Christmas can be a peak time for mental illness, warns Eastern Health.
Mental health expert Tim Brewster said things like family tensions, excessive alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, loneliness, isolation, and money worries could often come to the fore and make people feel worse during the festive season.
Mr Brewster, Eastern Health’s Outer East Continuing Care Teams service manager, said the pressure to attend parties and catch up with family and friends could be hard when people found day-to-day life a challenge.
In the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas, he shared 12 tips for a mentally healthy Christmas.
He recommended planning ahead and sticking to a budget to alleviate financial issues in the New Year, suggesting a secret Santa or price limit could help.
Mr Brewster said setting boundaries about spending, tasks and social outings could reduce stress.
Rather than shopping until you drop, he suggested shopping online or popping into centres at quieter times, and sticking to a shopping list.
On the cooking front, Mr Brewster suggested delegating tasks, asking guests to bring a plate and keeping things simple.
“Let’s face it, Christmas in real life is nothing like you see in the movies,” he said.
“Christmas tends to shine a light on the stresses and cracks that already exist in relationships.
“So be mindful of the triggers that can cause arguments or tension.
“Relaxation techniques can also be beneficial for you to help manage your feelings and anxiety.”
Mr Brewster said overdoing it, especially with alcohol, could negatively impact health and wellbeing.
He recommended keeping a regular exercise routine and enjoying the outdoors to boost serotonin levels, reduce stress and work off the mince pies.
But lack of sleep or doing too much could trigger anxiety and depression, so Mr Brewster said ‘me time’ was important.
He urged people not to isolate themselves from the people who cared about them, even if they didn’t feel like socialising.
“If you think you’re going to be alone at Christmas, make it a priority to reach out to your friends and family by phone, email or social media,” he said.
“There are many awesome organisations in Melbourne who are hosting lunch events on Christmas Day, which you’re very welcome to enjoy as a guest or as a volunteer.”
Mr Brewster said the end of year could bring mixed emotions, but recommended focusing on the positive outcomes from the past 12 months and the new opportunities ahead.
He recommended giving to others to lift Christmas spirits, and to remember that there are support organisations available over the holiday period.
Beyondblue can be reached on 1300 22 46 36 and Lifeline is available on 13 11 14.