This time of year throws up some real challenges for me and many others I know. There are triggers waiting at every corner and this year it all got a bit overwhelming for me and I found myself lost in a bit of dark spot as my mind monkeys donned their Christmas hats and had me eating out their hands.

The pressures put on us at this time of year can simply be too much for some people and I think it’s really important that we recognise the impact this season can have on mental health. There are obvious triggers for many and easily identified ‘reasons’ why some people find it more difficult than others but there is often a subtle unsettling that isn’t easy for someone who is suffering to articulate or for someone else to relate to or appreciate.

For me there’s the usual thoughts like financial worries – how do I afford the presents, the food, the travel and taking time off working when I’m a self employed single parent? Then how do I make sure my kids have a great Christmas, one filled with non-stop fun and laughter? How do I manage to get round to see all my various family that are spread around the country and turn up with jolly Christmas cheer? What if I just don’t feel like it’s the season to be jolly, will I be able to play the charade!?

And whilst all this monkey mind stuff circles round my mind it’s stirring the historical emotional residue within me until I’m having panic attacks, not sleeping and just want to run away. At this point the chattering monkeys start suggesting some really stupid ways to alleviate the stress they’re creating with these unreasonable pressures!

Personally I always found it incredibly hard to admit that I struggle at this time of year, I come from a large extended loving family and it felt like I would be betraying them if I did. This was true all year round but it felt so magnified at Christmas that I had would do my best to bury things really deep. And it certainly didn’t get any easier once I had my own family – when I had children I thought it would solve this as I must be able to put them first and give them the best Christmas’s like my parents always tried to do for me…? Well no, it just gave me a whole new chapter to add to the self defeating story my mind monkeys love to write!

And so the pattern continued and I found myself lost in its cycle again this year. This time I added a few more layers of self loathing to it by telling myself off for feeling this way when I should be more mindful, or even more ridiculous – that I shouldn’t feel this way because I don’t suffer from depression anymore because I practice Mindfulness and so I must be some sort of fraud and I shouldn’t feel like this because this year I have the support of my fiancée. I could carry on but I’ve given my mind monkeys far too much air time already and I think you can get the gist!

So how did I come to be sitting here on the other side of the murky waters?

First I want to acknowledge I’m incredibly lucky, I am blessed with an amazingly patient and loving fiancée who can see past my mind monkeys and remind me that I have the tools to navigate my bouts of depression, along with a wonderful support network of friends and family.

I tried something different this year – I told people that I was struggling, I let some of my family know that I might not make it to see them and I allowed myself to accept the help my partner was ready to give me (lucky for me she loves Christmas so much she has elf stockings on her kitchen table legs).maxr

I am also gently pushing myself to ensure I step up my meditation practice so that I can cultivate a greater awareness of my inner world and I will do this throughout the coming weeks.

But it’s thanks to my Mindfulness practice that I could take that all important step back to remember I am not my mind monkeys and I am not the emotions that swept me under. This remembering is the key to finding any sort of real peace – once I remember that I can simply observe the passing thoughts and emotions I can see that they are not bigger than me, I can welcome the emotions with a loving hug and have a giggle at the monkeys mind games. I can accept whatever my current experience is, knowing that it is constantly changing and I don’t need to resist nor cling to any passing thought or feeling.

So if you find this season a challenge maybe try something new but most of all be gentle with yourself – watch out for those Christmas monkeys piling on unnecessary pressure. And I know its incredibly hard to do but push yourself to reach out if you’re struggling, you don’t need to divulge your life story – just acknowledging where we are is often enough to begin a healing process. If you know anyone that struggles reach out to them or maybe if someone you know appears a bit ‘bah humbug’ extend them a bit of compassion as it might just be that they are struggling too.

Happy holidays!

Sophie