1. Don't put pressure on yourself.
"Understand that expectations lie to you. Thanks to the never-ending Christmas ads and people constantly sharing their holiday highlights it's easy to build up particular expectations. Instead, remind yourself to practice gratitude for what you do have."
— Amy Gunkler, via Facebook
2. Take a break.
"I have a big family so gatherings can be kind of overwhelming. I take some time to myself to read, draw, watch films and a walk in the fresh air always helps clear away the fog."
— Hannah Rose, via Facebook
Dr Joanna Silver, psychologist at Nightingale Hospital, adds: "It's important to realise that it is normal to feel anxious at gatherings so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to ‘perform.’ Concentrating on breathing properly can be really helpful. It can sometimes be helpful to go to a large gathering with a friend so that you feel more comfortable."
3. Find comfort in your pets.
"I have an emotional support animal. I trained and certified Noah as a therapy dog before I ended up getting diagnosed with anxiety and depression (and realizing how much I needed him), but now that he’s certified as an ESA, I can take him with me when I travel (especially home for the holidays). Even when things get rough, I have all the puppy kisses I need to get me through. No matter what Christmas catastrophes I face, Noah has me all covered."
4. Schedule Christmas-free days.
"I always get my shopping done early (but NEVER on the weekends). I buy as many gifts as possible online. I keep a checklist of who I am buying for and what I'm getting them and I cross the items off once done.
"Definitely schedule 'No Holiday' days: no writing cards, no wrapping, baking, shopping, etc. Instead, make it a day to lay on the couch and watch a movie. Also don't over schedule, don't feel like you have to go to all the parties."
— Kirsten J. Hansen, via Facebook
5. Ignore social media as much as you can.
"Turn off that Facebook 'On This Day' nonsense. I had a lovely Christmas trip to Denmark planned with a guy I was dating. It was early December when he told me not to show up. Reliving the days up to that trip and the weeks after kind of strike a nerve."
— Angela Christine, via Facebook
6. Make a list for yourself
7. Go outside.
"At my grandparents, where we go during Christmas, there are 4 dogs. Chances are, one will always be ready to play with the ball."
8. Plan time for yourself.
"Take some time for you, whether it’s a long hot shower, or a quiet Netflix/reading session by yourself. It’s important to spend time with your loved ones during the holidays, but not if you’re putting your own mental health at risk. Spend time with your family, but make sure you set aside some time for you and do something you really love, even if it’s only for 10 minutes."
9. Find solace in a book.
"I’m trying a new thing this year! I started re-reading the Harry Potter books the week before Thanksgiving, and it’s been great. When I get stressed, I grab a book. It’s also been good for the weird down time on family visits like when you’re the first one awake or waiting at the airport."
10. Set small goals.
"I give myself targets for each day:
Tuesday: wash the dog, clean bathroom & shower
Wednesday: make soup, buy two gifts etc
It helps to have small goals!"
11. Know your limits.
"I like to remind myself of my own boundaries with my family. I know when to walk away from certain people and when to let them know they’ve crossed the line. It gets easier every year to make these boundaries clear for everyone involved. If my dad starts going down a road of blaming me for something unreasonable I shut down the conversation by saying: 'I love you but I’m not having this conversation with you.'"
12. Don't compare your Christmas to someone else's.
13. Stay active.
"I like to make sure that I keep up my normal (or at least close to normal) workout schedule throughout the holidays. It helps me to make sure that I’m getting a little 'me time' throughout the week and helps lessen some of my anxiety. Also, I’ve found that exercising can help combat the negative feelings that come with over eating/eating really unhealthy foods."
14. Keep an eye on your drinking.
"My sobriety date is 12/26/13 so needless to say Christmas has been an interesting time of year for me. I volunteer to work on Christmas so I can treat it like another day. During the Christmas season, I make it a point to make commitments to help other people. My family of origin can be stressful, so I make plans to get together outside of the holidays, so there's less pressure and expectation. Lastly I make sure to practice overall good self care – pacing myself, reaching out for help when I need it."
Silver suggests planning in advance how much you would like to drink over the Christmas period to help you manage the pressure: "Alcohol increases stress, anxiety and depression so it may be helpful to avoid or limit alcohol. Although you may feel pressured to drink if others are, remind yourself it is ok to say ‘no’ and that it is your choice whether to drink or not. If you do drink, try and ensure that this is in moderation and that you drink plenty of water."
15. Keep your hands busy.
16. Clear your head.
"I have bipolar disorder and my house becomes very chaotic with lots of people and I’m around a lot of triggers (i.e. alcohol, family arguments, etc.). Exercise has been the best therapy. I make sure that I have access to a gym because the endorphins help elevate my mood. If I can’t make it to the gym, just a simple walk with my dog or with another family member is enough to get me out of the house and help me clear my thoughts."
17. Stick to routines you find comforting.
"Recovering from an eating disorder around the Christmas holidays is probably the trickiest time of the year. in my case, the only people who know about my eating issues are my mum and my sister, and everyone else just thinks I’m diet-mad and acting ridiculous.
"A trick that really helps me is to try and recreate my normal would-be-at-school-routine every day throughout Christmas. This includes (painfully) waking up really early just to eat breakfast at the time i normally would, having the same size portions of lunch and dinner (even Christmas dinner) as I normally would, and going to bed as early as I normally would. Doing this makes my body feel as if nothing’s changing."
Silver adds: "Although Christmas can be a very difficult time for people with eating disorders, try to not just focus on the food, but instead try and focus on the company and other aspects of Christmas. Set realistic expectations of the day so you do not set yourself up to fail."
18. Don't force yourself to be happy.
"Christmas is really hard for me after my dad took his own life on Christmas 3 years ago. I also have bipolar disorder, PTSD, anorexia and have been in and out of inpatient treatment for the last 2 years.
"Last year I was in hospital on Christmas and what helped me get through that was my friends all called me to talk so I could feel less lonely. I also made sure I wasn't on my own for longer than about 10 minutes at a time because that would have made me much worse.
"I also let myself feel sad if I need to because it can be an incredibly lonely and sometimes scary time of year and it can make it worse to pretend to be happy all the time.
"I also make sure everyone knows I'm not allowed to drink so that people don't try to force me to drink just because it's Christmas."
— Carys, via email
19. Seek help as soon as you feel you need to.
20. Remember your meds.
"Get your medication sorted! I didn’t have enough of my tablets to last the holidays because I forgot that our pharmacies and clinics are often closed. Also it turned out that my dose wasn’t correct either which made a difficult time much harder."
21. And lastly, don't feel bad for asking people to come to you.
"I spent most of my teenage years living in the house my parents still live in and a lot of difficult things happened during that time. I moved out 5 years ago and going back to visit has gotten harder and harder. I don't want to let my family down and that makes me feel even worse about the situation.
"This year for the first time my parents have agreed to come to me. Most of my flatmates will be away and so my parents and sister are going to spend Christmas here in an environment I feel safe and I'm able to be myself. For the first time in years I am looking forward to Christmas."
— Katie, via email