Christmas during a global pandemic – that’s something we never thought we’d have to talk to about, yet here we are.

This year has thrown up a great many situations and stresses for us to deal with. As we’re sure you’ve heard, we’re all in the same storm but not the same boat, and that goes for Christmas too. Many of you could be feeling even more excited than usual about the prospect of Christmas. With fewer family members to see and no external social occasions to attend, decorations are OTT and outfits are adorned with sequins. And you know what, if that works for you as a household – go for it.

This Christmas is different to any year that has gone before, there is no getting around that. 2020 has been an unprecedented year. Not since the Second World War have we faced something quite so devastating as a nation. One of the most important things to consider for 2020, we feel, is to do what makes you happy. That can be you as a single person, you as a couple or as a family. We may be restricted but we are being given the chance to reinvent the season. We can welcome in new traditions and make Christmas what we’ve always longed for it to be – if that is sitting on the sofa with a take-away and a movie on, that’s great! No one gets to say what your Christmas should look like, you may not even want to celebrate – it may not even be a part of your life.

But, for those that are embracing the extravagance, there are those – more we’d argue – who will struggle, who are already struggling. Extra pressure to be seen to be enjoying yourself, to be going over and above to make this one memorable for the right reasons. Fear of being alone or isolated. Worry about finances or being able to access vital services such as foodbanks.

Expectation vs reality is a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but at a time of year which is already so hard to navigate, this year the priority lies with yourself and your mental health. Yep. That means putting yourself first for a change. Even if that’s just for ten minutes a day.

Disappointment is going to be a big one this year – disappointment that we aren’t getting to spend Christmas as we thought we would be. Disappointment that family and friends are all met with at a distance, via virtual platforms, if at all. Disappointment that family members are no longer here to spend time with us.

If you usually enjoy Christmas but are struggling to muster up the motivation this year – you aren’t alone. Different emotions will be bubbling to the surface, across family units in all their varying shapes. Who should see who, fear of leaving people out, fear of putting people at risk, fear of it not being special enough – how do you balance it all? For those who are alone at home, it may feel even more tough, especially if that’s not how you’d choose to spend the day under normal circumstances.

But there are things we can all do to beat the blues and still enjoy the festive season – whatever yours may look like. Focus on what you enjoy, and incorporate as much of that into day-to-day activities as possible. Get outside for a walk. Read a book. Get Christmas decorations up with the whole family joining in. Stay in your PJ’s and watch crappy films – whatever makes you happy and comfortable this year, that’s the way roll. So far, our founder and managing director, Alexis, has discovered Lethal Weapon as a Christmas movie, is it as good as Die Hard? We’re not sure…

If you want to, connect with others. Whether you FaceTime, voice call, Zoom or do an online quiz together over cheese and wine – there are a myriad of online platforms available now to make getting together online as easy as possible. Don’t forget, you can choose whether to celebrate. Even if you are usually the most Christmas-mad person, if this year it isn’t for you, just don’t do it. Don’t commit. Focus your energy and attention elsewhere. A renovation project at home perhaps or getting crafty with kids. Even if you want to re-watch all of your favourite films and learn how to cook the best homemade pizza – or order the best take-away – there is no wrong way to do Christmas this year, as long as you’re happy and comfortable with your choice.

On the flip side, there will be those of you who want to go OTT and honestly feel that is the right thing to do. From decking the halls with as much sparkle as possible, going all out with the lights and getting the biggest Christmas tree, wearing sequins and ballgowns on Christmas Day. Again, it is your choice – this year you can reinvent Christmas and make it the most spectacular day.

If you’ve found Christmas hard in the past and are dreading it this year there are numerous things you can do to make the experience easier depending on why you find it hard. Of course, there could be many, many reasons for that such as:

  • Struggling because people we love are no longer with us
  • Christmas is a time which puts in into situations you aren’t comfortable with
  • Similarly, with people you aren’t comfortable around
  • You struggle dealing with the outside world – especially in our current global crisis
  • You have financial worries
  • You’re worrying you may not be able to access support and services

Being in any of the above situations is hard enough. Throw Christmas into the mix and they can feel intolerable, unimaginable. When things get tough remember to be gentle, generous and patient – with yourself. It is ok to prioritise what’s best for you, so think about what you need that will help and how you can access it. And don’t forget talking to people you trust will usually make a difference.

Plan ahead – planning ahead can take some effort but in the long run it will help to defuse many situations that can result in you struggling. If you’re going to be staying away from home during the Christmas restriction break, try and pre-plan what you take with you so that you have your go-to comforts to hand. Ask yourself one question – do I really need to do that? If the answer is ‘no’ then cross it off your to-do list. For some this Christmas will be about excesses, for many it will be about the little things. You do you. You have no obligation to justify your decisions. Period.

