The other week I was watching the new Amazon Prime romcom Happiest Season. It’s about a young lesbian couple, Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), who have to hide their romantic relationship from Harper’s wealthy and powerful family over the Christmas period, as she worries her sexuality will affect her dad’s campaign for mayor. Throughout the film we see Harper struggling to deal with the pressures of being the perfect daughter and indeed these pressures affecting her siblings too. While watching this film, I was reminded of the pressures we feel to be perfect, particularly at Christmas. For some reason, whether it’s the clothes, the food, or the money, Christmas always has to be the most perfect time of the year, where everyone comes together with big smiley faces. We fill up our schedules and insist on seeing (or this year perhaps Zooming) everyone and giving gifts.
However, in all of these situations, there is a powerful feeling that hangs over us like a dark cloud: the need to be perfect. Christmas day is meant to be one of the best days of the year for everyone, even people who don’t celebrate it. Everyone needs to have a good day and be happy, yet, our mental health doesn’t care if its Christmas; despite what the adverts tell you, presents don’t always make you happy. So, the chance of waking up some days during the Christmas period and not feeling all that jolly is still very much possible. We have all had a hard year and many of us are coming into Christmas with very fragile mental health.
Christmas can be hard on your mental health for many reasons: we are spending time with people who may make us feel left out or alone because we may not be as happy as them, and there is a lot of pressure to keep up a very happy and perfect façade when surrounded by people. It is also a time in which we are expected to focus on others and not ourselves. If you are struggling with your mental health, having to prioritise others can feel like a huge challenge, and when your whole family is round amasking how you are it is not so easy to get some space to look after yourself. A lot of the time we don’t always get to spend Christmas the way we want, which again can evoke this feeling of isolation, as others’ ideas of what to do on Christmas may feel incredibly daunting if you are struggling with your own feelings.
I know for myself that all of these pressures are a reality, especially this year. I am feeling pressured to look good; to be in a good mood; to go along with the busy plans; to get everyone good gifts; to not let anyone down; and just be the best version of myself because it’s Christmas after all. Unfortunately, that’s just not how things work, and I know I am not alone in feeling these pressures to be perfect.
A lot of the time we seem to force ourselves to see people at Christmas that really don’t make us feel all that good. Whether you don’t get along with your family or have fallen out with work colleagues friends, this time of year makes it extra hard to not have an excuse to not see certain people. Alternatively, Christmas reminds you of someone that you have lost, and every year the celebrations can’t help but remind you of them. Both of these experiences would negatively impact anyone’s mental health as the sad reality is, we forget about the people who have had a difficult family life. So, these feelings of needing to put on a brave face and be okay are something that Christmas manages to create in an extra-strong manner.
We also, as I mentioned in my own anxieties, have huge pressures to look good so we can show off the success of our year but Christmas also puts a huge financial strain on us all. The gifts we need to buy and cards we need to send; the decorations we need to put up and the big dinners we need to cook; none of this comes cheap to anyone!
This year we have seen mass unemployment all over the country, as such, the pressure to get everyone the perfect gift and eat a big meal is a Christmas tradition that will prove to be extra challenging for many of us. Christmas is also always a time that highlights the wealth divided between individuals which again is something that can damage our mental health because unfortunately as much as we say Christmas is not about gifts, for some it really is.
If this year has taught us anything it is the importance of happiness and being grateful for what you have got. So, why is it at Christmas we revert back to these traditional 1950s roles? There has to be the perfect dinner on the table and the house must be looking immaculate, filled with beautiful things, with the classic nuclear family all smiling over a huge turkey dinner with bows in their hair. If you are struggling with your mental health or the pressures of having a perfect day, then it is time to be selfish and do what helps you get through. We are allowed to stop all the busy wrapping and practice dinners and communicate what we need from our loved ones. I know I will, and I particularly encourage doing the same if you are struggling with the thought of Christmas this year.
However, of course, all of this is much easier said than done. If you worry your mental health is in real danger or you need help over this period, many different helplines can be found online which will be running over the Christmas period. Some of these include: Beat; Calms (Campaign Against Living Miserably); Cruse Bereavement Care; National Domestic Abuse Helpline; and Text Shout.
Despite these pressures, I still really love Christmas. It is such a special time of year. If you are dreading the thought of it, remember to be kind and look after yourself. Know what you need from yourself and others and take regular breaks from the festivities if you need it: you are not alone with your feelings. But most importantly try and have a happy Christmas that is totally imperfect.
Featured image credit: Christian Index