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Beating Christmas stress and anxiety

The Christmas season is meant to be a time of joy, but for many people it can be a time of stress, anxiety, disappointment or loneliness. Christmas comes with high expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying luxurious celebrations and gifts, but not all of us are able to live up to these ideals.

For those who have recently lost a loved one, Christmas can intensify feelings of grief and sadness.

Some people experience feelings of isolation, financial pressures or increased family conflict that can make this a very stressful time of year.

However, there are some steps you can take to help manage stress and anxiety during the festive period.

If you're finding it difficult to manage your stress or anxiety try healthdirect's symptom checker to get advice on when to seek professional help.

Taking care of money worries

Is the festive season a burden on your wallet? Here are some tips for managing your Christmas finances and reducing your financial stress during the silly season:

  • Identify what’s causing you financial stress. Buying gifts and attending social get togethers can be expensive. Plan ways to reduce spending. For example, you could suggest to your family and friends that you only buy gifts for the kids, or organise a ‘Secret Santa’ among the adults. Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Find low cost ways to have fun. Don’t let money cut you off from your family and friends. If you can’t afford expensive restaurant meals or cocktail catch-ups, organise a BBQ in the park or a party at home where everyone brings a plate of food.

Dealing with family tension

Just because you’re related doesn’t mean your family members will all get along. Split families and unresolved conflicts may contribute to Christmas anxiety. Family and relationship problems can be a trigger for anxiety.

Here are some ideas for getting through:

  • Set realistic expectations. Christmas might not be the fabulous family reunion you hoped for. Plan how you will manage any feelings of anxiety or depression that may arise.
  • Put the kids first. If you have children, consider putting aside ongoing adult conflicts in their interest. Think about Christmas as a day for the kids and focus on enabling their happiness.
  • Drink in moderation. It may be tempting to drink too much during the festive period, but alcohol can contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol may be a problem if you’re drinking to cope.
  • Avoid known triggers. If your family has a history of arguing over a certain topic, don’t bring it up.

Managing loneliness

There are ways to overcome loneliness if you find yourself isolated or grieving a loved one over the Christmas period.

  • Connect with friends and family. Even if you’re separated by distance, you can stay in touch with loved ones online or by phone.
  • Volunteer. Why not lend a hand to a local shelter over Christmas? There are lots of charities who need help. You'll connect with people and feel good about making a positive contribution.
  • Attend community events. Find out what’s on locally and get involved. Whether it’s Christmas carols or local markets, getting out and about can help relieve loneliness.
  • Make plans for Christmas Day. Develop a plan in advance to avoid feeling depressed or stressed on the day. Perhaps make yourself a special breakfast, buy yourself a gift in advance so that you can enjoy on the day, attend a local church service or take a stroll through the local park where you can watch families enjoying their Christmas presents.

Stay healthy to avoid Christmas anxiety

Recognising and changing behaviours that contribute to your stress will help you get through the Christmas period. Remember to stay healthy - eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep can help you cope with Christmas stress.

Need more help?

There are many free services available that offer mental health support. If your symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression are severe or long lasting, see a doctor who can make a diagnosis and arrange treatment.

If holiday season stress is getting too much for you and you need support call beyondblue, 1300 22 4636, or lifeline, 13 11 14, to talk things through. If you or someone you know, is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, call triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: September 2014

Need more information?

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