For people with mental health difficulties, the Holiday season and the month of December can be an extremely difficult and distressing time of year for a wide range of reasons. For example, it can be difficult to feel great and enjoy the holiday season when you're depressed and you feel judged for not enjoying the season. Also, maybe the holidays are difficult for people who have lost a loved one, and maybe people with mood disorders don't have the schedule and routine they need for their mood stability. Those are only a mere fraction of the reasons why the holidays can be difficult for people with mental health difficulties. Therefore, in this clinical podcast episode, we'll investigate how people with mental health difficulties can cope this December and how you can support people at this time of year. If you enjoy learning about mental health, clinical psychology and psychotherapy then you'll love today's episode.
Today's podcast episode has been sponsored by Working With Children and Young People: A Guide To Clinical Psychology, Mental Health and Psychotherapy. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Note: NOTHING on this podcast is any sort of official information or advice.
3 Reasons Why People With Mental Health Difficulties Struggle During December
Before I talk about my own fears and anxieties surrounding this December, I wanted to approach the topic more broadly and then I'll talk about the different ways to support people.
Firstly, there are a lot of social pressures at this time of year and this affects people in different ways. For instance, there are always Christmas and family parties to go to, university socials to attend and everyone basically implies you need to be happy and joyous or just stay away from Christmas. Since in my experience, no one is interested in dealing with a depressed or non-joyous person during the holiday season.
As a result, this could place a lot of stress and only amplifies an anxious or depressed person's negative automatic thoughts and only make them "worse". Since they might believe they will be judged even more than usual during this time of year. Meaning that it is the social pressure of the holiday season that can negatively impact the mental health of depressed and anxious people.
A second reason why the holidays might be difficult for people is because someone isn’t with them this year. I mean this in terms of a passed away loved one, but actually, this could be the first Christmas after a divorce, a bad breakup with a long-term partner or something else happening in someone’s life. When this happens then Christmas could be a painful reminder of that loss and it could trigger a lot of unwanted memories or it could be an awful reminder of the world they lived in. For example, a world without a parent or a partner. This is even more painful for the person if they don’t have any or many ways to help deal with their feelings.
For instance, I know the year my paternal grandmother died, there weren’t a lot of options for me or most of our family to grieve or know how to react at Christmas time. Since we didn’t want to bring down anyone else in the family and friends that don’t know the person only go so far. Thankfully, in the end we did all talk about it and it was okay, but even three years later, Christmas is a reminder of her loss.
A final reason that I’ll mention in this podcast episode is domestic violence, abuse and neglect. There are a hundred other reasons but these reasons aren’t the focus of the podcast episode. Since with children and family members being off school and work during the Holidays and most of December, this can be a nightmare for people in abusive relationships and families because they are home more often. They cannot escape off to work or school to get away from it, and because of the stresses of creating the “perfect” Christmas that everyone tries to do, this could lead to abusers snapping and lashing out.
Overall, there are a lot of reasons why Christmas is triggering for a lot of people and the entire month of December can cause people to feel extremely anxious and concerned.
Thankfully, there are a lot of things people can do to support each other during this month.
Why Was I Scared and Anxious About December?
Before I talk about the 5 ways how you can support people with mental health difficulties during the holiday season, I want to briefly explain why I was (past tense) flat out terrified for December and the holiday season. As well as this podcast episode was mainly inspired by my own struggles with this upcoming time of year.
So I won’t repeat the whole history of mental health again because at this point, it is very well-documented on the podcast, but I noticed a very scary pattern for when I had my meltdowns and awful mental health. My meltdowns tended to happen when I was out of my routine and structure that kept me grounded. For example, I had a meltdown in Newcastle because I was away from university, my friends, my family and my therapy stuff and that pattern has largely stuck ever since.
As a result, when I started to think about December and how all my friends were going away back to their homes, the university was closing for the Winter Break and there would be a lot of other changes because of the social side of Christmas. I was flat out terrified of having another meltdown and experiencing a lot of bad mental health, and this time I didn’t think it was avoidable simply because these changes were happening no matter what I did. The month of December was completely out of my control and that scared me.
This led me to get very anxious, a little depressed and I was constantly walking around with this lump of fear in the back of my mind, sort of like a countdown clock until the next meltdown. Yet thankfully, I spoke to my university counsellor about this and he gave me a lot of ideas that I’ve expanded upon and I find them really helpful.
I hope you find them useful too.
