Far from being "the most wonderful time of the year", Christmas time can be a difficult period for many Irish people. Different years bring with them different challenges, and if this year has been a difficult one for you, make sure you mind your mental health this festive season. 

For those experiencing mental illness, the litany of seasonal expectations, social gatherings and financial demands can be extremely challenging. 

Eddie Murphy
Dr Eddie Murphy

According to clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy, the festive season can intensify underlying issues for many people. 

"What we know is that all the bank holidays and festive periods are particularly vulnerable times for those with emotional well being or mental health challenges", Dr Murphy explained.

"A lot of people are talking about things that they are going to do or people they are going to meet and if you’re in a vulnerable position, it can amplify a sense of loneliness".

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix solution for reconciling yourself with the holiday period, but there are steps that can be taken to ease anxieties around certain seasonal stresses. 

Sleep 

sleep
Dr Murphy advises maintaining a sleep cycle over the holidays

Numerous late nights and hectic days take their toll and sleeplessness is sure to make anyone irritable regardless of their general mental well-being. 

"Desynchronising from your sleep can have a major impact on your emotional wellness", Dr Murphy warns.

Dr Murphy advises that maintaining a sleep cycle has more to do with a regular waking time than with a consistent bedtime.

"Sleep is important and having an appropriate sleep cycle. The thing that maintains your sleep cycle is a regular getting up time", he said. 

So tempting as it may seem, sleeping in until 11am every day of the Christmas holidays may just be doing your mental health more harm than good.

Alcohol

wine
It's important to remember that alcohol is a depressant

Alcohol remains a major part of the Irish social scene particularly at Christmas when events like the infamous 12 pubs take precedence. 

For those with ongoing or previous issues with alcohol addiction, Christmas can increase the pressures associated with drinking to excess.

Furthermore, as alcohol is a natural depressant, it increases problems for those suffering from depression, compounding feelings of isolation and self-doubt. 

Dr. Murphy recommends following a traffic light module when it comes to drinking at Christmas. 

"So its red, amber, green. You can say these are the things that I need to do in the green zone, these are my amber zones I’ve got to be be alert in this zone otherwise I tip into the red zone," he explains. 

Checking in like this can make an individual more aware of how much they are drinking and the effect it is having, hopefully preventing them from finding themselves in riskier situations. 

Finance

christmas budget
Christmas costs can overstretch any budget

Budgets are almost always overstretched come Christmastime, which can be a major source of concern for those experiencing financial difficulty or unemployment. 

"Santa had a list for a reason. So make a list and you stick to it and budget don’t over extend yourself", Dr. Murphy advises.

Most of us struggle financially at Christmas. Family Kris Kindles can be a great way of reducing financial stress so that you buy one present for one person rather than one for every person in your extended family. 

It can be great fun trying to decide on that perfect gift and demands that you learn more about family members that you might not necessarily be that close to.  

Another great option for benefitting your own mental health while reducing your spending can be to create a gift for someone. 

Working on a craft project is a great way to relieve your own stress as well as cutting down on spending and it is usually these personalized gifts that are more appreciated. 

Christmas is really a time to recharge the batteries and while it’s important to avoid risky situations it’s also best to try and look as positively on the period as possible. 

"Rather than don’t do this and don’t to that flip it on the opposite side on the positive side", Dr. Murphy says.

"Do have healthy relationships, forget about the don’t list, do drink healthily, do rest and relax and restore yourself."

Dr. Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist. More information can be found at dreddiemurphy.ie