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Christmas: Why it can be a difficult time and how to cope

For many people the festive season is a happy time, providing a chance to to relax, reconnect with family and friends and celebrate the year that’s coming to an end. But what if it’s not like that for you?

Christmas can feel difficult for many people, due different types of stresses.

Vertical stress:
This is the stress specific to a particular event or time of year. So at Christmas you might feel busy and pressured because of the shopping, cooking, cleaning and organising for the holidays. There may also be pressure on finances. Finally, you may feel less healthy due to eating and drinking more and exercising less.

All of the above may feel even more pressing if you are a parent (especially a single parent), a carer for someone elderly or sick, in insecure housing or other stressful circumstances.

Horizontal stress:
This is the stress that exists in a family or relationship over a period of time, in other words, it’s always there; this can include your own relationship to yourself. The focus on family in the festive season can bring this to the fore.

For example, a return to the parental home for an adult may trigger feelings associated with being a child of that family: this might include feelings of dependence, powerlessness, resentment, feeling unheard or unimportant, having to fit in around others or guilt if you don’t.

Where there is substance abuse or domestic abuse in a family, Christmas can feel like a frightening and unpredictable time, or may trigger memories of this from the past.

For families where someone has an eating disorder the focus on food can be very difficult.

For carers, Christmas is often just another day.

For those who are bereaved, Christmas can revive memories of the loss, or envy of others who still have their loved ones.

How can you help yourself?

Short-term:

Be kind to yourself - It’s OK to have sad, angry or disappointed feelings about Christmas and what it brings up for you.

Don’t succumb to catastrophic thinking: Just because it’s like this now, doesn’t mean it always has to be; What are you in control of? What could be different? What resources do you have?

Look after yourself: Watch alcohol consumption, try and eat healthy food, get enough sleep, sunlight and exercise.

Watch your triggers: Think about what may feel difficult for you from past experiences and devise ways to manage your response.

Remember you’re not alone: It may look like others are having a great time, but many are coping with difficulties of their own; what you see is not always the whole story.

Long term:

The festive season can be a time to retreat from the world, review your life and take stock. Sometimes you may know what you’re unhappy with but not how to change it. Therapy can help with this by:

Giving you a place to express difficult feelings about yourself or those in your life without being judged.

Giving a space to think about what you’d like to be different and how that could be achieved.

Looking at the part you play in family dynamics.

Thinking about the resources you have to support you in this work, including some of the short term ones mentioned above.

If you feel you could benefit from looking at any of the issues raised above, counselling could help.

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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Written by Sophie Thorne, PG Dip, MBACP, Accred.

Sophie Thorne is a psychodynamic counsellor, working in private practice, and at a clinic offering affordable therapies. She is a Registered Accredited Member of BACP, experienced in working with individual clients with a wide variety of presenting issues.… Read more

Written by Sophie Thorne, PG Dip, MBACP, Accred.

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