Make Sure You Know Where To Get Help
One of the most useful things my university counsellor helped with me during my final session was making sure that I knew where to get support if I needed it. I think this is flat out critical for someone with mental health difficulties because as we all know, us and our clients get mental health “flare-ups” outside of the therapy office and we might not have anyone around us who can help us when we need it. Therefore, it is really useful to know who to turn to when we need some help, support and guidance.
So I’m going to share an extract from a random therapy reflection that will appear in a future book because it explains how my university counsellor helped me.
“As my therapist could see that I was genuinely concerned about December, his main focus was making sure that I had the information I needed to reach out to other mental health support services in case I was having a very intense moment where I needed support. As well as he gave me a lot of other pieces of support that would be useful to me.
For example, because I’m awaiting an autism diagnosis, my therapist told me how the university recently changed its policy so people with suspected mental health conditions and people awaiting diagnosis could get support. So he advised me to go to reception and book an appointment with a Disability Advisor.
Personally, I flat out hate the term “disability” because I refuse to see my autism as a disability as it has helped me so much in my life except to make friends. But I took the advice anyway.
In addition, he told me how there is urgent mental health support available at the university Monday to Friday in the afternoon. Therefore, if there is a crisis then I can email or just come in to get access to this urgent support. That is very useful to know because you never know what the future will bring.
Something else my university offers is in the evenings (but I forget which evenings) there are out-of-hours mental health practitioners available. This isn’t too helpful because I’m not on campus in the evenings because I live so far away, but it was still good to know and be aware of just in case.
In addition, in the UK, we have something called Samaritans, this is a mental health support charity that my therapist told me how to use. Since these people aren’t trained professionals, they aren’t counsellors and they aren’t therapists. Instead the Samaritans are people to call and basically “sit with” whilst you have your mental health difficulty so they can make sure you’re okay and don’t do anything to yourself or others. And they allow you to talk and they guide you through this difficult time.
Also, I still have access to my old private therapist from August so I do have her as an option too.
Finally, he advised me to sign up for Canterbury Community Counselling Service. This is meant to be a great service that provides free or low-cost ongoing counselling options for people, and because of this, they have long waiting lists as no one really tends to come off them. Now I haven’t signed up for this yet because I just haven’t, but this is a great resource that my counsellor highly recommends.
Overall, when it comes to fear and anxiety, knowing what support you can get is critical and having these sort of conversations was really useful in understanding how there was a lot more support available to me than I thought.”
As a result, if you’re a person who experiences negative mental health, then make sure that you know how to get support over the holiday season, because most mental health services like the NHS are closed over Christmas. As well as if you’re a current or future clinical psychologist, then it might be an idea to double-check that your clients know what support is available for them during the month of December. Sometimes you won’t be able to support them but there are plenty of services that might be able to over the festive period.
Make Sure You Have A Plan For Bad Mental Health
Something I really liked that my private therapist suggested when I popped in to see her the other week was that she stressed the importance of having a plan that was written down. Of course, I refused to do this at first because I “Know” what makes me feel good, I know how to feel better but I knew the problem with this. She mentioned that when we get depressed or have bad mental health we forget these things that make us feel good.
She was right of course because I can know everything I want about mental health, but it’s only useful if I can use it when I’m feeling bad.
As a result, my point here is if you believe this would be helpful (and I don’t think it hurts to try this) then make sure you or your client writes down a list of things they enjoy. This means when they have negative mental health they can look at the list, remember that they enjoy it and try to motivate themselves to do it so they can get pleasure from the activity and start to feel good again. That is flat out critical.
For example, these are the activities listed on my list:
· Fiction writing
· Writing blog posts
· Learning copyright
· Talking to friends
Of course, I think only the last one is relatable to any of you, but the point still remains. If I’m feeling bad then I can look at the list and make myself do an activity because it gives me pleasure.
And as I mentioned in last week’s podcast episode, activities help you to improve your mood.
A Self-Passionate Advent Calendar And Activity Scheduling
Speaking of last week’s podcast episode, I want to remind you that Activity Scheduling is flat out critical at all times of the year for mental health. So definitely make sure that yourself, your clients and anyone you love has a lot of fun activities planned for the month of December. This means they’ll be doing behavioural activation and this benefits their mood as they’ll be doing pleasurable activities.
In addition, you can do the normal activity scheduling idea I mentioned last week by scheduling these activities in a normal online or paper calendar. Or you can do something a lot more fun because it is the holiday season, and I flat out love this idea.
