21 December 2015


Christmas can be a particularly stressful time for those with mental health problems, but they're not the only ones who struggle. The song may claim 'Tis the season to be jolly', but more often than not this so-called holiday means a lot of extra work and pressure.

Our increasingly materialistic society has somehow ended up dedicating an inordinate proportion of the year to preparing for a single day. I try to avoid thinking about it until December, but that still means more than three weeks of intense activity - and rising panic - as I plough through my festive 'to do' list.

It doesn't help that advertisers start their promotions at least a month earlier. If you don't get on board then, you can feel as if you're playing chicken with time - how long can you resist without crashing, unprepared, into The Big Day?

For the first time last year, I opted to cut back on some of the more time-consuming elements: making a charitable donation rather than sending cards, putting up minimal decorations, and replacing the usual expansive dinner with a more simple meal.

We also reduced the number of presents exchanged within my family, giving gifts only to my young nephews and our respective partners. This year, I managed to do all of my shopping online, which seemed far too easy. I felt guilty for getting off so lightly - clearly I'm indoctrinated into believing the whole experience should be as challenging as possible.

I'm not the only one. On Saturday, the BBC news channel interviewed a number of people at a shopping centre. One middle-aged man's response was 'It's misery, complete and utter misery. But, hey, it's Christmas.' In other words, misery is only to be expected.

All of this effort is in pursuit of an idea of Christmas as sold to us by the media - no, not the trauma-filled Eastenders' version, but the kind depicted in all those feel-good films and supermarket ads. Airbrushed models might make us feel unattractive, but airbrushed Christmases can make us feel equally inadequate. If ours doesn't measure up to one of these perfect visions, it can feel as if we have failed somehow.

And it's hard not to follow the crowd, especially if friends and family aren't on the same page: people sometimes take offence if you want to do things differently. Fortunately, mine are supportive of my choices.

Image courtesy of Apolonia/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Which is just as well, as this year I'm volunteering at a Christmas Day lunch for old folk who would otherwise spend it alone. A couple of friends have commented on how 'good' I am to do this. Not a bit of it. This is by no means a wholly altruistic gesture (is there any such thing?); I'm in it for myself, too, as I hope that the event will re-ignite my fading festive spirit.

Because, when all's said and done, there is joy to be had. Whether from a rousing carol service, or good food and drink, or time spent with family and friends...even if you do have to eat sprouts and you feel like strangling someone by the end of it!

Wishing you the most joyful possible of Christmases, however you choose to spend it.

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If you are struggling over the holidays there's help available - check out mental health charity Mind's website.


Nicolas Davis said...

I did check the charity that you've mentioned in this post. Can I know more details about it? I want to donate money for the children in that charity. Thank you in advance!

Helen Barbour said...

Hi Nicolas, I'm not sure which charity you mean, as the only one I mention is Mind? I'm afraid I'm not connected with them myself, so it would be best for you to contact them directly via www.mind.org.uk. Thanks.

Lisa Scott said...

Its okay to do a good deed for yourself too. :) As you said, I think there is some element of that to all good deeds. The important thing is that you are trying to find that magic again.

Helen Barbour said...

Thanks, Lisa, it turned out to be really good fun! I would definitely do it again. Hope you're having a lovely holiday, too.