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Helping others with mental strain in the New Year.

We explore the different factors as to why people might be feeling down following the holiday period, and offer a variety of tips which we can all use to provide effective support to those who may be struggling.

Why might people may feel down over the Christmas and New Year Period...?

1. Navigating family dynamics:

- For Queer people, this can often represent a more significant challenge than for a lot of people. For example, many find themselves masking or hiding parts of their identity to meet the expectations of others, or to avoid conflict. There may also be considerable pressure to spend time with others, and fit a lot in. Because these people are important to you, it can often be difficult to set boundaries and put your well-being first.

- For those who are estranged from their family, who have been outcast due to their identity or orientation, the holiday period can be an incredibly lonely time, and therefore a strain on their state of mind for other reasons.

- Equally, there are people out there who may be experiencing their first Christmas and New Year without a valued member of their family due to bereavement. This sense of loss can often be all-consuming and hard to tackle.

- For those who have recently been through a breakup, Christmas can also be a challenge due to feeling the need to answer questions from others, and not feeling like being around others.

2. Triggers in the wider world:

- For most people, Christmas means surrounding yourself with lots of people - the streets are full of shoppers, and people work celebrations, and sound levels are peaked. For those with social anxiety, and for those who are neurodivergent - these factors can add up to make the holidays really challenging.

- Christmas and New Year Celebrations can often be synonymous with excess - in terms of eating and drinking, but also other substances. For those who struggle with eating, or are on a recovery journey, this time of year can often be incredibly triggering and represent a considerable test of resilience.

- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or Seasonal Depression is something that people have become a lot more aware of in recent years. With the shortened daylight hours, a lot of people's mood and energy levels can sink, resulting in people feeling lethargic and unmotivated.

3. Other pressures:

- It is expected that during the Holiday period, that everyone enjoys themselves. Sometimes, simply the pressure of feeling that you have to enjoy yourself makes it harder to be content, and in reality we can feel the opposite.

- Financial pressures are another large contributing factor to our mindset at the end of the year. The process of buying, giving and receiving gifts can often be very stressful. While we may have an expectation on ourselves to spend a considerable amount on gifts, as well as the expectation of others, it can be hard when our financial situations simply aren't compatible. This can be especially hard-hitting in the New Year before people are paid, and when outstanding credit card balances are due.

We may have just gone through a long list of factors which may be contributing to your low mood. However, it was by no means exhaustive. Everyone's experience varies, and you could be grappling with any combination of these, or even others that we haven't mentioned. The load can be heavy.

So, how can we help others process and progress?

As we speak about regularly at We Create Space, communicating with others we trust about things we may be struggling with is often the most important step in relieving pressure. Therefore, if we know someone is having a hard time, it is important we reach out to them to show them that we are present, and that they are in our thoughts. Equally, if we ourselves would like to speak to someone, there's absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out first.

Even something as simple as having a catchup over the phone, or meeting up for a coffee, can be a great mood booster, then we can begin to ask non-loaded questions about how they spent their time over the holiday period, being careful not to push your experience onto them.

For example, instead of saying "I had a great time at Christmas, how was yours?" you could simply ask "I know Christmas can be difficult for a lot of people, how did you find it this year?"

In this vein, if you are aware of what someone close to you is being faced with already, it can be comforting to them if you are able to open up to them if you have been through - or are going through - something similar. Shared experience is powerful, and really does facilitate platforms of radical openness.

If you know someone is struggling with something specific and traumatic (such as a bereavement), the best course of action can often be just being there.

As mentioned in our previous article on ‘unpacking our worries,’ it is important that once we have established a safe environment for people to open up to us about what’s on their mind, that we try and determine what this person is looking for from the other person. Is it reassurance, or is it a solution? It can often be easiest to ask this in the simplest way possible. This way, you can helpfully provide the support they need.

One thing from therapy that really helped me was reframing my definition of progress, especially around the pressure of changing things for the better at the start of a year. Progress isn't always going to be linear, it can take many paths and should shift as you redefine your goals throughout the year. - Jon-Paul

Other “light touch” ways we can help…

Equally, in some scenarios, it can be important to get the other person up and moving - to be active with them in order to take their mind off things a little. This is particularly true when thinking about the effects of Seasonal Depression / SAD:

  1. It is important to get outside during the fresh air and daylight to help balance your circadian rhythm.

  2. It may also be of use to help the person who is struggling to work through a daily routine with them - one that is easy for them to follow and stick to. Again, as we have discussed, every action has value, no matter how small.

  3. If we gently highlight and normalise these difficulties, it will help lighten the load for those who are faced with a lot to process.

  4. However, we shouldn't view this as something which is medically abnormal. Our circadian rhythm which regulates our wake and sleep patterns, is naturally responsive to light and darkness levels, and the environment we live in. Arguably, we feel down due to the fact that our working patterns and wider society is inflexible to changes in conditions which we experience throughout the year.

A few years back, I’d landed into the New Year having recently quit my job to embrace this calling towards a radical career change. At first, I felt mentally ready, but in practice, my body wouldn’t budge. I remember feeling directionless, low, heavy, like I was sinking into nothingness. One day, a good friend told me to simply be, get myself out of the way to let whatever needs to emerge reach the surface. She reminded me that what is often easily reduced to ‘boredom’ or ‘couch potato moments’ can actually open space for profound noticing and creative reflections that can be repurposed in the future. And that’s exactly what happened. - Maylis

As this is the new year, and a lot of people wish to instil good habits for the new year and make changes to how they live their lives, or simply inspire an influx of positive energy. One of the easiest ways to reinvigorate is to reorganise our spaces. Often, the idea of reorganising alone is a daunting task. However, if someone close to you is feeling down, why don’t you offer to help them rearrange their room to freshen things up? They could offer help in return! Feeling comfortable at home is one of the most important aspects of our wellbeing which we need to look after.

So what can you do to change things up in a space?

  1. Discard unwanted items and papers (if it hasn’t been used or appreciated within the last six months, that is normally a good signifier that we can let go of something)

  2. For the documents we do want to keep, have a designated, organised space where they are kept.

  3. Re position furniture to make the most of a room

  4. Buy a few candles/incense or a vaporizer - scent and fragrances in your home can often help with a sense of calm.

  5. Adding a few plants into your room can help you feel more connected to the outside world. Taking care of them will also help you associate your smallest actions with a sense of value.

  6. Make sure you open a window for a little while everyday, to allow fresh air to circulate, making sure that the curtains and blinds are open during daylight hours.

  7. Consider how the room is lit - is the lighting harsh? Perhaps consider buying a small lamp - a simple, cost effective way to change the vibe of a room.

  8. Are there soft/tactile surfaces, perhaps consider buying a blanket, rug, or even a new pair of slippers.

I always feel down in the new year. The pressure I put on myself to achieve things straight away can often leave me feeling deflated. A great way for me to feel like I am achieving something, being constructive, and gaining a new perspective on things, is by rearranging the rooms I spend the most time in. It also helps me feel like I am half way there to making sense of my thoughts and feelings about what might have happened over the Christmas break. - Ryan

If there’s one thing there are three things that you take away from this article, use it to reflect on the vast array of strains that the new year can throw at people; don’t be afraid to ask people how they would like to be supported, and the most important: even the smallest actions hold significance - both in terms of what you do yourself, and also what you do for others.


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