Between family fueding, crowds, and overpriced everything, it doesn’t always feel like “the most wonderful time of year”.
In spite of all the festive advertising campaigns designed to pull at your heart strings with the messages of joy and wonder, many people find Christmas extremely stressful thanks to social pressure, financial strain, excessive consumption or toxic relatives.
Whatever your reason for finding the impending holiday season challenging, SHESAID has come up with six ways you can limit the festive stress, before it sends you into a breakdown spiral.
1. Connect with yourself
Christmas is supposed to be about spending time with our loved ones, but this can be hard for those who are lonely, isolated or introverted. SANE Australia help center manager Suzanne Leckie says it is time to think differently.
“If we find it hard to connect with others, or genuinely don’t have many social opportunities, then a good place to start is to try connecting with ourselves first. When we’re taking good care of ourselves, we are more likely to be positive, and feelings of loneliness may have less power to get us down.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do this. A great starting point is to try brainstorming some ideas for activities that make us feel good and then start doing them. Some suggestions are writing down your thoughts in a journal, going for a walk, spending time in nature or pampering. Try planning one nice activity every day and keep a record of how it made you feel.”
2. Connect with others
Suzanne Leckie is also aware that for some people, reaching out to others can be scary and intimidating, but that it is worth doing via a means you feel comfortable, so that others know how you are feeling.
“It might be as simple as a text message, a phone call, or a message on social media. Or you might want to catch up with a friend or family member one-on-one. You can also jump online and connect with an online community for support.
“There are also a number of great online and telephone services such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline that are available if you need someone to talk to. And if you are struggling with persistent sadness and loneliness, it’s always a good idea to seek professional help from a GP, psychologist or counsellor.”
3. Don’t give in to the hype
Lifeline Australia, acting CEO Thalini Perera is aware how many people feel an intense pressure to ‘do everything before Christmas’. Her advice is to acknowledge the hype, but don’t give in to it.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the intensity of Christmas. Just being aware of the heightened activity around you can really help you make the right decisions.
“There’s an added pressure to buy things and to catch up with people before the ‘big day’, to finish off work before the Christmas break etc. The rush of it all can get out of hand so it’s a good idea to check-yourself and be mindful of the things you can control; the amount of alcohol you consume, the types of food you eat and the exercise you get.
“If you get a holiday over the Christmas period, use it wisely, try to slow down, relax and enjoy it.”
4. Limit your time with toxic relatives and friends
Emotional Fitness CEO and author, Cynthia Morton says that at this time of year it is important to remember you can’t change your toxic family members, but you can care for yourself. She says:
“There is no need to engage in verbal warfare, do not lower yourself to becoming unkind and do not compromise your self-respect.”
She recommends that you set practical boundaries by creating a definite ‘exit strategy’.
“Cap how long you can stay for, but if you are unable to escape for some reason, take a book or a game that will engage the young ones then go and play with the children. Or why not tidy up, do the dishes and stay on the move so you are not a sitting target.”
If you really cannot stand your relatives, then it might be best to do as Cynthia suggests and “give yourself permission to not be in town, start a new family ritual, or drop in for a visit but do not stay”.
5. Don’t overeat and drink, just because it is Christmas
Christmas is about giving, but you can’t keep giving if you have nothing in the tank for yourself. Self-care should be a priority throughout the year, but it is even more important to keep up a routine of good sleep, exercise and meal planning when you are feeling under the festive pump.
Alcohol intake can get out of hand in December, which apart from making you feel mentally and physically dreadful the next day, can also make it harder to deal with any family dramas.
As Cynthia points out, “Alcohol does anaesthetize anxiety, but it also corrodes the ability to preserve personal boundaries and operate from an empowered place of self-respect, thus it makes you more emotionally vulnerable. Avoid alcohol and stay sober and sane.”
6. Budget and plan so you don’t overspend
Christmas brings with it an endless round of presents to buy, as well as parties to attend, and events to host. For the financially stressed, nothing says the most wonderful time of the year more than a massive Visa bill you can’t afford.
Lifeline advise that you set strict limits on spending and try to plan in advance. They suggest ‘sitting down with a loved one to plan a Christmas that is reasonable’.
If you feel comfortable, why not let people know you are on a tight budget and that rather than buying presents this year, ask them to re-gift a book they enjoyed, or buy you a coffee when you catch up. It is better for your bank account, your mental health and the environment so it is a festive win-win.
Laura is a writer, mum and feminist with a penchant for coffee, swimming and champagne, but not necessarily in that order. Her work has been published by Mamamia, Sunday Life Magazine, Essential Kids, The Telegraph and The Guardian. She is currently part way through a mid-life crisis and one day hopes to have an emotional support squirrel to call her own.