Everywhere we look, Christmas is presented to us as “the most wonderful time of the year” – from songs and films to cards and TV ads. Yet for most people, it isn’t quite so perfect. Just as it gets colder and the daylight hours reduce, many of us find ourselves at one extreme or another. Either there’s too much going on and we feel stressed, or there’s not enough and we feel lonely.

To top it off, we find these impossibly perfect depictions of Christmas everywhere we look. And if you’re already coping with the challenges of anxiety or depression, all these added pressures can make it hard to manage. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are strategies to help you manage this winter and lighten your mood. At Socium, we’ve got years of experience in all areas of mental health, from counselling to 24/7 care. We know the challenges of the festive season for anyone with anxiety or depression, and that’s why we want to help. These are our ten tips for coping this Christmas …

1.    Forget about the “perfect Christmas”

The fictional depictions we see of Christmas are just that: fictional. We can’t compare our lives to the scenes in a Christmas card. Be realistic and don’t pressure yourself to live up to some impossible ideal.

2.    Don’t be a victim of other people’s expectations.

Let’s be honest – some people can ask too much of us at Christmas. You don’t have to go to every party. You don’t have to buy the most expensive presents. It’s good to be sociable and it’s good to help others, but don’t neglect yourself in the process. Be upfront with those close to you. If you need a breather, or people are asking too much, let them know.

3.    Don’t over-indulge

December can be a time of excess. The pubs are packed, alcohol sales increase, and it can be all too tempting to get carried away. Remember that alcohol is a depressant, and can make anxiety and depression worse. What’s more, if you’re taking medication, alcohol can be dangerous.

It’s also far too easy to overeat. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional treat, but we all know that too much rich, fatty and sugary food is bad for you. What’s less well understood is that physical health has a huge effect on mental health. Even if it feels good for a fleeting moment, unhealthy eating is no good for your mood. Which brings us to …

4.    Exercise

Keeping yourself as fit as possible can be a huge boost to your mental health. In the short term, exercise releases hormones that improve mood, like dopamine and serotonin. There’s also the self-esteem boost that comes from looking after yourself. Regular exercise provides a routine, which gives us a sense of stability. These are just a few of the many reasons why exercise is important.

In the winter, it matters even more. A run, a jog or even a walk will get you out of the house. It gives you access to fresh air and daylight, at a time when daylight hours are fewer. This is important, as sunlight has a significant impact on our mood. In the darker months, it’s vital to catch natural light when it’s there.

5.    Treat yourself.

Physical health matters and our previous points are important, but there’s a balance to be struck. You can have that slice of cake and enjoy it. Just telling yourself you deserve a treat can boost your mood. Allowing yourself a bit of pleasure is a huge part of looking after yourself.

6.    Be honest.

There’s less stigma around mental health than there used to be and that’s great. But there are still people who won’t admit they’re having a hard time. It’s vital not to fall into that trap. You probably have more support than you realise. Talk to someone – a friend, a relative, a phoneline, even an anonymous forum. That simple act is a huge release in itself.

7.    Try not to be too negative.

We know this is easier said than done. But when we decide something is going to be terrible, this can become an easy excuse not to even try. Christmas is no different. There’s no need to overdo it or love every minute, but it’s worth trying to make the most of the things you do enjoy.

8.    Don’t worry about things you can’t control

For some people, family strife is inevitable at Christmas. It’s not pleasant if your relatives are arguing with each other, but try to accept that you can’t control it. What you can control is your own reaction. You don’t have to allow yourself to be dragged into anything that increases your anxiety. Try to take a step back and focus on yourself.

9.    Shop online

Every year it’s the same – the supermarkets and shopping malls are packed with people buying presents and stocking up for Christmas. For many people, queues and crowds are a source of anxiety, but you don’t have to put yourself through it. Whether it’s gifts or groceries, you can get pretty much everything you need online these days. If you don’t like crowds, you can use this to avoid them.

10. Don’t deny yourself the help you need.

All this can help get you through the stresses of the festive season. But some of us need professional support as well. This is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. If you think you might benefit from it, don’t hesitate – whether it’s counselling, medication or full-time care.

How can Socium help?

We’re a network of experienced mental health specialists, and we’ve seen over the years how challenging the winter months can be. Many people could do with a helping hand, but it’s not always clear where to go and costs can spiral. That’s why we’ve launched our Check-In service.

Socium Check-In is an affordable, practical mental health subscription service. It begins with an assessment with a Registered Mental Health Nurse (RMN), to make sure that Check-In is right for you. After that, you’ll have a weekly call with your RMN – to talk through any difficulties or concerns, or just catch up. Your RMN will prepare regular reports on your progress, and act as a point of contact on anyone else involved in your care.

We’ll always recommend leaning on your loved ones to support your mental health. But professional support can provide the expertise and impartiality that our personal connections don’t always have. If you’re not sure about coping with Christmas, it’s important to address it. You can get in touch with us by phone at +44 203 384 0007, or through our contact page.