Christmas is generally viewed as a joyful and fun-filled time of year, spent with loved ones, exchanging gifts and festive cheer. However, Christmastime can also be a tough time of year for many, owing to several factors like financial strain or loneliness; for those without close relationships with family or friends, the holidays can be a particularly tough time of year.
These factors are especially prevalent in 2020 while we experience a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, doing our best to navigate through the latest government-imposed restrictions in an attempt to return to normality. Many people have had to make the difficult decision to not return home to be with family or friends for the Christmas period. For the time being, it may prove difficult to look to the future with hope and clarity at such a family-oriented time of year. In times of uncertainty, practicing mindfulness and forming new habits is all the more important in creating a positive headspace for yourself and beating these pandemic blues.
Here are just a few tips to ensure that you stay motivated and mindful over the Christmas period.
Be mindful of your alcohol consumption
It’s no secret that Christmas and alcohol go hand in hand for many people, and in Ireland this is certainly no different. For many of us – pre-pandemic of course – going to the pub to meet friends for a few drinks is a staple of Christmas, a way to socialise with friends and enjoy nights out. The overconsumption of alcohol in Ireland is a major issue which could be further spurred on by the pandemic; according to Drink Aware, 50% of adults in Ireland use alcohol as a way to cope with stress or anxiety, with many turning to alcohol to lift their spirits when times get tough.
With the Irish government tightening restrictions around socialising following the recent spike in Covid-19 cases, the probability of people who are feeling down turning to alcohol to get them through the festive period is increasing. Of course, drinking alcohol is perfectly fine in moderation, but it’s important to be self-aware when engaging in activities that could potentially spark a decline in your mental health.
According to the HSE, people who drink heavily are more likely to suffer from depression – alcohol dependence is roughly three times more likely among people with depression. It’s also important to remember that alcohol is a depressant which affects your brain’s natural chemicals, leading to a ‘comedown’ the day after drinking, causing feelings of anxiety and depression.
However, despite these adverse effects of alcohol consumption, the answer doesn’t always have to be cutting alcohol out of your life completely – DrinkAware explores the concept of ‘mindful drinking’; simply taking note of your reasons for drinking. If your natural instinct in an awkward social situation is to reach for a drink, try to acknowledge this and work on implementing a healthier way to deal with these situations the next time this happens.
Implementing changes, no matter how small, is an achievement. Initially, it can be difficult to decline a drink when your friends are getting another round in or pouring out shots, so why not make it a habit to go for a low alcohol drink or the mocktail alternative to your usual mojito? Being aware of the effects of alcohol consumption doesn’t mean you should never drink again; it helps to make a conscious effort to be mindful of the effects it has on your body and mind. This is especially important to keep in mind over the Christmas period. Your mental wellbeing (and bank balance) will thank you in the long run.
Try to incorporate mindfulness into each day
Popular mindfulness and meditation app, Headspace, defines mindfulness as ‘the idea of learning how to be fully present and engaged in the moment, aware of your thoughts and feelings without distraction or judgment’. Incorporating mindfulness exercises into your daily routine can help your brain slow down and focus on the here and now, rather than worrying about the past or the future.
The Christmas period is by far one of the most stressful times of year. Many of us become so busy during this period that we fail to notice how hard we are hit by the strain on our mental health until we are completely burnt out. By practicing mindfulness even five or ten minutes a day, you can help clear your mind of any negative thoughts little by little and declutter your brain.
Mindfulness meditation apps like Calm or Headspace are available to download on all smartphones and YouTube has thousands of great videos from mindfulness experts.
- Why you should give meditation a try during lockdown
- 10 habits to keep yourself healthy and productive
Get some fresh air into your lungs
For many of us, the pandemic has brought a newfound appreciation for the outdoors, and what better time of year for a hike than the end of December? In all seriousness, a plethora of studies show immense correlations between spending time in nature and improved mental health (as well as physical). Exposure to nature is said to increase more pleasant emotions and reduce emotions such as anger or stress.
Getting into the habit of heading out on a forty minute stroll (or jog if you’re feeling up for it) every evening can give your brain that much-needed break from the distractions of everyday life, such as what to cook for dinner that evening or troubles at work. Although no mental health battle can immediately be solved by a stroll in your local park, taking a walk and shutting your phone off for those forty minutes can help halt those overwhelming feelings clogging up your mental headspace.
Remember not to beat yourself up if it sometimes feels too challenging to get out of bed. Studies have also shown that simply listening to nature sounds or looking at pictures of your favourite nature spot can have a similar effect on mental health. At times, the thought of getting out for a walk is just too challenging for those going through a difficult time mentally – even if you know getting out will make you feel better. The motivation just isn’t always there, and that’s okay. Do what you can and try again tomorrow.
Remember to be kind to yourself
The most important thing when feeling stressed is to make time for yourself. The pandemic has hit everyone hard; I don’t think I’m speaking just for myself when I say I’ll be glad to see the end of 2020. But remember to look back on this year with pride and pat yourself on the back – you faced some of the most unprecedented challenges our world has seen in decades and persevered through the obstacles that came your way.
Social media apps like Instagram make it easy to compare ourselves to others and feel we should always be doing more, but it’s important to celebrate yourself and your own achievements, no matter how small. Remember to incorporate mindful techniques into your daily routine over Christmas and beyond; this could be as simple as reading a good book before bed in place of the ritualistic scroll through social media apps.
The importance of switching off from the online world and focusing on yourself is paramount for mental wellbeing. Engage in activities that put your mind at ease and attempt to implement one or two new habits, such as mindfulness, into your daily routine – you might enter the new year feeling a little more positive than in the year you left behind.