Some Small Steps to a Calmer Christmas

We’re delighted to have Writer, Author, Mental Health Campaigner and Public Speaker, Rachel Kelly appear as a guest blogger. Rachel recently appeared at our event in London, ‘Breaking boundaries; mental health and the failings of the UK workplace’ in London, and is delighted to contribute to our blog where she talks below about how to cope with the trials and tribulations that the festive season brings.

Though I now consider myself calm and well after a long battle with depression, I always approach the festive season with a touch of trepidation.

Just over a decade ago, it was exactly at this time of year in early December that I had my second major breakdown in 2004. As the nights darkened and the decorations went up, I had been trying to be all things to all people: a hardworking employee, the perfect mother, wife and friend.

Creeping insomnia and high levels of anxiety brought on by stress only worsened with end of year deadlines, unrealistic expectations and my never-ending to-do-list.

It was hosting a neighbourhood Christmas party at our house when I finally crashed, and remained unwell for the best part of two years, in the grips of a serious anxiety-driven depressive episode.

Now recovered, here’s some lessons I’ve learnt about managing my own stress at what can be challenging time of year - never more so than this year when we are in the midst of economic uncertainty and political unease. Figures announced in November 2017 by the Health and Safety Executive for Great Britain show over half a million of us suffer from work-related stress, depression or anxiety. In 2016 and 2017 alone, 12.5 million working days were lost due to one of the three. Meanwhile the mental health charity Mind found three main reasons for people struggling at Christmas. 41 percent worried about getting into debt; 83 percent felt lonely and 81 percent felt stressed.

My Christmases are now rather different. I can’t pretend I have conquered all my anxiety, but here are five small steps which have meant I have learnt to manage it - and even enjoy the plum pudding.


1. Don’t forget to breath – if you feel stressed, take a moment to slow your breathing. Breath in for 7 seconds, out for 11 seconds. It might sound obvious but you can’t breathe in the past or future. It’s a great way of being centred and in the moment - a good way to keep steady whether you are giving or receiving an end of year review!


2. Nourish your body – omega-3 fats are especially mood -enhancing. Incorporate oily fish - salmon instead of turkey anyone? - and walnuts to lift your spirits and keep you going. Have some nuts at your desk as a good way to avoid the mid-afternoon energy slump and desire to reach for the mince pies.


3. Limit the alcohol – despite the temptations of festive cheer over the break, and the lure of office parties, go easy on the alcohol if you can, keeping to a maximum or two glasses of ideally red wine which has the most health benefits. Consume with food. If you do drink spirits, mix with plenty of sparkling water.


4. Be real not fake – in terms of choosing a Christmas tree that is. I know it can be an extra hassle, but the smell of real pine is a great reminder to get outside into nature to regain a sense of perspective. Make sure you take your lunch breaks to enjoy maximum light and top up on Vitamin D supplies which are low at this time of year. Consider a supplement too.


5. Keep it simple – streamline present-giving this year. Edible presents are a good way to solve what to eat and what to give in one fell swoop. And giving food can help keep the overall bills down!


Rachel Kelly is a writer and mental health campaigner. Rachel speaks publicly about her experience of depression and recovery to help educate and break stigma. She is an official ambassador for Rethink Mental Illness, Young Minds, SANE and The Counselling Foundation. Rachel’s memoir on recovering from two severe periods of depression ‘Black Rainbow: How words can heal – my journey through depression”, people often asked her what she had learnt about how to stay well. Her book, ‘Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness’, answers that question. It is a season-by-season guide containing fifty-two small, sanity-saving tools, many of them based on the principles of mindfulness. Rachel’s latest book ‘The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food’ provides nutritional information and recipes based on over 140 nutritional studies to help keep calm and well.


Rachel Kelly’s books are available in Waterstones and on Amazon -

The Happy Kitchen: Good Mood Food £10.49

Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness £7.99

Black Rainbow: How words healed me - my journey through depression £9.99

For more information go to or follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelKellyNet, Instagram @rachelfKelly and Facebook.


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