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Issue 2 * 09 December 2023

A Merry Mental Health Christmas

Bethan Cole

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“I think the most important thing is for us is not to put so much pressure on ourselves,” says Goldster’s Jen Shackleton on how not to feel stress, anxiety and depression at Christmas. “We strive for the best Christmas, with perfect everything, there is so much pressure. We get carried away making everything perfect and everyone happy.”


Jen recommends giving yourself time to stop and reflect. “You don’t have to be doing all the time.” She acknowledges that getting family together can be stressful. “You need a quiet time for you as well.” And also taking into account all the social engagements.


As an advanced EFT practitioner, she says EFT or tapping can help calm you down in fraught situations. “When family get together people start annoying each other. Use a technique like EFT to calm yourself, so you don’t allow niggly things to ruin your day.”


When family come to our homes there is always so much mess and noise, Jen advises us to remember the things taught by David Reilly – how to take a moment for yourself. “Use tapping, be in the moment and calm down in case there are situations where you might find yourself feeling irritable with the people you love most in the world.”

Thus we can use techniques that we might have learned from Goldster - such as breathwork, EFT and visualisation - to keep calm.


And keep questioning, Jen advises. “Dr David Reilly invites us to question our thoughts and question our responses.” With a house full of people we are more reactive. “Question things, could you respond in a different way to get a different outcome? To not lose our peace to not lose our temper.”


Lastly, she says, keep a sense of humour and don’t sweat the small stuff. “It doesn’t matter if the potatoes are overcooked or if the table decoration catches fire! The latter did actually happen to my family one year. You just had to laugh; it was a lucky escape.”


Dr Ben Cave tends to deal with mental health when it goes seriously wrong – mental illnesses like bipolar, delusions, psychosis and schizophrenia. Obviously, if you have one of these more serious conditions the advice differs a bit. Most psychiatrists will tell you to take your prescribed medication religiously, to monitor your sleep (make sure you are getting around 7-9 hours per night) and to have a routine to your day and regular meals etc. Especially at Christmas when festivities, rich food, partying and alcohol may be in the mix.

“Otherwise, my advice is planning ahead, try to manage everyone’s expectations, avoid family scraps and live for the moment,” counsels Dr Cave. “It is a stressful time for everybody but you’ve got to remember the bigger picture too – you’re the haves and not the have-nots.”


He acknowledges that anxiety can be all part and parcel of Christmas for many people. “For a small proportion of people, it becomes a problem and in this case you probably need medication. But for most people we can counter this with routine, regularity, planning ahead and making lists. I’m a very big fan of lists and schedules.”


And what does he make of the urge for perfection many have at Christmas? “What do you do if your oven stops working just as your in-laws arrive and the turkey is stone cold in the oven? This happened to me one year. Luckily, after ringing around, we found the only electrician who was working on Christmas day.” He points out that it's actually the imperfections we love, adding that his wife made a lemon cake another Christmas and forgot to put the eggs in it. “It was like a delicious sort of batter!”


For psychotherapist Hannah Jackson, Christmas can be a time when the stakes are higher than at other times of the year. “I think the same things apply at Christmas as the rest of the time, but it’s more loaded at Christmas – we compare ourselves to everyone else who is having a good time. We have to understand that it’s just a temporary pressure-filled time.”

Hannah says it is important for all of us to get our needs met. So if it’s a busy Christmas that means time to ourselves. If we’re going to be on our own, however, we must try to connect with others – whether that’s doing a Goldster class during the festive season or doing something significant in terms of faith – going to a church, mosque, synagogue or temple.


“It’s only one day if we’re struggling with things shutting down. We can make it what we want it to be. Whether we’re in a houseful or on our own. We are in control of what we make it. We have free will.“

  • We don’t have to do certain things
  • We don’t have to spend a certain amount of money.
  • We don’t have to cook certain foods or eat a certain menu.


It’s crucially important that we don’t compare ourselves to others, particularly in terms of what presents are given or received in the family. “My advice for families where there are grandchildren is to give 1 present from Father Christmas. Then when they go to school every child can say ‘I got a present from Father Christmas’ and that way no one is left out.”


To maintain good mental health, Hannah continues, remember a couple of things:

  • Go for a walk
  • Do you regular mindful activity
  • Do something special for yourself such as lighting a scented candle or having a lovely, fragrant bubble bath.


Goldster’s experts are here to help you get through Christmas sanely and wisely!