Wishing for a Christmas with the DRAMMA

Rachel Lewis and Jo Yarker, Chartered Occupational Psychologists, Affinity Health at Work and Birkbeck, University of London


We tend to idealise Christmas as a time of magic, joyful connections with loved ones and time away from the stress of work and life. The reality for many of us is very different. Over a quarter of us have felt our mental health worsen over the Christmas period¹ (YouGov2019), and nearly half of us admitting to keeping our true feelings hidden to keep people happy² (Samaritans, 2016). Christmas can be a time when feelings of loneliness, experiences of conflict and financial challenges are heightened; and this will be particularly felt this year when mental health is at an all-time low. 

Having run workshops with hundreds of employees over the last few weeks, it is clear many of us have been working harder and longer than ever, with fewer breaks and limited opportunities for recovery – in fact CIPD data has estimated that we are working up to 10 hours longer per week than pre-pandemic. 

We have developed a number of hints and tips to help you protect and promote your wellbeing this Christmas, enabling you to rest and recover. These follow the DRAMMA model³ (Newman et al, 2014), a widely validated model⁴ (Kujanpaa et al, 2020) which integrates existing need and recovery models and summarises how you can achieve maximum benefit from your leisure time. 

The model focuses on six psychological needs: Detachment (switching off from work), Relaxation (unwinding), Autonomy (being in control of your actions and choices), Mastery (experiencing proficiency and skillfulness), Meaning (experiencing a sense of purpose and significance in your life) and Affiliation (feeling closely related and emotionally connected to people). 

Learn more about how we can best support the mental health of your workforce over the Christmas period.


Have a read of each of these and see how you can add more DRAMMA to your Christmas break!




Detachment - Switch off completely

Regardless of how long your break is, make sure that you have time that is free of work. Research (CIPD, 2020) has found that 40% of us check our emails at least 5 times a day on the weekend or on days off⁵. Reduce the temptation by clearing away your work from home office, packing away your laptop, taking work email off any device you will need (such as your phone), communicating to all your colleagues and clients that you are going to be off, and putting on your ‘Out of office’ and stating that you will not be picking up emails while you are off.

Recovery – Give yourself time to recover

For many of us Christmas isn’t a time of relaxation but a time of great organisation, plans and effort. The challenges of the pandemic, lack of breaks and real holidays, along with work intensification has left the majority of us tired, exhausted and run down. This year try to build in some time for your own self-care and recovery at Christmas. Add a few minutes into your diary every day where you do something that gives you relaxation and recovery. Recovery is best when it is something different to work – and if your work is screen based, recover by time away from technology and zoom calls.

Autonomy – Do something you choose to do rather than are told to do

So many ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ surround Christmas because we all hold expectations about what the ‘perfect christmas’ needs to include. We often play down our needs by the pressured beliefs that ‘it is all about the kids’ or that ‘we have to see all of our family’ – and these expectations can lead to excessive running about and guilt around letting people down or upsetting them. This year, the pandemic offers us the opportunity to do Christmas differently and break from the expectations. Instead of doing what you have always done, break away from the ‘shoulds’ of Christmas, think about a Christmas that prioritises rest, relaxation and peace for you and your nearest and dearest.


Mastery – Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment

Research demonstrates that both learning and doing things we are good at increases our self-esteem and this in turn has a protective effect on our wellbeing. Think about what you can do this break to give you that sense of accomplishment. Could it be revisiting the old instrument that you used to play, tackling a new recipe or completing a crossword or the trickiest jigsaw?

Meaning – Reflect on what is valuable to you at this time of year

We can get so caught up in the run-up to Christmas in terms of getting everything ready and completing work that we don’t stop and reflect upon what we are doing and how it makes us feel. Take a moment now to reflect upon what it is about Christmas that you really value and what is most important to you. Then consider whether you put the most time and effort into this. If you don’t, what could you change so that you prioritise the meaningful elements of Christmas? It may not be about stopping anything, but about changing the way we think, and worry, about other things.

Affiliation – Build a sense of love and belonging

Christmas this year will be like no other. For many, this will mean not seeing the family and friends that we normally see. If this is the case, think about ideas for how you can build that sense of love and togetherness whilst separated for instance organising virtual events or sharing stories and memories with each other. Consider those in your community that aren’t surrounded by love and belonging and how you could give them joy and hope this Christmas. Christmas is also a time for increased conflict with our loved ones. Being separated won’t have changed that, and in fact, being unused to others, may increase the likelihood of rows. If you do argue, give yourself a break – it is normal for this time of year, it is expected given the year that you have had, and move on. Focus on the present – take a moment to be thankful for what and who we have, rather than focusing on what we do not.


We wish you all a restful and restorative break and very much look forward to connecting with you again in the New Year!

Learn more about how we can best support the mental health of your workforce over the Christmas period.



¹YouGov Survey (2019), 17 December 2020: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/zw5h9zyp3n/Survey%20results%20-%20Christmas%20mental%20health.pdf
²Samaritans Online Poll (2016), 18 December 2020: https://www.samaritans.org/news/get-real-christmas-says-samaritans/
³Newman, D.B., Diener, E., & Tay, L. (2014). Leisure and subjective well-being: A model of psychological mechanisms as mediating factors. Journal of Happiness, 15, 555-578. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-013-9435-x
⁴Kujanpaa, M., Syrek, C., Lehr, D., & Kinnunen, U. (2020). Need satisfaction and optimal functioning at leisure and work: A longitudinal study of the DRAMMA model. Journal of Happiness Studies, March. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-020-00247-3
⁵CIPD (2017), 21 December 2020: https://www.cipd.co.uk/about/media/press/270417-remote-work-issues


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