My university counsellor mentioned that I should do myself a self-compassionate advent calendar and I decided to take this idea one step further. I wrote down all the days in December and I made sure I had at least one thing to look forward to each day this month. My thinking behind this is if I feel down or depressed I can look at the date on this advent calendar and I make sure I’ve done that activity for the day, and I can look at the rest of the week’s activities and get excited about that.
Here is an extract from my advent calendar for the week this episode goes out:
· Monday 11th December- writing
· 12th December- Outreach work
· 13th December- Christmas meal at my social group and meeting with supervisor
· 14th December- writing
· 15th December- catch up with best friend
· 16th December- family Christmas meal
· 17th December- Moonpig cards
As you can see this week contains a wide range of different types of activities to get excited about and I admit doing Moonpig cards might not sound very pleasurable. But in my family I am very famous for writing cards that make my parents cry so that’s always fun. I hope that gave you some ideas.
Another reason why I wrote down all the dates in December is because I can highlight each day before I go to bed and I can visually see how many days left in the month I have. And this I found really useful because it was good to see that it was the 6th of December so 20% through the month and I haven’t had bad mental health yet. It was useful to see that I’m probably going to be perfectly okay. Even today’s date which is the 9th is basically 32% of the month and I’ve been fine for ages.
This month will probably be a brilliant month after all.
As a result, I would say it might be useful to work with clients, yourself or your loved one to create a list of fun planned activities that you’re going to find enjoyable and get a lot of pleasure from. That way this gives you another way to help manage this scary month.
Do Something New
Moving onto our penultimate idea for how to support people this December, in early December, I was really scared about this month because I was just waiting for a meltdown. So I wanted to try and be as busy as possible and I wanted to try something new and I wanted to have fun whilst doing it. As well as this thing that I chose has actually been a lot of fun and I think it has helped my mental health a lot.
I’ve been learning French on Duolingo.
They don’t sponsor today’s episode but Duolingo is actually brilliant. It’s really easy to use, it’s a lot of fun and it doesn’t take long. As well as it’s reminded me how much I enjoy French and other languages.
As a result, it might be an idea to do something new and learn something this holiday season. You might download Duolingo and learn that language that you’ve always wanted to. You might take up an art form you’re always been interested or you might want to buy a few books on an aspect of history that you’ve always wanted to learn more about.
I think learning is a very powerful tool if it’s something you enjoy. Since it takes your mind off your concerns and your mental health, these language apps are designed to be games so they are fun and it’s nice to feel accomplished. I always like it when I get 100% on a lesson and I get a little well done and whatnot.
It’s just a thought but you might enjoy it. I know I have.
Be With Friends and Family
The final thing I wanted to wrap up this episode with was going back to the basics because yet again I have forgotten the basics. Because I’ve been talking with the three girls I used to do my final year project with and I’ve contacted one of my oldest school friends because she sent me a Christmas card, I’ve realised how nice it is just reconnecting with people. It’s nice knowing what other people are up to and it’s good to reconnect and forge new friendships.
I’ve actually liked it so much that next week I think I’m going to contact my two oldest school friends because I haven’t spoken to them in years. I occasionally like and comment on one of their photos on Facebook and wish them a happy birthday. Yet that really is the extent of our communication. I don’t expect it to go anyway but if I reconnect with a friend then that would be great.
Therefore, my point is, and this goes for everyone, remember to text your friends and family this December. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation but as long as you contact them then it’s something. It is some social contact that you weren’t getting before and that’s important. You might need to schedule you contacting other people and that doesn’t make you weird or anything. It just means that you want to do it and you might need a little more help to actually get round to doing it.
I can promise you if contacting all my friends wasn’t on my advent calendar, I would only be contacting one of them this month. That’s how bad I can be about social contact.
Clinical Psychology Conclusion
In this mental health-focused podcast episode, we’re covered a lot of different things but all of this is important. It’s important to recognise that December isn’t a magical, perfect month for every single person on the planet, and as future or current clinical psychologists, this is something we have to acknowledge.
In addition, it’s critical that us and our clients know how to get mental health support over the holiday period, have an action plan in case of bad mental health, they do activity scheduling, maybe try a new activity and they maintain or make new contact with friends and family members.
A lot of these tips are basic mental health stuff, but as I’ve learnt it is always the basics we forget when we have mental health difficulties. And now we’ve spoken about these five tips, I really hope that you’re useful in making yours or your client’s holiday season a little more joyous, merry and filled with good cheer.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Working With Children and Young People: A Guide To Clinical Psychology, Mental Health and Psychotherapy. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
Clinical Psychology References
5 Ways To Reduce Holiday Stress
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