Written by Helena Mackie
As days are getting shorter, nights longer and countries are descending into national lockdowns across the globe, this Christmas is inevitably feeling very different from anything we have experienced before.
Mental health issues have increased dramatically since the outbreak of the pandemic. This is especially felt in already marginalised communities like BAME communities, younger people and LGBTQIA+ communities.
We have seen this particularly in key workers, those shielding and university students who have faced an end to face-to-face teaching, isolation in university accommodation and uncertainty over whether they would be able to return home for Christmas.
At a time riddled with so much uncertainty, it is a priority that we protect our mental wellbeing and check in with vulnerable friends and family.
Here are our top tips to make this Christmas special and memorable whilst protecting the mental wellbeing of ourselves and others.
5 things you can do to support your own mental wellbeing during a COVID Christmas
1. Stay in contact with friends and family
If you're not able to see friends and family in person this year, make sure to schedule in a call or FaceTime. For now, this is the new normal and we should embrace the fact that we can talk to our loved ones in real time, wherever they are in the world, in a way that keeps everyone safe.
You could play games together, sing karaoke or even eat at the same time - whatever brings the festive spirit to your home.
If the thought of one more Zoom call doesn’t appeal to you - we’ve all had one too many haven’t we - how about writing a letter or Christmas card and sending gifts or baked goods in the post? Now more than ever these interactions can really boost our mood.
But if things are bad enough that these everyday remedies don’t help, there are many places you can speak to confidentially about anything worrying you:
For urgent help in a crisis in England, speak to an NHS mental health professional.
The Samaritans on 116 123, open 24 hours
If you're a student, you could make use of your university’s wellbeing services: they are there to support you throughout your studies.
Mostly importantly, remember that people are willing and ready to help; no call is seen as a waste of time.
You might also like: 6 ways to get involved with Mental Health Awareness Week
2. Keep your traditions alive
Despite being a very different year, this certainly does not mean that Christmas is cancelled! Where possible (and keeping it COVID-friendly of course), celebrate this season how you normally would.
Cook your favourite food, read your favourite books, watch your favourite films and play your favourite games. At a time where daily change is expected, these are the things we can control and keep constant.
3. Don’t be afraid to seek financial support
If work and finances are having a negative impact on your mental health, make sure you have made yourself aware of your employment and benefits rights.
The government website provides information on the support that is available to you in these challenging times.
4. Approach social media with caution
Social media is undoubtedly a fantastic way of keeping in contact with friends and family at a time that can make us feel isolated. However, these platforms can have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing.
Limit your consumption of content that doesn’t make you feel good and do not compare yourselves to others. These platforms only show the highlights!
Using social media in a mindful way could involve setting time limits on apps or making sure you only follow people that have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing.
5. Look after your physical health
The power of the phrase ‘healthy body health mind’ should not be underestimated.
Regular exercise and healthy eating is just as good for your mental health as it is for your physical health.
Over the Christmas period if you are able, consider exercising, getting enough sleep and eating food that satisfies and nourishes.
Due to increased stress and anxiety, many people have turned to alcohol which may be having adverse impacts on our mental wellbeing. Alcohol Change UK provides support and helpful tips if you or a loved one is drinking excessively in lockdown.
You might also like: Five Ways to Support Your Mental Wellbeing During Lockdown
4 things you can do to support the mental wellbeing of others
1. Support local/independent businesses in your gift purchases where you can
With widespread job losses across the UK since the spread of COVID in March, many people have taken this time to innovate and develop their own businesses from their homes.
With prolonged closures of non-essential shops, it is important that we continue to support small businesses and start-ups.
This Christmas, why not show your support and buy your friends and family gifts from independent businesses? Or purchase gift vouchers that they can use in person when things are safer.
Bath Christmas Market: The infamous Bath Christmas market has moved online this year where you can shop from a range of local stallholders.
Solo Craft Fair: The South London Craft market has also moved online. Each Monday evening between 7-8pm a virtual market is held on their Instagram story.
And of course Etsy, the shop for personalized and handcrafted gifts.
You might also like: Voices of Change | Hospitality Action
2. Become a telephone befriender to support the happiness and wellbeing of the elderly and make a new friend
Whilst the pandemic has certainly altered the nature of volunteering this year, where in-person opportunities to support people are much more limited, there are other ways you can get involved. And that's what we're all about here at What Can We Do? !
Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness at this time, especially those that are living alone.
You could become a telephone befriender, to make a difference this Christmas and make a new friend! This involves speaking to someone for 30 minutes a week, from the comfort and safety of your own home.
You can be matched with someone with similar interests, meaning that the conversation is enjoyable for both of you.
3. Check in with friends and family
Whilst volunteering to support elderly and vulnerable people is a fantastic way to support others, make sure that you check in with your own circle too, such as any friends and family who are living alone or who could feel particularly isolated at this time.
Let them know that you are available to listen and if you are particularly concerned about their wellbeing, point them towards appropriate professional help.
You might also like: Spotlight on suicide
4. Donate to a mental health charity
We know that talking can save and change lives, but you're not expected to do it all on your own. Donating to professional mental health services and charities makes sure that there is always professional help available for those that need it, and donations are more needed this year than ever.