Health Agenda

Mental Health

How to survive the festive season

'Tis the season to be jolly. Or is it? With families coming together, financial pressure and expectations rising, for some the holidays can be anything but a happy time.

Charmaine Yabsley
December 2017

Despite the pressure to feel festive, many people find Christmas a time of stress, sleeplessness and strife. The Christmas holidays, while sometimes full of cheer, presents and days off work, can also be the most testing time of the year.

Women, in particular, often feel the strain with the extra responsibility of buying and preparing food, sourcing presents and fielding family feuds, according to a small survey by Relationships Australia.

“Christmas and New Year are a stressful time,” agrees psychologist Toni Langford. “People eat and drink more than usual, change their normal patterns of sleep and exercise, and spend more money than they can afford on gifts that sometimes are less than appreciated.”

Evaluate your priorities

“Remind yourself what your Christmas values are,” says psychologist Madonna Hirning. “Are they about gifts – buying the most expensive, perfect one? Or is it about good food and family fun? Ask yourself now, not 2 days before Christmas, what an ideal Christmas Day looks like to you, before you're caught up in the whirlwind.”

Considering Australians are estimated to spend almost $10 billion on Christmas presents, it seems our values around Christmas have become more about presents than being present.

Keep busyness at bay

Hirning recommends keeping a calendar of social commitments to ensure you create time to rest and recharge between events.

“If you're dreading a party or social gathering, look at what can you move around or change to make it more manageable.” She recommends marking out some time for yourself during the lead-up to help you catch your breath, re-evaluate and rest.

“Get creative about making the day work for you and your family,” she says. “Rather than spending the entire time with somebody you or your partner don't get along with, suggest breakfast instead.”

Hirning says that while family events can be stressful, it's important to take responsibility for what you've agreed to. “Remember that you could have said 'no'; that you did agree to do this. If you're doing it for the family as a whole, it's important to remind yourself of that.”

Seek community

And what if you aren't surrounded by friends and family? Statistics from Relationships Australia show that death rates increase around the Christmas period, due, it's thought, to loneliness and stress.

“For many people in our community, loneliness is an issue and the Christmas season can put a particular emphasis on it,” says Lifeline Research Foundation executive director Alan Woodward.

“Some people can find, expectedly or unexpectedly, that Christmas is a distressing time. Avoid situations that may not be best for you, especially in regards to excessive alcohol or celebration, which may not be in the best interest of your wellbeing, especially if you’re affected by depression.

“Make a plan in advance, whether it's to volunteer on Christmas Day or finding out about local community events you can attend.”

If you don’t have plans, perhaps invite a friend who’s in the same situation out for lunch. And if you can't be near friends or family on the day itself, organise a time to call or connect over social media.

“Find a way to define Christmas in a way you want it to be. Whether that's a reflection of the year, merriment and celebration with friends, or simply having time by yourself to enjoy nature, peace and solitude, then make those arrangements,” says Woodward.

If you’re having trouble dealing with stress, anxiety, depression or loneliness at Christmas (or any time of the year), contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or online.

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