Feeling snowed under? Taking care of your mental wellbeing in a Covid Christmas

Categories: School of Health and Society

People around the UK are preparing for a very different Christmas this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

For some, the prospect of ‘Christmas bubbles’ may mean that they have to choose which family members and friends they will be seeing. Others may have made a decision that they feel the risk of mixing at all is too high, and will be spending the day on their own this year. Still more may have lost their income this year as unemployment has increased and may be feeling anxious about managing the expense of Christmas.

Dr Ashley Weinberg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Salford, offers his top tips on how to manage your mental wellbeing, however you are spending the festive season.

“Take some pressure off by agreeing with friends and family in advance that this is not going to be a ‘normal’ Christmas and giving yourselves permission to run with that, for instance by prioritising sharing your time and good wishes rather than who's got or is giving the biggest gifts.

“Find a Covid-safe way to do something festive together, whether it's having a sing-along over the phone, playing charades through the window or in a park/open space, getting out for a walk and simply chatting, or raising a glass or two on an online chat or video call.

“Expect the unexpected and focus on appreciating things we might usually take for granted. Positive psychologists encourage us to spend more time focussing on things that are going well, rather than on what's going wrong. It is possible that your plans may have to change at short notice (for instance if one of your bubble needs to self-isolate), but try to find and focus on the positive in the situation.

“Try to see material things in a new light. This year more than ever, perhaps true Christmas spirit is just about communicating and being together in whatever way we can, exchanging wishes and making plans for the New Year. For instance, a lovely homemade card with thoughtful words might be the perfect gift, especially if you or your loved one(s) can't safely get to the shops.

“Finally, try to keep an eye on neighbours who may not be able to see their loved ones or maybe reach out to someone who you know is alone over the festive season – even if it is just to say 'Hi'. You could make a huge difference to their day, and might even make yourself feel a little better too. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our own wellbeing is to help cheer the spirits of others.”

Dr Mark Widdowson, Senior Lecturer in Counselling & Psychotherapy at the university, agrees. “Every year at Christmas we place a lot of expectation on people, talking about what we should and shouldn't do at Christmas to try and make everything perfect. This year things may be even more heightened as Covid-19 worries and restrictions play their part too.

“Try to tone down your expectations – just because it's Christmas doesn't mean everyone will be nice and get along all of the time. While lots of people may have really missed spending time with family and friends this year and be looking forward to seeing each other, it's important to understand that being together in a bubble for a few days is likely to be stressful and you may find you need your own space at times.

“If you do find yourself getting irritated or anxious, have a break and take some slow, deep breaths. Slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of four, gently hold your breath for a count of two and slowly exhale through your mouth for a count of six. Repeat this 10-20 times, to give your body time to settle back to normal. Be patient, as it often takes a few minutes of breathing slowly for you to feel the benefit of it.

“Whatever your plans for Christmas just try to enjoy the break, stay safe and don't feel that you have to do everything – be kind to yourself!”

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