12 Tips to a More Mentally Health Christmas

These tips were originally featured on our Facebook page on the run up to Christmas. Most of them are applicable all year round, so hopefully you'll find them interesting. 

Take notice simply means be mindful. Mindfulness can be a great tool to relax and calm down, especially in stressful situations, and essentially means be aware of the present moment as it is without getting lost in your thoughts too much. This one might take a little practice, but the science behind it is really impressive.

 Let us know if mindfulness has helped you. If you’d like to learn more there’s lots of information online. Take a look at these website for more info, research and ways to get started!

This might be of special interest to you if you or someone you know experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition caused by at least partly by a lack of light. In some people, the dark winter months and staying indoors often causes your happy neurotransmitters take a nap for winter leaving you sleepy and more prone to feeling depressed.

 One of the best ways to combat this is just to go outside during the day when the sun’s out. It might not seem very bright outside at this time of year, but even an overcast day is much brighter than being inside and lets your brain know you are not in hibernation! Remember to wrap up warm though! If you’d like an extra boost, you might think about buying a specially designed super-bright light that’s been clinically proven to treat SAD.

 To learn more about SAD and ways to treat it, visit the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association.

 his one is more for people who know someone with a mental health problem, especially if they come to you to let you know about it. To acknowledge means to accept or admit the existence or the truth of something. This might sound simple, but it’s very important. It’s so easy to start offering solutions to people and try ‘fix’ them somehow, but really what’s often more helpful is just to acknowledge what they’re going through, even if you don’t understand it yourself.

 Think of it this way. If you were diagnosed with cancer and told a friend about it, would you prefer they start telling you about miraculous cures they’ve read about, or would you prefer a hug? There is of course a place for recovery (it’s a big part of what Birchwood Highland is all about), but there’s a time to just be there for someone as well.

 Today’s tip is to connect. This means keeping in touch with people and nurturing relationships. At this time of year, it’s common to feel lonely, so remember that simply being around people whose company you enjoy is good for mental health and can take your mind off things.

Facebook, Twitter and text messaging are good ways of keeping in touch, but nothing beats real life chat! Other people can give you a new perspective on things; we’ve all had the experience of thinking ourselves into a state over something, only to have it look much more manageable after talking about it with someone.

 It’s also good to look out for each other, so if there’s a friend, family member or colleague who might be feeling down this Christmas, give them a call and say hello!

 Today’s tip for a more mentally healthy Christmas is play. Playing is doing whatever you enjoy and whatever engages your mind in an active, curious way. As adults, we stop messing around on swings spend a lot of our time focused on our responsibilities, but there’s a big kid inside waiting to have fun – all you need to do if find out what that means for you!

Even with all the demands at this time of year, let’s try to find a little time for ourselves to indulge in those things we love that we haven’t done in a while. It might be cranking up your favourite song or playing a dusty instrument that’s been neglected for too long. Better yet, if there’s kids in your family, trying joining in the fun. They’re usually much better at playing than we are…

oday’s tip is to volunteer. Volunteering has so many benefits that it’s tricky to sum them up in one post, but I’ll give it a try!

One of the best things about volunteering is that it causes a proven ‘happiness effect’ which is a natural side effect of helping others. It also reduces social isolation, which can be a big factor in mental ill health, giving you the chance meet new friends and find new opportunities 

Volunteering improves career prospects, gets you up and about and is an excellent way to boost self esteem and confidence, not to mention a path to gaining new skills. 

If you’d like to support mental health in the local community, you might want to try volunteering with Birchwood Highland. Just email info@birchwoodhighland.org.uk and we’ll get back to you with more information.

 earning is something we’re more or less pressured into as children and young adults, and the stressful process of exams, deadlines, uninteresting subjects and grading can often leave people with a bad taste in their mouth.

But learning new things can be excellent for mental health (mainly mild to moderate depression & anxiety). The key ingredient to mentally beneficial learning is picking a subject that fascinates you, which could be anything from foraging wild plants and making your own food and medicine, to learning to play a musical instrument. From there you can figure out if you prefer to learn by reading, watching, or doing and find the right resources for you from a tutor, a book or online sites and videos. Whatever you’re interested in, I bet there are vibrant communities of people teaching and learning the same subject!

