What words do you associate with Christmas? Cambridge university press gathered data on the words most commonly associated with Christmas and the top 300 words revealed a strong association between the holidays and a sense of family and positive relationships as well as showing that the most frequent category to appear were words relating to feelings and emotions, with love, joy and peace all in the top 10.

While I think many people can and do associate these words with the festive season I also think it wouldn’t take long for words such as stress and pressure to begin to creep into those feelings and emotions experienced at this time.

For people already struggling with their emotions or battling mental health issues Christmas can be an incredible difficult, overwhelming and draining time.
Someone struggling with mental illness including an eating disorder commented this when asked what they wish their family and friends understood about their illnesses at Christmas.

“Even when it appears I’m handling things really well, I’m still fighting the disordered thoughts. They have not gone away, but I’ve learned how to get through them. Holidays are emotional times with family and food — anytime I’m not at my normal emotional baseline, things are harder to handle.”

I think this is really important.

Christmas is a time of heightened emotions. It’s an intense time of seeing family, being busy, eating food, dressing up, spending money and giving gifts. Even heightened positive emotions cause stress and in fact on a life events stress scale created by two psychologists in 1967 named Holmes and Rahe Christmas features in the top 43 stressful life events. For people already struggling it can be a really difficult time.

I wholeheartedly want to encourage everyone to throw themselves into Christmas in whatever way feels comfortable for you. Sing, dance and be merry! But perhaps keep in mind those you know, perhaps in your youth group, who may find this time difficult. Perhaps having family all together isn’t such a calming experience, perhaps they are facing Christmas without a loved one and the whole season feels very incomplete perhaps they struggle with food, perhaps they are feeling the strain at this time of being a low income family.

Please pray for these people and maybe send a comforting message acknowledging that while adverts, films, shops and music indicate otherwise, someone is there for them who hears the struggles that come along with this time.

We must share hope at Christmas.