Another great idea when it comes to focus, is to plan something for after the festive mayhem. Whether that’s a trip to a part of the UK you’ve always wanted to see (if restrictions allow of course), starting a project at home or learning a new hobby. Giving yourself a realistic and achievable yet challenging goal will help get you through the festive season and give you something to look forward to once it’s over.

Why not put in place a start and end time to your Christmas, that way you know exactly how long it will go on for and that it won’t last forever. Set boundaries for yourself, and ‘feel’ your own feelings. Ride them out and have a tool kit in place to deal with them. Plan in some ‘time out’ away from Christmas, perhaps with a familiar and favourite book or film that is set at a different time of year.

It may feel like the hardest thing to do, but there is no shame what-so-ever in asking for help. Reach out to those around you who you can rely on and talk to them about your struggles. You could join an online community – Fortis in fact has two on Facebook, our main page ae well as Funky Fortis Society, a private Facebook group open to all and The Westerly Club, a men’s mental health community group.

Our founder and managing director, Alexis, offers up these tips too:

  • Make the day what you want it to be. From sitting in PJs and watching movies to having a carpet picnic with the family – if you are ok, then that’s OK.
  • When it comes to family and spending time with each other as restrictions are lifted temporarily, you need to address the elephant in the room and make sure getting together is the safest thing to do. Will you be putting anyone at risk unnecessarily? What is the best approach to the situation? Remember, each and every household will be considering what is best for them – if ever there was a year to forget family politics and put safety first, it’s now. There are numerous ways to get together virtually so make the most of the glorious options technology has given us this year.
  • As far as alcohol is concerned, be aware of how much you are actually drinking. It is easy at the moment to lose track and drink more than you normally would. If you are worried about your consumption, keep a record as this can help you to see how and when you are drinking and make decisions about it.
  • More so than ever, managing finances is proving to be a huge issue for many of us. There is so much pressure to spend money, but try and be realistic – January and February will be tough months if you don’t plan ahead.
  • Meditation – make time to reflect and mediate – this can be something as simple as planning in breathing exercises every day.
  • Try to be more creative in having fun!  People may be fed up of online platforms, but they do give us the flexibility to have fun with friends that we may be missing spending time with – plan a treat night, a game night, a cheese board night – even an hour spent with friends will remind you that this situation is temporary.
  • Remember, as always, reach out if you’re struggling. It is really hard to ask for help but help is available.

Help lines and further services you can access

Samaritans is open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Free phone 116 123.

Shout mental health text service – text SHOUT to 85258, 24/7 service where trained volunteers are available to talk day and night.

Beat offers support, information and advice on eating disorders and runs a supportive online community. Adults 0808 801 0677; youth line 0808 801 0711; student line 08088010811.

CALM – Campaign Against Living Miserably – provides listening services, information and support for anyone who needs to talk, including web chat. Call 0800 58 58 58.

Cruse Bereavement Care provides information and support after bereavement. Call 0808 808 1677.

LGBT Foundation is there to give advice, support and information for people identifying as LGBTQ+ call 0345 3 30 30 30.

Men’s Advice Line, is a service offering confidential support for men experiencing domestic violence and abuse by current, or ex-partner or family member. Call 0808 801 0327.

Money Advice Service provides free and impartial money advice. Call 0800 138 7777.

National Domestic Abuse Helpline is a free, 24-hour helpline for women who have experience domestic abuse, run by domestic violence charity Refuge. It is run by female advisors. Call 0808 2000 247.

Relate provides help and support with relationships, including counselling, telephone counselling and anonymous live chat. Call 0300 003 0396.

The Silver Line provides support, information, friendship and advice for those over 55 who may feel lonely or isolated. Call 0800 470 80 90.

Stand Alone is a charity that supports adults who are estranged (not in contact) from the family. Visit standalone.org.uk

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) offers emotional and practical support and local groups for anyone bereaved or affected by suicide. Call 0300 111 5065.

Switchboard is a listening service and source of information and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Call 0300 330 0630.

Tommy’s offers information and support to people affected by stillbirth, miscarriage and premature birth. Visit tommys.org

The Trussell Trust offers emergency food and support for people in need. The website has a searchable list of food banks trusselltrust.org

We’re Here To Help

If you have any questions at all about mental health over Christmas, please do get in touch with the team by calling 01472 241794 or emailing [email protected]

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