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How to protect your mental health in the festive season

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How to protect your mental health in the festive season

While Christmas is one of the most magical times of the year, for many people it is also the most difficult time of the year.

Mental health advocate Keith Russell has urged people to practice self-care over the festive season, adding that there are always people to talk to, whether that is a family member, friend or mental health charity.

For those with body and food issues, it can be even more difficult, and this is something Mr Russell has experience with as he has spoken openly about his struggles with body dysmorphia, anxiety and depression.

Mr Russell, who has a mental health podcast called The Endless Spiral, said keeping a routine and practising self-care is crucial for everyone over the Christmas period, particularly those who struggle with mental health issues.

“If you suffer with anxiety, routine is very important. Anything that is self-care for you is important to keep,” Mr Russell told BreakingNews.ie.

“Last year wasn’t a good Christmas for me. This year I’m in a better headspace, and I’m able to appreciate things a lot more. I think what can help a lot of people is to look at the bigger picture and think: Christmas comes and goes, but your health doesn’t, it stays with you.

“So keep up with any of the self-care you do, whether that’s walking, meditation, swimming, whatever it is, don’t throw that away just because it’s Christmas.”

Keith Russell interviewing Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, on his podcast The Endless Spiral.

Mr Russell also believes managing expectations is crucial.

With families together for longer than usual, sharing small spaces, conflict can often arise, whether it’s over a spilt drink or a game of Monopoly.

Mr Russell said setting boundaries can help to avoid conflict.

“Setting boundaries is important. Having a couple of mince pies won’t destroy your life, but the problem is when you’re in a negative headspace you might think it will. It’s important to manage these negative thoughts and try to catch them early.

“Someone gave me a plate of four mince pies recently. I was thinking ‘oh my god’, but I said to myself then, ‘if you eat them Keith, it’s not the end of the world’. Don’t let negative thoughts fester.

“Try to do things in moderation, manage your negative thoughts and give yourself a break. If you want to give yourself the couple of days to eat what you want, do it, but still manage your self-care in this time. Sometimes it’s hard to switch back on again with self-care when you take a break from it.

“Some people restrict meals before Christmas, nearly starve themselves, and then binge-eat. That can make things spiral and should really be avoided. Manage your expectations too. If you have people in your family who try to make you eat more, tell them beforehand, ‘listen, I want to take it easy and not overeat’.

“Sometimes, this is the best thing to do because it prevents them from getting angry, or thinking you’re being rude. Setting boundaries and expressing your needs a lot better can really help.”

The festive season can also lead to pressure to socialise almost every night, something which can be overwhelming for a lot of people.

Mr Russell said there is nothing wrong with saying no to certain things, and picking and choosing nights to go out and socialise.

“When you socialise too much it can sometimes make you reject your self-care. It’s about prioritising yourself sometimes.

“You can have an exit strategy for yourself, you can go to an event and say ‘I’ll be here for an hour or two and I’m going to head home then’.

“Another thing is trying to limit social media. Comparisons are a big cause of unhappiness, looking at people’s pictures on Instagram with the perfect presents or perfect family, but in reality everyone has their problems. Don’t compare yourself or your Christmas to anyone else. Your Christmas is your Christmas.

“Manage your thoughts. I think that’s quite important, practice gratitude (looking at the bigger picture), limit social media and practice self-care.”