A young man sat reading a book next to a Christmas tree

GP Advice on Managing Physical & Mental Health at Christmas


Dr Tim Mercer

7 Min

While the festive period is synonymous with celebrating, spending extra time with loved ones and taking part in Christmas-themed activities - for some it can be an incredibly difficult time.

Anxiety, isolation, exhaustion and financial worries are all things people can experience, and for those with health issues - some life-limiting - the extra pressures can take a further toll.

A GP has issued advice on how a person might manage the festive period with a health condition, illness, injury or disability - and tips for loved ones on how best to support the family and friends living with them.

Here at Opera Beds, we’re passionate about enhancing the quality of life with medical beds and supportive mattresses across care, hospitality and consumer sectors. Beyond this, we’re passionate about sharing health and wellbeing tips, empowering people on their journey to healthier and happier lives.

If you or your loved ones are struggling with depression at Christmas, or any other health issues, read Dr Tim Mercer’s tips below.

Addressing Health Challenges During the Christmas Season

A lot of people with health issues find the festive period particularly difficult. While some people’s struggles are obvious, others aren’t. From chronic illnesses and the effects of an injury to neurological conditions or a disability, this time of year can present the people living with them with additional mental and physical struggles that in some cases, others might not be aware of.”

Examples of conditions, illnesses or diseases which can be extra difficult to experience over the festive period include - but are not limited to - arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, autoimmune diseases like Crohn's disease, IBS, endometriosis, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, dementia and more.

A close up of an elderly person touching hands with someone on their shoulder

How Health Issues Impact - Insights from an Experienced GP

Dr Tim Mercer, a GP partner operating at St Hilary Group Practice near Liverpool, explained challenges and advice will of course vary based on each person's circumstances and whether or not they have for example, a health condition versus limited mobility - but hopes the advice can help.

Specialising in occupational medical services, he shared his advice and tips with Opera Beds and said:

 “Common worries for people living with health issues include the added burden on routines, increasing risks of winter infections, worrying about not feeling happy and making others sad, fear of being a burden or missing out, or over-exerting themselves and risking their health so they don’t miss out.

“The darkness can increase the psychological toll and other struggles might include feeling extra lonely, the impact of reduced scheduled care, the potential unavailability of family support, and having to adapt to new routines and support care requirements. Plus, financial worries are pervasive. 

“Beyond the frustration of potentially not being able to participate in traditional activities like spending every day with loved ones, helping in the kitchen, attending parties and consuming alcohol or wrapping gifts, people may experience a sense of loss related to their previous level of engagement. 

“We see lots of patients with their relatives - the patients are worried they can’t do as much as they used to, and the relatives say they’re doing too much and are going too fast.”

Dr Tim added those living with life-limiting or terminal illnesses might wonder, iIs this my last Christmas?’, or have set a target for themselves to make it to a certain date - which is incredibly daunting - as is leaving loved ones behind over the festive period.

Dr Tim’s tips on how to manage Christmas anxiety and health issues

Dealing with exacerbated pain or worsened mental health conditions during the festive season doesn't have a universal solution. It's crucial to discover the approach that works best for you. Dr. Tim provided us with insights into various coping mechanisms, management strategies, and avenues for seeking additional help.

Address the emotional toll

“Deal with your feelings and emotions healthily - don’t bottle them up. It’s easily done but can weigh you down further. This could include sharing how you feel with someone you trust or a trained professional like a therapist, identifying your emotions and writing them down, and thinking about what you need to feel differently. Or, breathing exercises and meditation which can help to regulate your nervous system.”

Communicate honestly about your abilities and manage expectations

“Be honest with family and friends about your abilities and capacity over the festive period. Don’t over promise and set boundaries where required. If you have certain requirements to be involved, voice them. Those who love you should understand and respect your needs - and be glad you’ve been honest.”