 Learning has a physical impact on the brain’s neurology, causing neural connections to be made whenever you learn something new. This keeps the brain smart, malleable, and switched on. Then there’s the psychological benefits, such as a boost in self-esteem, confidence, and the chance to interact with new people with similar interests.

 

Let’s try to forget about all those boring maths classes in school and find out what really interests us, so that we can embrace learning as something that will really benefit our lives.

‘Learning never exhausts the mind.’

– Leonardo da Vinci

  ‘Exercise’ has all sorts of negative connotations (at least for me) and it’s not the kind of advice that gets people very interested. It seems like a chore!

But to just think of it as movement might be a little easier to put into practice. Enjoyable movement might be running at 6am, but it could be dancing in the living room, a yoga class, playing with the kids, or playing football with some friends. Ask yourself, ‘How can I move more today?’

Moving your body is an important component of mental health and releases all sorts of beneficial hormones and neurotransmitters that improve mood. In fact, if all the physiological and psychological benefits of exercise could be put into a pill, it would be the most effective and best selling medicine of all time.

Having lots of tasks to do can be one of the most stressful things about Christmas, especially if you’re looking for everything to be perfect. You might try taking some time out to plan out everything you need to do and write it down or download an organised to do list app for your phone. I use Wunderlist and it’s one of the best.

Having everything written down means you can trust that all the things you need to do are safe and sound in a place outside your mind, so there’s more chance you’ll be able to stop reminding yourself of all the things you need to later in the day, which can be mentally exhausting.

Think of it like RAM on a computer; if too many programs are running it gets overworked. Writing everything down is a bit like shutting down programs so that you’re free to relax and focus on what you’re doing at that moment. It ties in well with day 1’s tip on mindfulness,

Today’s tip might the most difficult to put into practice at this time of year, but maybe I can help to convince you to make a few small changes for the coming year!

 

The link between diet and mental health is getting stronger all the time, with more and more research showing all the fascinating effects of food and how it impacts every part of your body, including your brain and mental health. For example, did you know that naturally occurring bacteria in your digestive system makes neurotransmitters for your brain that effect your mood?

 

Everyone realises that diet has a big impact on physical health, but thinking of eating for mental health isn’t quite as mainstream.But with all the diets out there and all the conflicting information, what is a healthy diet? We could go on for days about this, but to keep it very simple, just eat ‘real food’. This means avoiding those artificial ingredients you can barely pronounce on the ingredients labels, and refined/processed things like white sugar and white flour.

 

Real food means that it’s grown on a farm and sent to the shop where you can buy it as it is. Steamed veg and chicken is real food. This is the way we all ate for thousands of years before the industrial revolution came along and we started changing and altering food using strange chemical processes and machines. 

The important thing is not to get too stressed out over diet. Focus on enjoying all the healthy foods you can eat, instead of feeling deprived about what you can’t.

    

With all the busyness and perhaps stress and difficult emotions this time of year can bring, it can be so easy to forget to take a moment to enjoy ourselves. The type of enjoyment I’m talking about isn’t the same as when everything is going perfectly and all our work is done. It’s more like a type of wonder and just being grateful that you’re alive and experiencing whatever it is that’s happening. Sort of like the old saying, ‘stop and smell the roses’.

This ties in with the tip on mindfulness on day one, which starts with just taking a moment to be aware of your surroundings and coming out of your automatic thought processes.

 You might be out walking with the cold air on your face with a friend and realise you can really savour the moment. Each moment is unique and will never be repeated, so you might find it important to slow down for a minute and enjoy it, whatever it might be.

 This is easier when you’re sitting in your living room with a glass of wine, but with practice and maybe some mindfulness, it’s available more often and it’s good for your nervous system to take little vacations from whatever your concerns are that day for a moment.

 Hopefully that made sense and you’re not forgetting to enjoy yourself this Christmas Eve, even if it’s all going to pot

 

t’s impossible to say this without sounding cheesy, but they say Christmas is all about giving, and putting your focus on helping other people and doing what you can, in whatever small ways you can, to change the world around you for the better can have a positive impact on the mental health of you and others.

This could be as simple as giving someone a compliment on something they’ve done, putting some thought and effort into personalising a gift, or giving your time to someone in a valuable way.

And speaking of giving, if you’ve found this Facebook campaign for a more mentally healthy Christmas helpful, please support us to allow us to continue our work in the community with people experiencing mental ill health. Click on the link below if you’d like to donate on our JustGiving page.