ConnectChristmas can be a very stressful time. It is the most likely time of the year for many people to experience anxiety and depression, particularly those who are divorced, have experienced a death in the family or are socially isolated.

Clinical Psychologist and Healthshare Clinical Director Alysha Casey said “often around Christmas time the pressure to be fun and festive can be overwhelming.”

At Christmas you may have to spend time with extended family who you choose to avoid through the year. Close to 40% of men and 30% of women experience stress related to spending time with extended family, including in-laws at Christmas1.

The top 5 tips Alysha gives her patients at this time of year are:
1. Be realistic – Don’t expect a hassle-free, perfect Christmas. When it comes to relationships, nothing is perfect, and that’s ok. Manage your expectations to avoid disappointment. Just because its called the festive season, doesn’t mean you have to feel happy, fun and festive the whole time. Accept you may have unwanted feelings during the holidays. Remind yourself that the feelings will not stay forever, and reassure yourself that these feelings are normal.

2. Agree to ‘let it go for now’ – Discuss your Christmas plans as a family, and talk about how you could do things differently to make it a more pleasant time. Christmas isn’t a time to address long-term conflict. Try to let go of difficulties at least for that one day, knowing you can deal with problems at a more appropriate time. Asking everyone to agree to this intention can help you all to feel more comfortable.

3. Keep active – Family members are less likely to argue if they have another focus. Arrange a game of backyard cricket, soccer or a local walk for after lunch to keep everyone active and defused from focusing on problem dynamics. Alternatively choose to do things with people you like to spend time with. Going for a long walk with a favourite relative will help you to have some space from relatives that you find difficult to get along with.

4. Ease financial stress – Draw up a budget, shop early and take steps to avoid overspending. If you are hosting a lunch or dinner, ask people to bring a plate. You don’t have to do all of it yourself or try to make things perfect at the expense of your stress levels.

5. Balance loss with connection – The holiday season can be especially hard if you are grieving or have recently lost a loved one. Acknowledge how you are feeling and your loss, but try to be open to new experiences or traditions. It may take some time, but new people and traditions can sit beside those we have lost. If you don’t have family to spend Christmas Day with, or find that time with them is upsetting, see if you can spend time with a friend, at a community centre, or consider volunteering for charity work.

“If you are having a hard time managing your family relationships, or are feeling stressed, anxious or low, it can be a good idea to get support.  As many usual services are closed over the holidays, online services can be an especially useful option.”