Handling Mental Health over the Christmas Period

Flossie Palmer gives us some helpful tips for staying healthy during the festive season.

It’s easy to feel displaced while struggling with  mental health issues, especially during the Christmas period, branded as the happiest time of the year. Even transitioning back into home life away from university can feel like you’re living in an alternative reality. However, if you’re struggling to cope with the festive season when you’re not feeling all that festive, or even if you’re feeling lost somewhere between home and university life, I have a few tips for you.

Socialising 

Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it’s a known fact that positive interactions with our favourite people benefit our mental health. If you’re spending the Christmas period at home, visiting a few close friends might be a subtle way of helping you settle back into home life. Spending time with people who you’re already familiar with and understand how you’re feeling means you can avoid social burnout. I think we all know how socially draining term one can be, especially if you’re a fresher; there’s a constant pressure to impress, fit in and find “your people”. Taking time away from this by visiting friends you’re already comfortable with may ease any anxiety you’re feeling towards socialising, especially as it’s such an emphasised activity during the festive season. In saying this, you’re definitely not obligated to throw yourself into the extraordinarily happy festivities if you don’t want to! By surrounding yourself with friends who understand this, you may even find that they’re feeling the same. Having someone to plan more casual hangouts with like a cosy movie binge instead of a boozy Christmas night out might just relieve any pressure you feel to live up to the seasonal festivities. Despite the transitional change from home and university life, home comforts like having a support network of friends close-by may help bridge both the mental and physical difference between the two.

Self-Care

But, if the thought of socialising seems draining, listen to and trust your own mind. Although stepping out of your comfort zone and reconnecting with friends may help you feel less lost while back home, don’t force anything too soon! The Christmas holidays is the perfect opportunity to take time out for yourself and indulge in proper self-care activities that you might not usually prioritise during university. Simple things such as taking a long bath, having a night off to chill in bed with Netflix or even with a good book will give your mind a chance to breathe and process any built up emotions. However, be careful not to let yourself drift too far off the radar, even if you’re a natural introvert. While socialising in person can be tiring or make you feel trapped, maintaining even just distant contact with friends can stop you from feeling completely disconnected. If university friends live too far away to visit, messaging, social media and even Facetime can help you maintain a comfortable balance between home and university life. Staying in contact with university friends means you’ll also still have stable friendships and a support network to come back to after Christmas – something especially important during January exams when we all need a little extra TLC!

Hobbies and Exercise

Another form of self-care is pursuing any hobbies you may have lost sight of during term one. Hobbies, especially creative ones such as art, writing and music, are brilliant outlets for emotion and are proven to improve your mental wellbeing. But they’re all too easy to put on the backburner at university, when studying and extra-curricular commitments dominate. Re-discovering your passions while you have the spare time can remind you of your sense of self, especially if you’ve found yourself feeling lost during the Christmas season. Hobbies are also a perfect distraction and can prevent dwelling on negativity or falling into a rut. Exercising during the holidays – as unappealing as it may sound in the cold weather, when all you want to do is hibernate indoors – is also a great habit to get into. Not only does exercise trigger the release of endorphins (often known as the happy hormone), it has physical benefits beyond the obvious. Getting yourself out of the house can help stop you from overthinking and gives you a broader perspective on life outside of your bedroom. Exercise also doesn’t have to be competitive! From solo sports such as running and yoga to group activities such as football, it can be as social or as individual as you want. Trust me, from the perspective of someone admittedly un-sporty, exercise can actually be fun!

Routine

Another tip I find helpful for managing my mindset is keeping to a routine, even during the holidays. By getting yourself out of bed fairly early (leaving room for much-needed lie ins and pyjama days!) and doing something productive – catching up on uni work, spending time with friends or enjoying one of your favourite hobbies – you’re less likely to focus on any negativity. Keeping on top of any studying means that you’ll avoid the danger of being overwhelmed with revision after the holidays. Personally, I find that routines help me maintain motivation and purpose, especially as working on something keeps my mind distracted and gives me a sense of progress. Although the Christmas period is unpredictable and usually full of random family visits and spontaneous trips, instilling a routine of normality to replace your usual schedule of lectures can help create some mental stability, while also looking out for your own mental wellbeing.

Support Systems 

Although during the Christmas period, the student counselling service is closed until January 3rd, the university’s ResiLife teams are easily contactable for both face to face and over the phone appointments. ResiLife remains open in the East Village to all students throughout the Christmas period. Contact details and how to find any extra support during the holidays can be found below: 

https://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/wellbeing/services/help-in-the-holidays/

But remember that above all else, your mental health always comes first! 

Artwork by Rivka Cocker.

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