Five Tips for Good Mental Health over Christmas
While this time of year is a joyous occasion for many, it can also provide the trigger for some people to start experiencing some form of mental distress or make an existing condition worse.
As a psychotherapist I firmly believe prevention is just as important as the cure, and with that in mind I’d like to share my 5 top tips to staying mentally healthy not just over the festive period but all year round. I use all of them with my clients where appropriate and I will be covering several of them in more depth in future blog posts.
Get a good night’s sleep – sleep deprivation is a key factor in developing depression, anxiety and stress related issues.
Sleep occurs in 2 parts Slow Wave Sleep or Deep sleep which is where the vital maintenance is performed for our physical body, and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) or Dream sleep. It is REM sleep that is particularly important for mental health.
Things that aid a good night’s sleep include dimming the house lights an hour or two before bed time and avoiding screen time on phones, iPads and TV. Both of these will help the release of the sleep-inducing hormone Melatonin.
Keeping your bedroom a few degrees cooler, say 18C, has also been shown to aid sleep. Meditation or other form of relaxation before bedtime may also be beneficial particularly if you’ve had a stressful day.
Things that prevent good sleep include alcohol, marijuana and caffeine all of which if still present in the body will either block REM sleep or keep you awake.
7/11 breathing to stay calm – if you feel stress or anxiety levels rising or a panic attack coming on this is a very effective way to calm down quickly. Simply put one hand on your stomach so you can feel your breathing and breathe in for a count of 7 and out for a count of 11. Repeat until you feel calm and relaxed.
Drink and eat sensibly – Quite apart from the risks to physical health of over indulging please be aware that human beings can become addicted to anything that is pleasurable. Keep all things in moderation as the saying goes. Many people will deal with the hangovers and extra pounds just fine but if you do find yourself continuing to over indulge well into January then it could be time to take action and/or seek help.
If you’ve already had, or currently have, issues with things like alcohol, drugs or eating, or if you are in “recovery”, then Christmas is likely to be a time where relapse risk is high. It helps to be aware of your triggers and have a plan prepared to either avoid these situations or be able to deal with them in an appropriate way. One technique I use with clients is to invite them to relax then rehearse and visualise in their imagination their new behaviours in the risky situations they have identified. This rehearsal dramatically improves the chances of success.
Another really effective way to combat the risk of relapse is reminding yourself of all the negative things you associate with your addiction warts and all whenever you feel the urge to indulge. The reason this is important is that your body will mostly try and remind of all the good things associated with it and that needs to be countered quickly with the downsides to avoid a relapse.
There is a lot more to tackling addiction and counselling is often needed but these 2 tips may well be helpful over the festive period, and if not just remember that relapse is part of the recovery process and it’s not a reason to stop trying.
Going for a walk out in nature – is great way to lift your mood, de-stress, get some exercise and recharge your batteries. It’s a great family activity, or it can be a great chance for privacy and peace and quiet.
Speak with one other person each day – this is particularly important for those people who may not have a large circle of friends and family or who find themselves for whatever reason on their own. Human beings are social in nature and feeling a connection to others is one of our basic human needs and if it’s not met then loneliness can lead to poor mental health. A phone call, a Zoom chat, talking about the weather with a neighbour or the person in the corner shop are all simple ways of meeting this need. It is important to stay connected over the festive period.
I hope you’ve found my tips interesting and that you will find them useful too. Have a happy and healthy Christmas / Festive period and prosperous New Year.