when you're not.
  • Feel frustrated by other people's views of a 'perfect' Christmas, if these feel different to your experiences.
  • Have ideas about what Christmas should be like, feel as if you need to enjoy it or worry something will disrupt it.
  • Feel like Christmas gives you something to focus on and look forward to, and find it difficult when it's over.
  • Look back at difficult memories (like bereavement, miscarriage), regret things about the past, or worry about the coming new year.
  • Feel overlooked, for example if you celebrate other religious festivals or holidays that get less attention.
  • Want to celebrate with someone who's struggling.
  • Financial concerns about the cost of Christmas and anxious about paying bills in the new year.

There are many great resources on how to look after your mental health all year round and not just at Christmas.  In Scotland, Breathing Space provide free resources.  The mental health charity, Mind, provide the following suggestions on how to look after your mental health at Christmas:

  • Be gentle and patient with yourself. It might help to think about what is best for your wellbeing during Christmas, and prioritise what you need. 
  • Remind yourself that it won't last forever. You could set a 'start' and 'finish' time for what you count as Christmas. 
  • Set your boundaries. Try to say no to things that aren't helpful for you.
  • Let yourself experience your own feelings. Even if they don't match what's going on around you, they're still valid. For example, if you don't feel like celebrating Christmas when everyone else does.
  • Take time out. Do something to forget that it's Christmas or distract yourself. For example, you could watch a film or read a book that's set in the summer. Or you could try learning a new skill.
  • Let yourself have the things you need. For example, if you need to take a break instead of doing an activity, or need a little bit of quiet time.

How to cope with mental health in winter

For some people, the period after Christmas can be difficult.  When all the festivities and celebrations, exchanging of gifts and social gatherings have ended, some people can feel lonely during the winter months of January and February.  The dark and cold winter days means we spend more time inside and less time outside enjoying nature and we can have less contact with other people.  Many people feel the negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing during winter by what is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), when this seasonal feeling really starts to impact on your life and can leave you feeling depressed.

HDS provide counselling and psychotherapy where you can speak to one of our counsellors if you feel depressed, anxious or are encountering relationship difficulties.  At times of personal change, distress, challenge and loss many people have found counselling to be of great help. It can be reassuring to know you have somewhere to turn when you need support.  Speaking to a counsellor or therapist about the problem can feel like a huge step forward. 

In addition, there are a range of coping strategies you can use to help with SAD.  Here are some suggestions from the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy):

  • Exposure to natural light – try using an extra lamp or lightbox.
  • Eating well - physical and mental health are closely linked, so make sure you eat well.
  • Sleeping well - and enough - and at night.
  • Exercising – even if it means some indoor exercises at home if the wintry weather doesn’t allow for walks outside.
  • Being aware of what you enjoy, and doing those things – small or big, and assuming they aren’t self-destructive e.g. binge drinking.
  • Being aware of and not doing (too much) of what you don’t enjoy.
  • Being able to say ‘no’ when needed. This is more complex and may well require counselling help. Not being able to say no - to friends, family, colleagues for example - means that we are probably prioritising something or someone else's needs over our own. If we do this too much, we become alienated from ourselves. This can be a recipe for depression and anxiety, and susceptibility to SAD.
  • Taking time out to breathe and meditate is good for our mental health. For example, using apps like Headspace and Calm. This is likely to improve resilience against SAD.
  • Speak to someone, like a counsellor or therapist, if you feel it’s not something your family and friends can fully support you with.

Counselling and psychotherapy in Scotland

If you’re going through a difficult time for any reason, our counsellors are trained to help you explore your feelings and experiences in a safe, confidential and non-judgemental environment. Talking therapies have the greatest positive impact on mental health according to a survey carried out by the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

HDS also works with organisations, large and small, to offer counselling and psychotherapy as part of their Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP).  Our counsellors and therapists have broad experience of working with employees in the public, private and third sectors across Scotland. 

HDS can offer face-to-face, online or telephone counselling.

Click here to find out more about HDS counselling services