A Q&A with Dr Guy Little
As the year wraps up and we move into the Christmas holiday period, some of us might be straining under the pressures and stress that come with the festive season.
Here at SportsCare & Physiotherapy, we decided that the time was right to chat with one of our three psychologists, Dr Guy Little, about what we can do to look after our mental health in what is often the busiest time of the year.
Disclaimer: The following Q and A’s aim to provide general educational information based on the experiences of Dr Little and what he has learnt from other psychologists and academic studies; the information here does not constitute or substitute psychological treatment; the information in this blog is of a general and non-specific nature. If you believe your mental health has seen a decline this year, you should speak to a health professional.
How can the end of year holiday period affect people’s mental health?
There are many things in the lead up into and during the holiday season that can influence mental health. One of the major issues around this time can be the pressure to get everything done before the year wraps up.
That might mean increased stress at work or at school, fatigue from longer work or study days as well as the change of routine to accommodate an increased workload, and often an increase in social engagements.
This can have an influence on the behaviours that keep us healthy, like regular routines, sleeping patterns, and exercise which can also have an influence on mood. The same can be said during the holiday season – people can finally relax, and sometimes this means that the behaviours we do to stay healthy and well get set aside for a period of time.
In my experience, people can have a range of expectations around the holiday season that can lead to an increase in stress. It could be about buying gifts, travelling, or stress about managing interactions with others – family and friends. For the holiday season of 2020 in particular, for some people, there could be additional feelings of stress and loss with a 2020 Christmas not meeting our pre-Covid expectations – with some of us not being able to see family or travel or having lost loved ones.
What are some warning signs people can look out for that their mental health might be being affected?
Watch out for changes in sleep patterns, in mood (becoming more agitated, irritable, angry, sad, stressed, worried), losing interest in things you previously are interested in and becoming more fatigued. People can experience difficulties in making decisions and may avoid engaging in social activities or work. People may also begin to care less about their presentation (how they dress, whether or not they shave or shower).
Sometimes changes in diet can be difficult to spot with the celebrations around this time of year, but some people can start to lean more on alcohol, caffeine and sweeteners (chocolate, sweet foods) to shift their mood.
Trying to keep an eye on yourself and keep tabs of what’s happening can be really hard, and having people look out for you and notice these changes and talk about them with you is so important. A great deal of effort in psychology at the moment is going into helping people recognise the signs and symptoms of changes in mental health and to help people catch these changes as early as possible to help maintain good mental health.
What strategies can people use to manage stress at this time of the year?
From my understanding of the research in mental health and in sport, when we’re under stress, controlling the controllable can be quite important; that is understanding what is in our control and what is out of our control.
Psychologists talk about managing expectations and boundaries in and around social gatherings to assist in managing stress and strain.
A range of psychologists also talk about going back to basics; doing the things that we can influence to shift our neurochemicals as a first step in shifting our mood.
These things include:
- Getting outside – are you getting good sunshine during the day? Researchers say that vitamin D can shift your mood and even 10 minutes can help (being sunsafe of course) and can be great for your bone health.
- Meaningful connection – are you getting positive interactions with people? That might even just be with your barista, it can be incidental contact, but uplifting interactions with people are helpful to our mood.
- Regular exercise – if you haven’t been exercising, it might be necessary to get guidance from your physio or GP before making any big changes to your routine. Research has shown that regular exercise can be both an effective preventative and coping strategy to manage mental health
- Diet – In the festive season, it is easy to change diet watch your diet, and leaning on alcohol to cope, or caffeine to get you through the day. What we know from the research is that too much of those things can basically exacerbate or lead to some symptoms of poor mental health.
Looking after our mental health is something everyone should keep in mind, especially during this busy period of the year. If you would like to see Dr Guy Little, or one of his team, in 2021 you can contact our Barton clinic here.
If you know someone who requires urgent mental health assistance or support, please contact:
Suicide call back service: 1300 659 467
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800