I know how hard it can be to get through the Christmas period whilst suffering with mental illness, particularly with an eating disorder. I realise that even for those of you without an eating disorder, Christmas can be hard because of the pressure to be happy, to smile, for everything to be perfect. There is a huge pressure to stay well and I imagine that like me, many others push their illness to the bottom of the pile and hide their struggles which often makes things worse in the long term. So here are my Christmas tips:
- Make a support plan before Christmas. This could include friends or family that are aware of your illness and you feel you are able to talk to, coping strategies such as distraction techniques and self soothing but also if you are under a mental health team ask them for support. Often people go on the leave and there tends to be a bit of a ‘shut down’ but services still run, you might be lucky and have a member of staff who isn’t taking a lot of leave but if not there are home treatment/crisis teams and the wards are always open too. It may be an option that you can phone the ward if struggling. Make sure you have a solid plan before Christmas arrives.
- If you struggle with food try to make a plan. I usually make a meal plan and that can help. Don’t make it too restrictive, or too challenging. Try to find a happy medium so that you are comfortable and feel ‘safe’ with it but don’t miss off having a dessert on Christmas day or a chocolate on Christmas eve if you want to. Try to include Christmas food on it otherwise a meal plan may be more detrimental than no meal plan as you might feel you are missing out or you may feel guilty if you eat something not on the plan which brings me to my next point.
- Try not to overly plan things. Things will go wrong, arguments will probably happen or someone will come down with a cold. Plan enough so that you feel safe but do not try to plan everything as this can often lead to negative feelings when things do not happen the way you hope them too.
- If you struggle with feeling unworthy or guilty, do not feel guilty for receiving presents. Remember that the person wanted to give you that present because they care about you, try to see it as a positive rather than getting upset that people spent money on you.
- Practice relaxation techniques before the big day so that you know what works for you.
- Be kind to yourself because no matter what your mind is saying, you deserve to treat yourself with love and kindness.
- Go for a Christmas day walk with whoever you are celebrating with. Sitting around all day isn’t great when your mood is low, a walk can get your endorphins going and the fresh air often helps me too.
- Be honest about whatever is worrying you. It is refreshing, I promise you. I couldn’t afford Christmas this year, I bought my immediate family and best friend a gift but have explained to the rest that I have money troubles and that this doesn’t mean I don’t care about them. I just don’t have money. Being honest was a weight off my shoulders and I feel much better for doing so. It was better than lying and feeling guilty about that or getting into debt.
- Avoid alcohol if you know it causes problems with your behaviour or mood. It may be tempting but drink tasty non-alcoholic drinks and have even more fun.
- If you struggle with loneliness find out if there are any events in the area. Youth centres, charities and homeless projects usually run Christmas dinners for anyone who is alone at Christmas regardless of age or circumstance. Or maybe find an online way of interacting with people such as twitter or support forums to help you through.
Helpful links for support over the festive period: