As another Covid Christmas arrives, consider reframing your approach to the festive season.
Forget the stress of trying to create the cookie-cutter commercial fantasy, globally hyped at this time of year, and instead embrace imperfection for a mentally healthy yuletide.
The Most Joyful, Stressful Time of the Year
While Christmas can be filled with joy, for many it is one of the hardest times of the year to manage mental wellbeing.
According to Relationships Australia, Christmas is considered as one of the six most stressful life events, along with divorce, moving house and changing jobs.
The season can bring about feelings of obligation and over-commitment to social plans, while others may find the disruption to their routines destabilising.
If you’re already dealing with a mental health condition, have lost a loved one, don’t have a big family or are anxious about the future impact of the global pandemic, then Christmas may represent a particularly miserable occasion.
While it is promoted as a time of joy and celebration, for half a million Australians it also evokes a fear of physical or emotional abuse, according to a Roy Morgan study.
The study found that for 7.6 million Australians Christmas is the most stressful time of the year with:
- 1 in 4 Australian adults experiencing anxiety
- 3 million experiencing depression
- 2 million experiencing social isolation
The reality is Christmas can be a stressful, sad and lonely time with an average 20% increase in family violence incidents.
Reframe Christmas, Embrace Imperfection
If you’re struggling to create the ‘perfect’ Christmas and criticising yourself because everyone else seems to have more of the festive spirit than you could ever muster, it may be time to reframe Christmas.
Cognitive reframing is a technique used to shift your mindset so you’re able to look at a situation, person, or relationship from a slightly different perspective.
In this instance, changing your idea of what the perfect Christmas looks like for you and your family and not measuring that against movies, books, TV ads or other families is one way to reframe Christmas.
It’s okay to change your expectations to remove stress and refocus on the ways you prefer to relax and enjoy the period.
Accept your family just the way it is and embrace imperfections. According to author Maggie Dent, all your kids want is for you to be happy and to have time to hang out with them having fun.
Watch what Maggie has to say about embracing an imperfect Christmas:
Remember that one Christmas experience does not define all future Christmas holidays. Each year is a new opportunity to create new traditions and change how you celebrate.
Managing Stress, Isolation and Depression
Feelings of stress, isolation and depression can occur at any time of the year, but factors over the holiday period can cause even the usually contented to feel anxious or lonely.
Whether it is:
- Feeling pressure to spend more money than usual
- Having more social or family obligations than usual
- Expectations to maintain the holiday spirit; or
- Over-indulging with food and drink
All can contribute to feeling mentally and physically unwell.
Simple Tips to Cope
Here are some simple tips to help you cope at Christmas.
The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well.
- Ease Christmas stress by drawing up a budget, shopping early and taking steps to avoid overspending
- Set realistic expectations about the day
- Discuss Christmas plans as a family, don’t try to recapture the past or create a ‘perfect’ Christmas. Even though your holiday plans may change, you can still find ways to celebrate
- If you’re feeling stress during the holidays, it also may help to talk to a friend or family member about your concerns.
An emphasis on family, friends and shared good times during the festive season can make people who are isolated or far from home feel depressed and unloved.
Additionally, Covid travel restrictions may mean that traditional family gatherings will not be possible, contributing to feelings of isolation.
Often, people who are lonely or feel disconnected will avoid social interactions during Christmas. However, this can intensify feelings of loneliness and depression.
- One of the best things a person can do, is to reach out to others (family, friends and support organisations) despite how difficult it may seem
- Attend community celebrations such as Carols by Candlelight and neighbourhood picnics
- Make plans for Christmas Day. If you have no one to share the day with, consider volunteering to help a neighbour, community kitchen or charity organisation
Being kind to yourself, maintaining a regular sleep pattern and exercise can contribute to improving your mood.
- While you can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season, do acknowledge your feelings without self-criticism
- Go for a walk outdoors. Being outdoors can help some people who are feeling overwhelmed feel better.
- Have clear boundaries and learn to say no to activities that may be stressful or overwhelming
- Consider what’s important to you and create your own experiences which make you happy
- Get professional help if you need it. If you are persistently sad and depressed talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
Plan a Positive Festive Season
A little planning and some positive thinking can help you create a mentally healthy festive season.
However, if you’re facing a difficult time over the Christmas and New Year period, it’s important to reach out and get support.
A chat with friends, family or a community organisation could boost your wellbeing.
If you would like to talk to a mental health professional about feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, contact the team at Psychological Health Care.