Navigating mental health during the festive period

Dec 15 2022

Many Australians report an increase in mental health symptoms at Christmas time.

Unfortunately, the thought and experience of Christmas is stressful for many people. Christmas isn’t always like it looks in the movies, people may not have loved ones to share this time with, and the pressure to be perfect may cause more stress and anxiety.

The holidays period can be a very high-risk time of year when it comes to depression, anxiety, and alcohol use.

HMRI Director, Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin is also a mental health researcher from our Healthy Minds Research Program. Her focus is comorbid mental and addictive disorders and she has developed a number of resources providing people access to mental health tools, experiences and therapies.

Hear Frances talk about how to help navigate mental health issues over the festive period – both your own and that of your loved ones. 

One of the resources Frances and her team developed is eCliPSE, free online mental health services available 24/7.

It’s for people experiencing depression, anxiety, alcohol, and substance use problems and for families and friends who have loved ones with these kinds of challenges.

The online program is the first of its kind in the world. It has been tested and proven to be as effective as face-to-face therapy in reducing a range of mental health problems.

People can get recommendations about which eCliPSE program might best suit them, based on a series of questions. They can then instantly access those eCliPSE programs online, or if they need help from a doctor or psychologist, eCliPSE can steer them down that path.


How can you help a family member of friend who might be experiencing a mental health problem?

For better or worse, our families often know us better than anyone. If you haven’t seen your family in person for a while, Christmas may be a time to check in to see how they're going. If you notice someone who doesn’t seem themselves, you are just the right person to reach out.

Sometimes expecting people to ‘buck up’ can make them feel scared, disconnected, and misunderstood by the people who care about them most. Instead, ask them how they’re going. Simply say: ‘You don’t look quite like yourself today, how are you feeling?’ Maybe they don’t want to answer the question on the spot. That’s OK too. Often just being noticed in this way can make a huge difference.

If the person does talk about negative feelings and thoughts, and if there is something wrong, the first thing to remember is that it’s not your responsibility to be their therapist or treat them.

You can just spend time listening and connecting with your loved one about their lives, thoughts, and feelings.

If you know of someone in your family who experiences a mental health or alcohol use problem – and many of us will – take the time this Christmas to connect with them and help them feel safe.

If you think they need professional help, the first place they should go is their GP, who can refer them to qualified mental health professionals. But getting an appointment over Christmas can be hard. That’s when a digital program like eCliPSE can really be a lifesaver. While people are waiting to get to their GP or mental health professional, the quizzes and programs on eCliPSE can help.


Holiday Wellness Tips

1. Acknowledge your feelings

Holidays can stir up a lot of emotions, especially if you aren’t able to be with loved ones, or have lost family members, friends, or beloved pets. It is normal to feel sadness and grief, and it is OK to take time to cry or express your feelings and regrets – no matter the cause. Talk to a close friend about how you’re feeling, or you can join us in the eCliPSE community to find people to chat with, anytime of the day.

2. Learn to say no

Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity, especially in the holiday period. Set limits for the amount of time you will spend with family and friends, depending on if you are travelling, or they are visiting you. This makes your time together special and more enjoyable.

3. Eat a healthy ‘Mediterranean’ diet

Did you know that food and mood are linked? People who eat a Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, and lean protein such as chicken and fish, and low in red meat and unhealthy fats experience lower levels of depression. See the MyHeLP program on the eCliPSE portal to work through ways to improve your mood.

4. Take time for you

Do things with people you feel most comfortable with. Going for a long walk with a favourite relative or friend will give you time to be away from any tension or stress that you may be feeling and allow you to spend time with someone special. Or practice relaxation. Use eCliPSE to access deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.

5. Have a ‘dry’ day or week.

As the big holiday approaches, there’s a chance you’ll be tempted by alcohol, or drink more than usual. So, take a few days or even a week’s break from the grog in advance. Make sure you have at least one day ‘dry’ after every day of drinking. It will help clear your head and your liver will thank you too!

6. Get 15 minutes of sun per day (with sunscreen).

There’s a scientific explanation for why it feels so nice sitting in the sunlight. It synthesises Vitamin D, which is a mood elevator. Morning sun can help reset circadian rhythms and improve sleep too.

7. Have realistic expectations of yourself and others.

Holidays aren’t a time to address long-term conflict, and family dynamics can be complex. Acknowledge them and accept that you can only control your role. Try to let go of past negative feelings at least for today. It will help get through the day and enable everyone to enjoy the time together. Try to have an open mind and remain more relaxed during the celebrations. Limit your exposure if you need to.


Healthy Minds Resources:

  • Lifeline Australia  |  24/7 Crisis Support


  • Beyond Blue  |  Information on anxiety, depression, suicide prevention and support services. Immediate Support 24/7


  • Black Dog Institute  |  Research-informed mental health resources and support tools. Resources on anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, suicide and wellbeing



  • The University of Newcastle Psychology Clinic  |  Visit Website 
    • The Psychology Clinic provides both a service to the community and a training facility for the postgraduate students within the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Newcastle.

      The Clinic offers assessments and a range of programs using specific psychological interventions targeted at particular client groups.

      The programs are carried out by staff and postgraduate students who are closely supervised. Students are training for their Master of Clinical Psychology degree.

      All students hold either provisional registration or full registration as psychologists with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. All students are closely supervised by experienced clinical psychologists.
      Callaghan Psychology Clinic

      P: (02) 4921 5075

      Ourimbah Clinic

      P: (02) 4348 4700