Author, Mabel Smith.
Yes, the Christmas festive period can feel like a really big deal. And it can sometimes feel like the only options are to be ecstatic about the holiday or a complete scrooge (or grinch). This blog is for anyone who’s a jingle junkie, seasonal scrooge, or just trying to get through the holidays. We will be talking about our mental health around this holiday period, and how things like pressure, reverse culture shock, family time and loneliness can get to all of us (even the festive fanatics).
Because this time of year is heavily celebrated (and commercialised) it’s easy to feel like there is pressure to have a good time and be happy. However, according to YouGov, in 2019 “a quarter of people say Christmas makes their mental health worse” . No matter how much we try to be ‘merry’, if we are struggling with our mental health – no amount of singing, jingles or fake snow will pull us through.
So… let’s try and take the pressure off. Instead of trying to force ourselves to feel something we don’t, let’s remind ourselves that this year doesn’t have to be our best. Being present and in the moment is enough. Maybe if we start to acknowledge that we made it here – that we’re doing our best, then we could start to feel pockets of joy. Instead of aiming to enjoy every second of the break, we can get swept up in a few good moments, because it doesn’t always have to be a ‘happy’ holiday the whole way through. You’ve shown up. You’ve made it here. You’re doing your best.
For some, being with family is beautiful. For others, it can be difficult and triggering. If you’re reading this then please remember – at any age, your feelings are valid. Maybe something has upset you, and this has triggered some underlying feelings. Perhaps you’re not only feeling hurt as the person you are now, but as your younger self. Trust us, it’s very easy to resort back to childhood feelings when we’re with our family.
So, remember to take time for yourself. This period is a holiday after all. That means the pressures of university, deadlines and exams has been lifted a little. Perhaps you’re not enjoying all this time with your family – but you can take time to enjoy this time off. Remember to take yourself off this Christmas. By going off into a space of your own or grabbing a coffee and getting some fresh air. Take time to reflect on everything you have done this year. It’s easy to forget what we’ve achieved because we spend so much time looking ahead and thinking about what we can do next. So let’s pause. Perhaps you’ve moved abroad to study this year – how brave. Maybe you’ve been struggling with your mental health and still managed to put one foot in front of the other – how strong. Or you’ve learnt how to create boundaries to protect yourself and your space from people that are toxic – how wise.
It’s been a year, yet you’re still here and you’re still fighting – how incredible are you? (very).
Getting settled – Reverse Culture Shock
Some students who have been studying abroad might be thinking “I’ve just got settled and now I have to leave again”. After the adjustment to your new city, the idea of going home might feel scary. We wrote a blog on Culture Shock, referring to the “ anxiety, stress, and depression that people can experience when they move abroad.” But did you know there’s such a thing as Reverse Culture Shock?
Reverse Culture Shock is a reaction to returning home after studying abroad. Think of it like homesickness but put into reverse. Reverse Culture Shock can feel like:
Perhaps you made new friends abroad, or found a new routine that worked for you, and now that you’re home you feel at a loss. Maintaining contacts and routine will help you cope with this feeling of loss.
- A shift in self and/or relationships
Hearing someone tell us “You’ve changed” can feel like a negative thing, or sometimes even an insult. But the reality is – we all change. We grow. Change is positive and we shouldn’t feel bad about it.
Returning to your old life, after so much excitement, can suddenly feel dull. But you can bring your new mindset home with you. Go and explore what’s around you with your new perspective.
Not only may you be feeling some (or all) of the above. But when no one understands what you’re going through then you can begin to feel isolated. You could also feel as though you can’t articulate what you’re going through. Sometimes people react out of jealousy, and although that isn’t yours to carry – you can try and make your experience abroad relatable to the people you are talking to, in hopes that they will understand you.
Going home for the holidays doesn’t mean that we are going to reverse all the hard work we’ve put into our lives abroad. Christmas (for the US, UK and Europe) is often a period of “stillness”. Most people slow down around this period. So yes, you may be packing up for now. You may even feel like your takings steps backwards, but everyone else has slowed down too. Try and enjoy the stillness and see it is an opportunity to incorporate your new/changed/grown self into your surroundings.
In a world that pushes the Holiday Season as a time of “togetherness”, “family” and “home”, those of us who are lonely can feel even more isolated this time of year. Perhaps you’ve realised that being alone this Christmas is better than being with family, or perhaps you don’t have a choice. If this is the case, then don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling. Maybe you have friends to lean on and speak to over this period. Or you could find like-minded people spending the festive period alone through different social media groups and pages. Or maybe you just want to be by yourself this year. Whatever the reason, whatever you’re doing – no one needs to be alone for Christmas if they don’t want to be. At mindhamok, we have a network of professionals to speak to, to help combat loneliness – we’re here if you need us.
To anyone who’s nervous about heading home for Christmas – it’s ok. There are so many reasons why you might be feeling this way. And although you may experience sadness, loneliness, and anxiety over this period, you will also experience resilience. Because that is what we are – resilient human beings. Never forget it. And have a very merry / ok / average / fine (or maybe even sh*t) Christmas, because it’s just a day and you’re only human.
And if Christmas day isn’t your favourite day of the year – who gives a flying fruitcake about it all anyway!?