How to Survive the Stress of Christmas

Christmas Can Be a Difficult Time

Time off without work and daily routine to distract you can leave you more aware of what is making you unhappy or anxious. Any cracks in relationships deepen as you spend a greater amount of time together. Or if you are on your own Christmas time can heighten feelings of loss and isolation. Memories of people who are important to you who have passed away, or of your own lost youth can bring up painful feelings.

Often getting together with family reawakens old conflicts and hurt, and the stress of being together 24/7, may all cause tension. There is also more risk of a breakdown in family communication.

Top Tips for Christmas:

• Remember being upset is a normal response. Acknowledging and allowing these sad feelings will help more than burying them, as they will just resurface later.
• Look after your health: healthy eating, plenty of rest, regular enjoyable exercise, and minimising alcohol.
• Don't have unrealistic expectations of yourself or others, such as hoping that people will know you are sad without telling them, or expecting yourself to be bubbly when you feel different.
• Spend time with people who care about you. It may feel like an effort when you are feeling down, but it is important not to isolate yourself. Some people avoid doing this, though, for fear of bringing the group of friends down with their mood. While this is a concern, it is more likely that they will appreciate you trusting them with your true feelings, and it will bring you closer.
• Consider turning to those activities and hobbies which have often helped you in the past. This may mean volunteering or finding an activity you enjoy. This is certainly no "cure-all," but is all part of looking after yourself, and helps to focus on what is pleasurable for you.
• Natural remedies may help, as well as alternative health treatments such as massage and yoga.
• If you’re not taking a break, be careful that work doesn’t become a substitute for people. It may help you cope in the short term. However, it is not a permanent solution. If excessive work continues for months, it becomes part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
• Keep expectations manageable. Don't try to make it perfect. Recognise that being together 24/7 may cause tensions, and allow for this.
• Minimise “are we nearly there yet?” issues when travelling. It is so disappointing to make travel plans in order to promote family togetherness only to get to the destination feeling stressed. Include pre-planned rest stops, drinks and snacks, music and books on tape, and lots of activities for the kids in the back. Travel off-peak if possible.
• Find time for yourself. Don't spend all your time providing activities for your family and friends. If you’re a parent, remember your own need to have fun, and aim for a balance of activities that meet everyone’s needs
• Planning and teamwork: Involve the family in the preparations and work for Christmas day.

Getting Together with Family

• The hope of an idealised family reunion can set you up for frustration and depression. Hopes can be reignited that this time things will be different, or someone might have changed, or that you might be able to relate to each other in a different way. Accepting family members’ limitations, instead of reacting angrily to them can be easier said than done. If it does bring up a lot of old hurts it may be helpful to talk this through with a trained professional.
• Know what your limitations for contact are. Don’t feel guilty if you need some time out for yourself. Determine how involved and accommodating your plans should be well in advance, and make your limits known to others involved.
• Phone a friend: If the family setting becomes difficult, talk through what is upsetting you. Often it can be a combination of what is happening now, and a history of difficulty with that family member that remains unresolved.
• Take care with alcohol. It may seem relaxing in the short term, but the physiological effect can compound stress and depression. The psychological effect of reducing your inhibitions may lead you to say something that you later regret.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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