Mental Health and the Festive Season

I am delighted to share this month’s guest blog all about mental health, covering OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and the festive season with you by Gabie Lazareff.

T’is the season to be jolly! But I think we can all agree, it feels a bit ‘meh’ this year. Whether we’ve  trying to manage our mental health or been undergoing OCD treatment, it’s safe to say it’s been an intense and challenging time. 

As the end of 2020 fast approaches and we come into the festive season, let’s take a moment to reflect on the year gone by, do a little mental-health check-in and figure out a plan to stay safe and sane throughout the holidays. Mental health and the festive season don’t always go hand-in-hand. 

2020 Wrapped Up 

It’s been a weird one! The international news cycle this year has been constant. It may have even resulted in some new triggers for those with OCD, some new anxieties for those with mental health struggles and created anxiety in others. We have all experienced a roller-coaster of a ride over the course of this year. Positive mental health and the festive season don’t always go together either. 

How COVID-19 has impacted our mental health

Let’s talk about COVID-19 and how it may have impacted our mental health.   

Firstly, Let’s just take a big breath in through the nose, and out through the mouth. You’ve done your best to look after your mental health this year. However, you’re probably reading this like ‘Gabie, you don’t even know me, so you can’t say that.’ and while that’s a valid point, I can still say you’ve done your best, as I know we all have. 

This year has been unlike any in our lifetime, and you’re here right now reading this. You may have struggled through this year, but I’m telling you that despite the challenges, you have done your best at managing a previously unimaginable situation. So give yourself a little hug or a high five! Now that we’ve taken a moment to recognise our hard work, let’s reflect on how COVID-19 may have affected our mental health this year.

COVID-19’s effect on OCD

For the happiest and healthiest of people, COVID-19 has been anxiety-inducing. For those of us with ongoing mental health conditions like OCD, it’s been anxiety-inducing x3! 

Regardless of how much we wanted to challenge ourselves this year, COVID-19 decided to take the reigns and throw some extra special challenges our way. This included lockdowns, quarantines and constant government regulation changes to keep up with. For those with OCD, COVID-19 may have brought with it some new triggers and behaviours. 

There’s a variety of different symptoms and behaviours those struggling with OCD experience, such as:

  • Checking: The compulsion to check things that have already been done, such as locking doors, stepping on cracks, turning on the lights etc… 
  • Ruminations and Intrusive thoughts: Obsessing over a certain thought repetitively.
  • Ordering and Symmetry: The compulsion to order belongings in a very particular way. This can also include hoarding items. 
  • Contamination: The fear or being unclean or being in an unclean environment. 

The arrival of COVID-19 saw some new behaviours for many OCD sufferers. Many struggled with the lack of control around the situation. Some may have been paralysed by the fear, trapped in their homes not wanting to infect others or get infected themselves. 

For those OCD sufferers who experience contamination triggers and behaviours, these may have worsened during the pandemic. With the obsessive need for cleanliness getting worse as time went on. Some OCD sufferers may even have struggled to eat, with a fear of food contamination. 

Living with someone with OCD in 2020

Those living with OCD have it rough, but let’s take a moment to recognise the people who are living with someone who has OCD. During the pandemic, many people were confined to their homes, without any form of escape. Living with someone with OCD can be pretty exhausting, as we try to do our best not to set off our loved ones triggers. 

Some difficult conversations would have been had this year around OCD and lockdown. For some, rules would have been put in place around when and how to engage in conversations about the OCD. Although it was difficult, hopefully OCD sufferers and loved ones living with them have learnt some new tools and techniques for how to manage symptoms and triggers. 

COVID-19’s effect on mental health

2020’s been lonely for a lot of people. We haven’t been able to see our friends or family. Dating hasn’t really been possible. For a large portion of the year, many of us have been living alone without the possibility of seeing anyone. This is enough to make anyone’s mental health dip. 

Or maybe we have been surrounded by people during lockdown, people who are unaware of our mental health struggles. Whatever the situation, I think we can all empathise with one another around how COVID-19 has impacted our mental health

Maybe we were able to come up with some at-home methods for self-managing our mental health. Especially, as mental health management and treatment has been a question mark for many this year. COVID-19 saw the rise of many online therapy platforms, as the need for remote therapy solutions grew. As in-person therapy became more and more complicated as restrictions and regulations were put into place. We may have had to stop our previous treatment due to restrictions and look for alternative options. 

Whether you are undergoing treatment or not, remember that this year has been unlike others and it’s normal that this year has been difficult mental health-wise. We all have mental health. There’s NOTHING wrong with getting treatment for a mental health issue, in fact, it’s one of the smartest and kindness things you can do for yourself. Getting treatment for a mental health issue is no different from getting treatment for a broken leg. 

COVID-19 and 2021

Although 2020 is coming to an end, COVID sadly isn’t. We are starting to see the beginnings of vaccine distribution around the world, however, some experts believe that the vaccine roll out may continue into summer of 2021. In light of the new strain that has been brought to our attention, this make take even longer. 

