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How to avoid stress over Christmas and the New Year

How to avoid stress over Christmas and the New Year

Many of us see the festive period as a time for celebrating, but it can easily feel overwhelming. From spending money on presents to non-stop social obligations and extended time with family, Christmas can easily become exhausting and stressful.

More than one third (35%) feel burned out in the run-up to Christmas Day, according to a survey of 2,000 people1. A further 68% said they find the holiday season - including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas - to be a stressful time.

One of the reasons Christmas can be so stressful is because we rarely get any downtime, says Lorna Evans, a psychotherapist and spokesperson for the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

"Many people find themselves under pressure at this time to socialise more than they want to and spend time with people they may have spent the whole year avoiding," she says.

Socialising, financial pressure and family time

There are many reasons why we may feel stressed at Christmas. Often, it can mean spending a prolonged amount of time with relatives, which can lead to tension, disagreements and arguments.

For those who have lost family members or friends, grief can be a difficult emotion to process over the festive period. The pressure to 'keep up appearances' while dealing with the loss of a loved one can be extremely hard to cope with, particularly when surrounded by a sense of collective joy and celebration.

Financially, Christmas can also be a tricky time - especially with the rising cost of living. People may find themselves working longer hours to pay for presents and food.

Often, we feel obligated to attend lots of social events to avoid disappointing others, when we really need to take time to slow down and relax. As a result, we may end up getting less sleep, which can impact our mood.

"'No' really is the hardest word to say, and if you tend to please others, you're going to find it very stressful," says Evans. "After the year we've all had, it is crucial to create healthy boundaries for ourselves, as this may be the first real chance we've had to take a break in a long time."

Sometimes, even the change to our routines over the holiday season can have an impact on the way we feel. We may end up going to bed later, eating more or consuming more alcohol or richer foods, while doing less physical exercise. These lifestyle changes can have a knock-on effect on our mood and stress levels.

How to avoid stress over Christmas

Think about what you want

"Take a deep breath and ask yourself what do you need from your Christmas break this year? What do your mind and body need to feel well?"

Once you've taken time to consider what you want from the holidays, it may be easier to avoid automatically saying yes to all event invitations that come your way. Think about how you feel and when it would be more beneficial to stay in.

"Notice when you feel you need to step away from stressful people and environments. There has never been a better time of year to go for a walk, even borrow a dog," says Evans.

Take note of 'should' statements

"Notice if any 'should' messages come up, such as 'I should do this'. These statements are often about other people's needs and not our own, so it will be helpful to notice any sense of obligation you feel," Evans advises.

"Setting boundaries with time and people is essential to protect your energy. And always have an exit plan, a reason to leave early."

Set clear boundaries

Often, we can feel pressured to host Christmas because we have done so previously. However, it's important to say if you don't feel up to having people over.

If you do end up cooking Christmas dinner for others, it can help to set boundaries such as how long people can stay. Don't be afraid to ask guests to bring a course or a dish so you don't have as much work to do, or to ask people to help out with the dishes or tidying up too.

Avoid overdoing it with alcohol

Many of us drink more over Christmas and the New Year, but this can have a serious effect on our mental health and well-being. It is advised not to drink more than 14 units a week and to spread your drinking over three or more days if you regularly drink as much as 14 units a week.

Fourteen units is equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of wine. If you're pregnant, you should avoid alcohol completely.

"Understand the effect alcohol and food consumption has on your mood and sleep. Alcohol is a depressant, so noticing its affect will help you make healthier decisions to stay well," says Evans.

Say no when you need to

"Slow things down and pause before saying yes to things. Don't respond right away, but sleep on it and reflect if this is something you would like to do or feel under pressure to commit to," says Evans.

"The ability to say no is similar to flexing a muscle, so start today and get practising. A helpful phrase to use is I'm unable to do that - as there is no need to explain why, yet it's warmer than a straight no."

It might feel selfish, but it is important to prioritise your health and well-being around this time.

Get support

If you are struggling with your mental health, whether it is stress, anxiety, depression or the loss of a loved one, it's important to seek help. Speak to your doctor or reach out to organisations like the charity Cruse Bereavement Support. You can refer yourself for counselling on the NHS too.

Further reading

  1. SWNS: Holiday burnout is a real thing, study finds.
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