There is a well documented link between the holiday period and increases in mental health presentations such stress, anxiety and depression. In our own counselling clinics, we often see an increase in demand for psychological services.
We know that Christmas is supposed to be a happy and joyous holiday period. But for many, the festive season can be a source of stress, anxiety and depression. You may be feeling stressed, anxious and/or depressed during this time because Christmas and New Years can give rise to a crash of multiple stressors.
Typically, these include:
Environmental stressor – examples include:
- Feeling rushed and out of time with having to attend numerous social engagements.
- Tidying up work tasks before the holidays.
- Buying gifts in busy shopping centres.
- Planning events for Christmas and New Years.
Financial stressors – examples include:
- Pressure on tight budgets due to buying gifts, attending social events and holiday activities.
- Restricted income due to days off work.
Relationship pressures – examples include:
- Being obliged (in some cases) to spend time with family members that you would normally try to avoid
- Feeling like your partner is not doing any ‘heavy lifting’ when it comes to Christmas preparations.
Emotional Triggers – For many, Christmas and New Years can be experienced as a time of loneliness, regret or loss. As this time of the year is traditionally centred around spending time with close friends and family, however, if you feel that you do not have anyone to spend the holidays with, it can lead to sadness and depressed moods. People also start to think of loved ones who are no longer with them, leading to feelings of grief and loss.
What Can I Do To Manage My Stress During Christmas And The New Year?
How To Manage Environmental Stressors
Environmental Stressors can be difficult to manage, because a lot of the stress is not within our control. For example, congested traffic and busy shopping centres go hand-in-hand with the lead up to Christmas, and this is not avoidable.
The best way to manage environmental stress associated with the holidays is by putting effort into Planning and Time Management. The more we plan our activities like gift shopping, groceries and holiday events, the less stressful they will be. Planning also involves allocating tasks to different people, to share the load.
How To Manage Financial Stressors
Financial stressors can be managed by setting a budget on all activities including gifts, events and holidays. If you can, agree with family members and friends to set a limit on the cost of gifts. If you are hosting an event, suggest that everyone ‘bring a plate’.
Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to attending events, if they are costly.
Finally, you don’t need to go overseas, or book an expensive holiday to benefit from the holiday period. You can look into inexpensive (and free) events that are held in your local area, like going to a museum, or enjoying the Australian outdoors.
How To Manage Relationship Pressures
Let’s be honest – families and extended families can be complicated. Sometimes Christmas and New Years means that you have to spend time with people you wouldn’t usually choose to spend time with. This can be unavoidable, but there are some strategies you can use to reduce the stress of having to socialise with people you do not want to spend time with.
Before going to a family event, be aware of topics that you know you need to stay clear of, to reduce the likelihood of conflict. For example, if money, politics, religion or family history is a topic that can get heated, make sure you deliberately avoid these topics.
Secondly, you can prepare a few neutral topics beforehand so that you have something to speak about to reduce tension (or to go off into a tangent).
Prior to the social gathering, speak to a trusted friend or family member who is attending the event about the tension you have with a certain person, and have that trusted person look out for you on the day (you may need ‘rescuing’ in some cases, to reduce tension).
Finally, if all else fails, avoid being left in a conversation with someone that aggravates your anxiety. If/when a sensitive topic does come up, excuse yourself from the conversation by helping out with the cleaning or food preparation or any other excuse that helps you remove yourself from the immediate conversation.
How To Manage Emotional Triggers
The Christmas and New Year period can trigger long term emotional issues associated with loneliness, grief and loss. It is important to be aware of your own emotional triggers, and have some strategies to manage it.
As professional counsellors and psychologists, we always recommend speaking to someone about your stress. You may do this a trusted family member, a variety of friends, or with a professional (if you do not feel close to anyone), as part of a healthy way to manage stress.
If loneliness is an issue for you, consider whether you can take a risk and reach out to your acquaintances. Remember, if you remain silent, then people will not know that you would like company during the holiday period. However, we acknowledged that this may not be an option for everyone.
If you have no plans, make sure that you take some time to plan activities for yourself that you might enjoy. This could include going to the beach, enjoying a book by yourself, or going to a museum.
For those of you who are experiencing grief from having lost a loved one, you can try to manage your grief by using a couple of strategies.
You could try to honour their memory by continuing a tradition that your loved one enjoyed during Christmas or New Years. For example, if your loved one liked to cook a certain meal, then you can cook that meal as a positive reminder and a nod to your relationship with them. Secondly, talking and sharing your memories about your loved one is also a positive way to manage grief.
You’re Not Alone: Help Is Available
If you are experiencing distress during the holiday period, remember that help is always available. You can contact LifeLine on 13 11 14 for 24 hour mental health support.