Christmas is a time for festive cheer, enjoying being together with loved ones, and goodwill to all; at least that’s the idyll. In reality, Christmas can be the most stressful time of the year for many and can accentuate money worries, feelings of loneliness, and depression.
A third of Australians report that their personal relationships are negatively affected by Christmas due to work-life balance issues and financial concerns. A 2015 US survey also found that 46% of respondents said they felt financially stretched by buying Christmas gifts and 36% admitted to feeling “stressed out” over the whole gift exchange tradition.
Even if you’re feeling strapped for cash this year or have personal, relationship or other issues that might put a damper on your Christmas spirit, it’s not inevitable that the season will have a negative impact on your mental health. With a little mental preparation and self-care, you can enjoy Christmas without the stress.
Set a Budget and Stick to it
Finances are one of the biggest triggers when it comes to seasonal stress, so don’t make things even more difficult by overstretching yourself. Set an achievable budget for gifts, food, and social occasions and don’t let yourself go over it. If you have lots of friends or family members to buy for, suggest doing a Secret Santa instead.
Saving in advance is really the key to avoiding financial stress at Christmas. It may be a little late for this year, but you can make sure you don’t end up in the same situation next year by putting away money every month, so you have enough funds at the end of the year and don’t end up turning to credit cards.
Plan Ahead and Avoid Stressful Situations
Trying to shop for last-minute gifts and dealing with crowds can be very stressful. It’s best to get your shopping done well in advance and if you don’t enjoy the experience, shop online instead.
The same advice goes for entertaining – don’t offer to host Christmas dinner if it means you’ll be worrying about it for weeks beforehand.
Manage Your Expectations
Christmas can feel like a huge letdown if you’ve had grand plans and things haven’t gone the way you intended. Instead of promising yourself that this year will be the biggest and best Christmas ever and trying to decorate your home to look like the perfect pictures you’ve been browsing on Instagram and Pinterest, give yourself permission to have a less-than-perfect Christmas. Accept that you live in the real world, not a magazine.
Don’t Go Overboard with Food and Alcohol
Eating and drinking too much has become a cultural norm at Christmas, but dealing with indigestion, bloating, and hangovers are often the unpleasant consequences. Learn to know when you’re at the point of having too much of a good thing and balance nights out and heavy meals with lighter days to give your body a break. If you do put on a few kilos over Christmas and New Year don’t berate yourself – just enjoy the opportunity for a fresh start in January.
Take Some Time Out
Make sure you take some time for yourself every day to get away from the madness and get outside for a walk in the fresh air. A little light exercise is a great way to boost hormones such as serotonin, which have a positive effect on your mood, and spending some time in solitude gives your mind a break from the pressures of work or family.
Enjoy the Company of Others
Christmas can feel like an especially lonely time for some, but you don’t have to be alone. Even if your family is far away, there are lots of opportunities to spend time with others in the festive season. Keep a look out for events in the run-up to Christmas at your local church or community centre, which are a great chance to make new friends.
Volunteering is another opportunity to meet new people and doing something good for others can really help to lift your spirits. You could give your time to a charity organising gifts for disadvantaged children or volunteer at a feed the homeless kitchen. Even offering to help your elderly neighbours with their shopping or mowing their lawn will make you feel good and can help you to make some new friends too.
Get Enough Sleep
December is one of the busiest months of the year and you’re probably running around at both work and home trying to make Christmas preparations while at the same time making sure all your work projects are tied up before the holidays.
All this rushing around can take a toll on your health, particularly if you’re short on sleep. Lack of sleep can contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, so make sure to get a few early nights whenever you can.
Release Your Expectations of Others
It can be upsetting and disappointing when your kids have a tantrum on Christmas day or your partner gets you an underwhelming gift. Release yourself from these negative feelings by accepting you can’t change how others behave. Focus on your own actions and feelings and enjoy the pleasure that comes with giving gifts to others without expecting anything in return.
Start a New Tradition
If the commercialisation of Christmas gets you down, start a new tradition of your own that doesn’t have anything to do with spending money. This could mean heading to the beach for a swim with all your family on Christmas Day, or a solitary candlelit meditation on Christmas Eve – choose something that will lift your mood and has value to you.
Take Time to Reflect on the Past and Plan for the Future
The end of the year is a good time to take stock of what went well and what didn’t and to start thinking about your goals and plans for the year ahead. If you’ve had a difficult year it’s natural to be a little down, but try to focus on the positives and remember that a fresh new year is just around the corner and a new start comes with it.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Sometimes feelings of stress and depression can be so overwhelming that it’s impossible to overcome them on your own. It’s important to reach out if you feel like things are getting too much, whether you seek the support of a friend or family member or a professional organisation.
If you’re struggling with your mental health in the run-up to Christmas, our clinical psychologists can help you to work through your feelings and deal with stress through counselling services. Contact us to find out more about how we can help.