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Ho ho ho...

December 02 2014
Guests at Crisis at Christmas 2013 get into the festive spirit. © Crisis Guests at Crisis at Christmas 2013 get into the festive spirit. © Crisis
The most wonderful time of the year? Not for everyone, says our mental health nurse

The most wonderful time of the year? Not for everyone, says our mental health nurse.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas: tinsel on the trees, shiny gifts in window displays, cheerful festive jingles in coffee shops... But are we all excited? No.

In fact, some studies suggest rates of depression increase over the festive period and more than half a million people will spend Christmas alone.

Here are some tips to keep you mentally and physically well through the festive period.

Protect yourself against the elements

Wear layers: Find warm clothes and wear several layers, keeping a dry set to change into. Some homeless shelters and churches provide donation boxes with warm coats.
Keep moving: Movement will increase your body temperature and keep you warm. Be careful not to overheat, though, as this may cause sweating, which is your body’s way of cooling. Some gentle exercising, like speeding up your walking pace, jogging and dancing on the spot should be enough to warm you up.
Find a warm place: Look out for shelters and voluntary organisations offering hot meals. If you can, get your hands on a thermos flask and fill it up with warm drinks when you can.
Get a hot water bottle: These can often be picked up from pound shops. Sleeping with one can keep your hands and feet warm throughout the night.
Know the early warning signs of hypothermia and seek medical attention immediately if you experience: continuous shivering; cold or pale skin; faster breathing; poor attention or confusion; becoming uncoordinated; drowsiness; slurred speech; or slow and shallow breathing.

The ‘perfect family Christmas’ is a myth

Christmas can provoke stress, fear and arguments within lots of families.

Comparing your family to those who seemingly have more money, luck or better relationships will only make you feel down. Remember, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect family’.

Beware of high expectations. When we expect perfection, we usually allow ourselves to feel more miserable. Keep reminding yourself that we are human, every human makes mistakes and none of us are perfect.

Watch out for the winter blues

Shorter days and less exposure to sunlight have been linked to depression. Scientists believe the lack of sunlight increases the production of melatonin, a hormone that causes us to feel sleepy, with low energy levels. It may also lower our levels of serotonin, a chemical that regulates our mood, appetite and sleep. The change in light can also confuse our body’s internal clock, which can lead to low energy.

What to do if you experience low mood over the festive period

• Recognise your feelings: Just because it’s the festive season, that doesn’t mean we can’t still feel sad or lonely. Acknowledge your feelings, even if you don’t feel like expressing them.
• Beware of alcohol: Alcohol is a known depressant and if you are already prone to it, keeping alcohol intake to a minimum is a good idea.
• Surround yourself with supportive people: If you are alone, rekindle contact with someone you have lost touch with or focus on making new friendships.
• Seek help when necessary: If you start to experience an extremely low mood then you should seek help from a mental health professional. Most A&E departments have 24-hour psychiatric support.

Quaker Christmas Shelter. 23–30 December. Union Chapel, Highbury Corner, Islington, London. Call 07833-123155 to make a referral or to self-refer.

West London Churches Nightshelter, 3 Nov–Apr. Self-referrals only. Phone 020 7351 4948 Mon–Fri 9am–5pm to check vacancies.

Crisis ChristmasLondon day centres, 23–29 Dec (9am–9pm).

• East London Day Centre, The City Academy, Hackney, Homerton Row, E9 6EA

• South London Day Centre (Bermondsey), City of London Academy, Lynton Road, SE1 5LA

• South East London Day Centre (Deptford), Lewisham College, Deptford Campus, 2 Deptford Church Street, SE8 4RZ

• North London Day Centre, Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Grays Inn Road, WC1X 8RA

• West London Day Centre (Hammersmith), Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College, Hammersmith Campus, Gliddon Road, W14 9BL.

Birmingham Christmas Shelter. 23–27 Dec (open 24/7). No referral needed. Location: St George's Hub, Great Hampton Row, Newtown B19 3JG. 07846 299 336. 

Glasgow City Mission. 1 Dec–28 Feb (10.30pm–7.30am). Christmas lunch: 25 Dec, 12–3pm. No referral needed. Location: Renfield St Stephen’s Church, 260 Bath Street, G2 4JP. 0141 221 2630. 

Crisis Christmas Edinburgh. 25–26 Dec (8am–8pm). South Side Community Centre, 117 Nicolson Street, EH8 9ER

Also see our Listings, but remember some services may be shut.