coping at christmas, sad woman by xmas tree

Tips for Coping at Christmas

After a year of uncertainty and periods of isolation brought about by COVID-19, many people will be setting expectations for an extra jolly Christmas and planning time connecting with family and friends in celebration.

However, for many people the festive season can also magnify financial issues, family conflict and loneliness and increase stress for people with anxiety and depression.

In addition, research shows domestic violence reports also increase up to 20% during the Christmas-New Year period due to alcohol, stress and the higher frequency of family gatherings.

WA Police figures relating to last year’s Christmas/New Year period showed:

  • A 26.1% increase in police tasks related to family violence
  • An 18.6% increase in the number of incidents involving children being exposed to domestic violence
  • A 20% increase in family violence related investigations
  • A 26.2% increase in the average daily number of victim protection orders issued

Often, being invited to social events and the pressure of living up to expectations can increase stress for people with a mental health condition.

Some people also might start putting too much pressure on themselves about what they should buy or do for others while others might dread catching up with family because it may end in conflict.

Be Kind to Yourself and Others

As Christmas and the New Year rapidly approaches, it is okay to feel overwhelmed and burnt out by an exceptional year of change and uncertainty.

Be kind to yourself and others when planning what you will do this festive season and consider changing your expectations to remove stress, while aiming for a mentally healthy festive break.

Here are some tips to help you take care of your mental health during the festive season.

family around xmas dining table

Change Your Expectations and Keep Things in Perspective

Don’t put yourself under pressure in the quest to create the ‘perfect’ Christmas. Only spend what you can afford, do something meaningful for others instead, and decide to spend time with people who are supportive.

It’s ok to say ‘no’ and change the things you would normally only do out of obligation or tradition. The more stressors you can remove the more opportunity you will have to relax and enjoy the period.

Be Mindful and Live in the Moment

There’s no point in worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Focus on what’s happening now and celebrate the things that bring you joy, no matter how small. Being mindful can help centre your mental, emotional and physical self and promote better mental health. Practicing mindfulness can also help prevent becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around you. Read more about how to practice mindfulness.

Talk About Your Feelings

Talking with a friend, relative or mental health professional about the things that are worrying you can help you to realise that some concerns may not be as important as you thought and can help you focus on one or two things that may be at the root of your worries.

Manage Conflict

If there’s tension between your family and friends and an unrealistic expectation of having to just ‘grit your teeth and smile’ to get through, consider some strategies to make the experience more comfortable for everyone.:

  • Break up celebrations to limit any clashes – for example, if possible, catch up with one group of relatives on Christmas eve and the other on Christmas day
  • Plan an activity to keep people distracted and engaged, such as a pool party, backyard cricket game or board games tournament
  • If hosting, provide low alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks

backyard cricket at xmas

Limit Alcohol, Eat Well and Keep Active

If you want to feel well throughout the festive season, limit your alcohol, eat well and keep active. While it may be tempting to cope with stress by increasing alcohol consumption, the fact is alcohol acts as a depressant which can induce anxiety and increase stress.

Too much alcohol reduces an individual’s ability to think rationally, lessens inhibitions, and distorts judgment. While it is okay to enjoy the occasional drink, stay within safe guidelines to keep well.

Similarly, eating too much sugary food can leave you feeling lethargic and low. If you consume sugar laden (or refined carbohydrates) as comfort food to help manage your emotions, you may only make your feelings of sadness, fatigue and hopelessness worse. Many studies have shown a link between diets high in sugar and depression.

The best recommendation is to eat plenty of vegetables, fruit and lean meat, and drink lots of water in between the occasional festive indulgence.

In addition, a brisk 20-minute walk will release endorphins, helping you feel relaxed and happy, as well as helping boost your immune system.

Help Others

Helping others or performing small acts of kindness is great way to boost self-esteem for your own mental wellbeing as well as support others who may be going through a difficult time.

You could listen to a colleague’s Christmas anxieties, do some festive volunteering at a local charity or community centre, take a festive treat to a lonely neighbour, or collect old books and clothes and donate them to an Op shop. Here is a list of individual and community volunteering opportunities.

Get Support

If you’re facing a difficult time over the Christmas and New Year period, it’s important to reach out and get support. It could be as simple as sending a text to a friend, making a phone call or inviting someone over for a cup of coffee to talk about what’s happening.

If you are in immediate danger, call 000 for police and ambulance assistance. See these Helplines for other Government services or family violence support.

If you want help to get past barriers keeping you from reaching your goals or need someone to talk to about feelings of anger, anxiety or depression contact the team at Psychological Health Care.

Read more about our services or contact us today to make an appointment. Our Perth psychologists assist a wide variety of people to navigate short- and long-term problems which may be interfering with their lives or physical health.

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