How to tackle holiday stress and avoid Christmas turning into ‘Stressmas’

Dec 22, 2023
As we eagerly count down to Christmas Day, Starts at 60 reached out to experts for uplifting tips and coping strategies to conquer seasonal stress. Source: Getty Images.

With Christmas Day just around the corner, it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the fun and excitement of the festive season.

However, amidst the holiday cheer, it’s common to feel a bit overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, dealing with preparations for guests and completing the Christmas shopping. Whether it’s getting the house ready for guests or organising all the Christmas shopping, the stress of the season can quickly pile up.

Dr. Lillian Nejad, a clinical psychologist and founder of Skills for Life Courses & Coaching, points out that although Christmas is widely considered the most wonderful time of the year, “not everyone feels jolly during the holidays”.

“In fact, for some, it’s the most difficult time of the year. The holidays can be overwhelming with too many places to go and things to do, it can also be a time of loneliness for those who don’t have loved ones to celebrate with,” she said.

Chief Psychologist (BPsych (Hons), MEd), Peter Hayton from The Banyans Healthcare Group said that although “Christmas should be a season filled with joy, family, laughter and great food” the festive season can often “end up being an extremely stressful few weeks”.

“Whatever it is that is detracts from your emotional wellbeing, it’s important to recognise the triggers and learn how to enjoy your few days off to promote wellness and avoid toxic emotions,” Hayton said.

In the midst of the festive season chaos, it’s essential to embrace effective coping strategies to navigate the hustle and bustle.

As we eagerly count down to Christmas Day, Starts at 60 reached out to experts for uplifting tips and coping strategies to conquer seasonal stress.

What’s causing your seasonal stress?

Christmas should be a time to enjoy some much needed relaxation, catch up with friends and family and generally have an enjoyable time.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has had to organise Christmas for the family can attest, this time of the year can be anything but relaxing.

Part of being to overcome seasonal stress is knowing what’s causing the “spike” in stress levels.

Practical Wellness Solutions’ Positive Psychology Coach Sarah Marie Liddle said that “the pre-Christmas hustle may see a rise in emotional stress, subsequently there can also be a decline in mental health”.

“Some key causes of this spike include time pressure, financial concerns, social obligations or lack of social support, and the consumerist culture that surrounds the festive season,” Liddle said.

While Hayton suggested that “perhaps you have family visiting and there is relational tension, maybe Christmas is a time of financial strain, or perhaps your schedule is busy with events and parties that you feel obligated to go to” as the cause of increased feelings of stress this Christmas.

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“Time pressure, financial concerns, and social obligations can all contribute to holiday stress”. Source: Getty Images.

How to show festive stress the door

Although the not so jolly feeling of Christmas stress can be overwhelming, there are a myriad of practical measures one can utilise to overcome the pressure that can be associated with the season.

“Creating supportive practises that aid in physical and mental health are important. Emotional and mental well-being strategies may better equip people to cope with the stresses that accompany the Christmas period,” Liddle advises.

“To go beyond stress, seek out greater social connection. Firstly, if you need help with a problem you are facing or simply need to talk to someone, reach out to other people. Secondly, support and help others. By turning your attention toward others, you increase your own resiliency.

“Volunteer at Christmas time, or even assist others in your community with random acts of kindness. This may be as simple as helping a stranger with their shopping, or listening mindfully as a loved one shares a problem with you. You are able to change the way you respond to stress when you take small actions that enhance hope and courage, such as connecting with another.”

Hayton explained that “there are a few easy ways to avoid the holiday season turning into ‘Stressmas’” this year.

“Schedule in some down time, make healthy choices and try not to overindulge, stay active, connect with others and most importantly have fun!” he said.

Hayton also spoke of the importance of counselling and psychology services that can can offer assistance.

“Professional services like Lifeline, Beyond Blue and many local counselling or psychology services continue to operate throughout the Christmas and New Year period,” he said.

“Try not to feel guilty for reaching out to these services if you need them. The Banyans Health and Wellness is a residential rehabilitation facility that operates throughout the festive season, and is flexible if guests wish to return home over Christmas.”

One factor that will no doubt contribute to the stress of Christmas will be the ongoing cost of living crisis, with Australians already being warned to prepare for an expensive Christmas this year.

Hayton is well aware that the cost of living crisis will likely be front and centre in the minds of many families this Christmas and “has likely been a conversation around most dinner tables, which brings with it a sense of understanding and empathy across the nation”.

“Aussies can navigate this by setting a budget and having people around you that can keep you accountable to your budget plan is important,” he said.

“Spending more than you have in your account creates debt, and debt feeds stress.”

Above all remember what Christmas is all about

During Christmas, it’s easy to let the more important things like family and relationships take a backseat to the materialistic nature of the holiday. Liddle provides a timely reminder about making “relationships a central theme over the holiday period” above simply just giving and receiving gifts.

Make “relationships a central theme over the holiday period” over materialistic gift-giving. Source: Getty Images.

“The Christmas period is a time to strengthen bonds, and enhance positive experiences with others. Log off from your social media, place your phone and computer somewhere you cannot see it, and be intently present to the experiences that you are having,” she said.

“If your loved ones are in another country, schedule zoom gatherings where you cook the same meal and eat it together. Get creative, if you are connecting with loved ones from a distance.

“The best things we can give another is our time and our kindness.”

MENTAL HEALTH DISCLAIMER: If you or anyone you know needs help: Lifeline — 13 11 14; MensLine Australia — 1300 789 978; BeyondBlue — 1300 224 636; Suicide Call Back Service — 1300 659 467; Headspace — 1800 650 890; Kids Helpline — 1800 551 800

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