Dynamic Psychotherapy

Dynamic Psychotherapy is a Melbourne Psychology Practice with an ISTDP focus

Coping with Christmas Stress

a picture of christmas presents and decorations, representing christmas stress

As the year winds down and the end of year parties begin, the Christmas season should be a time of joy – but can lead to feelings of stress and exhaustion. The pressure to create a perfect holiday experience—complete with gifts, gatherings, and goodwill—can be overwhelming, particularly in these financially challenging times. I’ve seen the impact of this stress firsthand, and in this article, offer some guidance to navigate the season with mental well-being in mind.

Breaking Down Christmas Stress

The holiday season often brings a barrage of demands – shopping, baking, cleaning, visiting, and entertaining to name a few. Financial strain, family dynamics, and remembering lost loved ones can also contribute to Christmas stress. Recognising these stressors is the first step toward managing them.

Seeking Professional Help

Sometimes it is a particular event that exacerbates stress and sends an individual into overload. Christmas can certainly act as such an event that can act as the catalyst in seeking psychotherapy. At Dynamic Psychotherapy we are always available to help you deal with current stressors and also undertake deeper work that uncovers patterns in dealing with emotions and builds resilience.

If you are finding yourself anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed with stress as you approach Christmas, it can be a good opportunity to seek help.   Stressors can be an positive opportunity to address longstanding patterns of dealing with feelings and anxiety.   Christmas stress can be an opportunity to deal with the underlying conflicts that have been activated and achieve long-term positive change.

Practical Stress-Management Strategies

1. Plan Ahead:

List-making is your ally. Delineate tasks and tackle them in order of priority. Planning ahead can also involve budgeting to avoid the shock of January credit card bills.

2. Set Realistic Expectations:

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the perfect Christmas doesn’t need to be either. It’s okay if the Christmas pudding isn’t homemade or the decorations aren’t as impressive as your neighbours.

3. Delegate and Share Responsibilities:

You don’t have to do it all. Sharing tasks can be a fun way to spend time together and reduce your load.

4. Take ‘Me’ Time:

Carve out time for relaxation. A quiet walk in nature, a session of yoga, or simply a cup of tea in peace can recharge your batteries. Remember the Spirit of Christmas. Don’t lose sight of what is really important in the busy-ness of trying to meet expectations; your own or others.

5. Maintain Healthy Habits:

Overindulgence is a hallmark of the season, but moderation in eating, drinking, and exercising can keep stress at bay. Consider a self-imposed alcohol limit so that you end up merry and not inebriated.

5. It is OK to say “No”:

The social expectations of the Christmas period can be exhausting – work parties, end of season sport engagements and family get togethers. Remember – it is ok to say no – your wellbeing matters. From personal experience, working in an environment that involved enthusiastic celebrations throughout the month of December – it can be a good time to totally abstain from alcohol. It is a very good experience to wake up clear-headed even if a little short on sleep, rather than experiencing a month of hang overs.

Embracing Imperfection

It’s crucial to accept that imperfection is part of life. Not everything will go as planned, and that’s okay. When things veer off course, take a breath and remember what the season is truly about—a celebration of love, life and connection, not perfection.

Handling Family Dynamics

Families are complex, and old tensions can resurface during gatherings. Setting boundaries and having a plan to manage difficult conversations or situations can prevent conflict.

Understanding the Undercurrents

Family gatherings can act like time machines, transporting us back to old dynamics and roles that no longer reflect who we are. Recognise that it’s normal for these regressions to happen, but you’re not doomed to replay the past. Start the season with the intent to understand and manage these undercurrents proactively.

Communication is Key

Good communication can solve numerous problems before they escalate. Speak openly with family members about your hopes for the holidays and encourage them to share theirs. This can include discussions about traditions, meals, and even the dreaded politics talk. Knowing what to expect from each other can prevent misunderstandings.

Setting Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is essential. Decide in advance how much time you’ll spend at gatherings and what topics you’re willing to discuss. If certain subjects like finances or lifestyle choices are sensitive, it’s okay to steer the conversation elsewhere or set a clear boundary if those topics arise.

Managing Grief and Loneliness

For those missing loved ones, the season can be a painful reminder of loss. Acknowledge your feelings and consider creating new traditions that honour those who are no longer with us. Rather than trying to ignore feelings of grief, take the opportunity to feel them, honour the person, and incorporate loss into who you are as a person. Your grief demonstrates your love.   It’s not your sadness and grief that will hurt you, it is getting anxious about experiencing these feelings and then avoiding them in ways that hurt you that becomes the problem.  

Financial Stress

Create a budget and stick to it. Consider handmade gifts or the gift of time as meaningful alternatives to store-bought presents. Offers of time and help can be more valuable that material gifts.

Remembering the Joy

Despite its challenges, Christmas is a time of joy and giving. Focusing on the positive aspects of the season—like the pleasure of seeing someone open a thoughtful gift, the warmth of family and friends, the joy of being able to sit around a table with loved ones, or the simple beauty of summer blossoms or winter’s first snow—can help keep stress in check.

Remembering Those Less Fortunate

In honouring the spirit, consider what you can do for those less fortunate than you.   Do not underestimate the impact of sharing flowers if you have a garden, a thoughtful second-hand gift if your budget is tight, or home cooking.   Conscious connection can have a big impact.   Gratitude is increasingly being shown to have a positive effect on emotional well-being and relationships

The Christmas season is a marathon, not a sprint. By managing expectations, planning, and remembering to care for oneself, it’s possible to mitigate stress and find peace and joy in the festivities. Remember, it’s the season of peace, goodwill, and most importantly, psychological and emotional well-being.

Coping with Christmas Stress

Julie Cochrane

Julie Cochrane is Australia's leading expert in Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy. Julie started practising Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy in 1994 based upon David Malan’s teachings. She discovered ISTDP and Dr Habib Davanloo’s teachings in 1996, becoming Australia’s first practitioner of ISTDP. Julie has trained psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, psychotherapists, counsellors, and other mental health professionals from across Australia and many other countries including New Zealand, China, India, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Malaysia, Portugal, Turkey, and the USA have trained with, or are training with, ISTDP Australia. Julie is recognised as an ISTDP therapist, and as a teacher and supervisor of ISTDP, by The ISTDP Institute and by the International Experiential Dynamic Therapy Association (IEDTA).

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