By Aoife E Osborne
Here’s the thing. I’m a winter person.
Give me a woolly jumper and a pumpkin-spice-latte by a roaring fire over a bikini with a cocktail on the beach any day of the week. I love my chunky cardigans, my fluffy socks, and come every October I cannot wait to bid farewell to my iced coffees in favour of whatever seasonal special Costa is pushing this year. I fall asleep at night listening to rain, under three different blankets wearing fleece-lined pyjamas (Marks and Spencer’s finest, life changing!) and I am here for it. This is the kind of weather that makes it easier for me to be nicer to myself, because I equate cosy clothes and warming food with the kind of decadent indulgence that I associate with self-care. As a result, generally speaking, I find the winter months easier on my mental health.
That’s not to say that the shorter days and wet evenings are good for everyone’s mental health, I’m sure they’re not, but for me it’s not that my mental health is better, it’s that I am able to apply coping strategies which I find more soothing. Hot tea and blankets just don’t quite have the same appeal if I have a panic attack in July or August. But from mid-September to February? Bring on the cocoa, the self-spa days, the scalding showers and candle meditations. I’ve often considered that maybe there really is something in Scandinavian countries having the highest rate of happiness, because I’m sure if I could manage my mental health this way all year around, I would see a significant improvement in my wellbeing. Such musings have often left me wondering whether or not an arts career in Iceland or Sweden is feasible.
What I really struggle with, at this time of year, is the (deep breath) increased social gatherings. Cue the dramatic music and thunder flashes.
Let me preface this by saying, I generally like hanging out with other people. I like my friends. I love my family. I enjoy spending time with my classmates and colleagues. However, I am undeniably an introvert at heart and every social gathering leaves me feeling drained, tired and overwhelmed, no matter how much I enjoy it when I am currently experiencing it. And usually, this doesn’t become too much of an issue for me because at most times of the year, I can stagger and schedule my social encounters. I can take a day to myself after a night out, I can head home to sleep after that lunchtime catch up, or I can excuse myself from a meeting on account of too much college work. But, the Christmas season, the most wonderful time of the year, rarely leaves time for rest or takes mercy on those of us who would quite frankly, sooner curl up under a duvet than attend yet another gathering.
Christmas never means ‘just one more night out’. There’s the staff night. The college friends’ night. The school friends night. The family friend’s night. There’s the family night for one side, then the other, and then perhaps another family night with the Elite Inner Circle. Then there’s at least one neighbour party, and always a minimum of two more nights out with friends. And each evening entails make-up for those of who wear it, a different outfit every evening (because heaven forbid you should be seen wearing the same thing twice).
There are a multitude of reasons why someone may not want to socialise at an event this year – for introverts, socialising is not just hard, it’s pretty freaking exhausting. The concept of a ‘social battery’ is not just an internet meme to be taken lightly, it’s a legitimate characteristic which is increasingly being accepted by psychiatrists and mental health professionals. Introverts find interacting with others to be tiring, similar to a long day at work or that post-workout crash. To top it off, the past year has presented new challenges leaving many uncomfortable and anxious about meeting others – perhaps from a medical perspective, or from decreased social stamina, not to mention the financial impact of a night out. Furthermore, the festive season can also be a reminder of those who are no longer with us. The feelings of loss and sadness are all too high and raw at this time of year, leaving little space for joy and happiness.With an extra empty space at the table this year, or a gap in the room where someone once stood, or one less Christmas card to send, it can take a toll on how you interact with others.
Aside from family, food and gifts, one of our culturally-enforced values at Christmas is compassion. So why is it so difficult to be understanding and accommodating to those who just aren’t up to an in-person interaction? Christmas is a high pressure situation as it is, without adding unnecessary stress or guilt to those who are struggling for whatever reason at this time of year. As a plea from an introvert who is sure to hide a lot over the next few weeks, try to be accepting and understanding if someone cancels on you this December – who knows what internal battle they may be grappling with?
And of course, if you feel the need to change plans this winter, continue to practise this compassion with yourself – sometimes you just need a day to switch off.