The GOOD news is, we’ve had since March 2020 to learn new ways of managing our mental health from home. We’re going into the new year more prepared than ever to continue to face this pandemic. Maybe 2021 will be the year that you find new ways to look after your mental health? 

Let’s take a moment to reflect, ask yourself how you did in regards to checking-in with your mental health.
1. Did you give yourself time to process your emotions?

2. Did you allow yourself to feel not-so-great?

Below is a mental health check-in just to be sure we remember it for the new year!

Mental health check-in focusing on mental health and the festive season 

When we encounter a stressful event or experience, we can carry our a mental health check-in. This helps us to process our emotions and identify how they are affecting our life. 

You can do mental health check-ins as often as you like, but it’s good to try to do these at least once a week, especially at the moment as we face new challenges and stresses around the holidays. 

  • Start by getting into an environment where you can sit with your thoughts and where you won’t be too distracted by what’s happening around you.
  • You can grab a pen and paper if you think that writing things down will be helpful for you.
  • Once you’ve found a quiet spot, take a moment to set an intention for your mental health check-in. This can simply be asking yourself how many feelings or events you’re trying to process.
  • You can ask yourself if you’re trying to ease an intense emotion, or are you trying to find a solution to a problem?
  • Be sure to set reasonable intentions. Setting an intention like ‘I will become emotionally healthy’ is more of a lifetime intention, as one mental health check-in likely won’t get us there. It will, however, help us to manage our stress and process big emotions!
  • Once we know our intentions for our mental health check-in, we can begin.
  • It’s time to sit with your emotions and give them time to be present. We so often rush to stop feeling anxious, or angry, or sad. During our mental health check-ins, we’re sitting with these emotions and giving them space and time to breathe, before putting them aside and moving on from them.
  • If writing things down helps you to process things, then by all means, write down whatever comes up for you.
  • We can end our mental health check-ins with a little visualisation breathing exercise.

Visualisation

Think of something you’d like to bring into your life.

Maybe it’s self-compassion, self-love, patience, strength, anything at all that you’d like more of for yourself (it must be something positive. ‘Weight Loss’ is not an appropriate intention for this exercise). If you can’t think of anything, we can simple use ‘Self-Love’. 

We’re going to be inhaling through the nose and slowly exhaling through the mouth.

Try to lengthen each exhale. Keep the body relaxed as you practice this breathing exercise.

Keep the shoulders away from the ears, and take a moment to relax the muscles in the face. If the teeth are pressed together, part them. 

On the inhale, visualise yourself breathing in your positive intention. 

On the exhale, visualise yourself getting rid of any negative emotions that may have come up during your mental health check-in. Visualise the negative emotions one breath at a time. For example:

  • Inhaling self-love
  • Exhaling anger
  • Inhaling self-love
  • Exhaling judgement
  • Inhaling self-love
  • Exhaling anxiety

Continue practicing this  visualisation breathing exercise until you feel prepared and ready to continue with your day. 

Stay Grounded during the Festive Season 

Not an easy task for many, even outside of a global pandemic. We’ve had a lot of practice this year at trying to stay sane! Lots of emotions and triggers can pop up around the holiday, so be sure to give yourself a bit of grace and time to feel however you’re feeling. 

Maybe COVID-19 restrictions are changing your Christmas traditions. We might be unable to see who we want to this year. It’s okay to feel frustrated and sad about it, it’s completely understandable and you’re allowed to feel however you want to about the situation. Here are some tips to help you during the holiday season. 

Stress Management Techniques 

Take a moment to identify any stress-management techniques that work for you. Maybe it’s practicing breathing, doing yoga, or maybe it’s sitting in front of netflix and zoning out  Write down all the techniques you can think of that help you to unwind and destress. If possible, include a couple of techniques that don’t involve technology, like reading, or going for a walk. Consider things that could really benefit your mental health during the festive season. 

Maybe nothing really comes to mind. If that’s the case, write down some stress-management techniques that you would like to try. Maybe you’ve been meaning to try meditation, or drawing, or cycling. Anything that pops to mind that is accessible to you over the holiday season.

Whenever you’re feeling stressed, revert back to your list and pick a technique to try. The more we practice acknowledging and managing stress, the better we become at it. 

Identifying stress and using stress-management techniques like breathing exercises not only helps to ease anxiety in the moment, but they also decrease stress long-term. 

Heading into next year

Don’t set resolutions if it’s too much pressure! You’ve had enough to do this year without adding resolutions into the mix. Or, set a super simple one this year. If you need any ideas, how about this for a resolution: ‘This year, I’m going to prioritise my mental health.’ – I think that’s a resolution we could all benefit from!

About the Author

Gabie Lazareff sitting crossed legged in the road

Gabie Lazareff is a certified health coach, yoga teacher and freelance nutrition & wellness writer. After experiencing her own mental health challenges in her teens and early adult-life, Gabie now works as a writer to educate others around mental health issues and offer advice.
At the beginning of the first European COVID-19 lockdown, Gabie created her online coaching practice, Whole Health Gabie, offering yoga classes over Zoom to her community. Reach out to Gabie over email at
contact@wholehealthgabie.com to try one of her live online classes for free. 

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