A older woman and daughter having a conversation at the kitchen table

Find alternative ways to contribute or connect

“Think outside of the box. This could be a way to connect to yourself, someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, or your family. Connection is powerful and can boost our mood. It can be beneficial to connect with those in similar situations to you, too, which you might be able to do through an online forum or on social media.”

Take all offers of support

“A lot of people worry about being a burden or don’t want to put other people out, but it’s important to take all offers of mental and physical support. Don’t be too proud to accept it, and ask for help when you need it.”

Reach out for further support

“A lot of services are available to support people without a help network from a psychological, social and physical health perspective. Most GP surgeries will employ a social prescriber who can signpost people to third-sector agencies. Options include befriending services, hobby groups and coffee mornings. Online options exist as well, and digital training for those who don’t have online confidence. Relevant charities also exist to offer additional support.”

Plan and prioritise activities that bring you joy

“While being mindful of your energy levels, you could create new and meaningful traditions either alone or with loved ones that suit your current capabilities - and make sure to keep up with doing the things you can do, that you know bring you joy.”

Elderly couple playing bingo with friends at a table

Be kind to yourself

“It sounds cliche, but it’s key. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling the way you do or having limitations. Accept them, find new or different ways to move forward if you can, and prioritise yourself. Don’t over-exert yourself if you know your health will suffer.”

Dr Tim’s advice on how to support loved ones 

If you’re reading this because you’re aware of a loved one’s situation and want to help, these next tips are for you. 

Educate yourself on the person’s health issue

“Friends, family or work colleagues might educate themselves on the person’s health issue or struggle, and the challenges it presents, to foster empathy and understanding and show them they care. This will likely mean a lot, too.”

Address their wishes and needs and do it discreetly

“Depending on the severity of a person’s health issue - for example a mobility issue, disease or chronic illness, they will likely have certain needs and requirements when it comes to the festive period. Address these, and if possible or necessary do it discreetly. For example, some people might not want to talk about what they need in front of a larger group of people.”

Be flexible

“Understand and respect that things can be more difficult, and be flexible in accommodating or adapting to that person’s needs. Make clear you’re happy to be flexible too.”

Look out for signs of exhaustion or over-doing it

“Not everyone's health issue is overly visible to other people. Check-in on people that might be over-exerting themselves to keep up, and encourage them to rest when needed.”

Give them opportunities to voice their emotions by active listening

“Having someone to talk to who genuinely listens to how they feel is something that a lot of people in these situations value more than people know. Ask people how they’re feeling and if you can do anything to help them. A lot of people find it difficult or don’t want to talk about their problems, but knowing you’re there will help and may ease this over time.”

Check-in on other carers and ensure care or visits are arranged

“Just as it can be difficult living with a health problem, any new family roles and care requirements can put strain on relatives. The festive period can be even more difficult, squeezing in a quick visit to make dinner, taking someone to an appointment, and extra shifts to pay for gifts - at a time when the diary is filled with parties and events and other day-to-day responsibilities. Communication within the family is important, being realistic and honest, to make sure the diaries can align and prioritise everyone’s enjoyment and well-being.”

A woman with brown hair in a white tunic assisting an elderly gentleman out of bed

Look after yourself

“If your cup is empty, you can’t support other people who need you. Look after yourself mentally and physically and seek external support if you’re struggling too.”

Read More Wellbeing Resources at Opera Beds

Did you find these tips helpful? Find more expert-lead insights and guidance at Opera Beds. below:

  1. The Best Sleeping Apps 2023 – Opera Beds
  2. How to Choose the Best Hospital Bed for Your Loved One's Recovery
  3. Caring For Yourself as well as Someone Else – Opera Beds

Dr Tim Mercer - B.Med.Sci (Hons), BMBS (Hons), MRCGP, D.Occ.Med
GP Partner at St Hilary Group Practice, Wirral
Director at TJ&SE Mercer Healthcare, providing sleep and occupational medical services

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