“This year I have decided to keep my expectations around Christmas ‘real and achievable’. What I truly desire Christmas to be will not happen due to circumstances. I can make my Christmas the best possible with what I have available to me.” – Doolhof, Online forum Community Champion

For many people, the festive season is a jolly time to connect with others and celebrate the year. But financial issues, family conflict and loneliness can increase stress for people with anxiety or depression in the lead up to Christmas and the new year.  

Here are some festive management strategies to help you deal with the holiday season – as well as experiences and advice from community members in our online forums

Plan ahead

As the end of the year fast approaches, it’s OK to feel overwhelmed or a little burnt out. So be kind to yourself when you’re planning what you will do. Christmas can be a difficult day, but it’s what you make it.

If you’re going to spend Christmas alone – or with a pet –  take your mind off things by making sure you allow plenty of time for the things you enjoy.

Change your expectations

Being invited to social events and the pressure of living up to expectations can increase stress for people with a mental health condition. Some people also might start putting too much pressure on themselves about what they should buy or do for others. Others might dread catching up with family because it may end in conflict.

You have a choice in how you spend your holiday season. It may be that you simply need to change your expectations for the day; change Christmas to meet your needs and spend time with people who are supportive. It’s OK to say no to things or ignore it completely – or just the bits that you don’t enjoy. It doesn’t have to include a massive to-do list and be crammed with things you do out of obligation or tradition.

“So I changed perspective. I told my family spoil away ... But not with toys. Give them your time. Buy a paddling pool? OK now swim with them. Buy a book and read it to them. Don't buy craft unless you're going to get dirty and create.” – Quercus, Community Champion Illustrations of Santa delivering gifts

Manage conflict

Christmas can be stressful if there’s tension between your family or friends or an unrealistic expectation to just ‘put on a smile’. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, try to be as understanding as you can of other people’s situations; most people are under stress to some degree too. Some other suggestions:

  • Break up celebrations; catch up with one group of relatives on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day if possible
  • Plan a group activity – such as backyard cricket – to keep people distracted
  • Try to avoid the silly season getting really silly; reduce the amount of alcohol that could contribute to arguments. 

Tips and advice for resolving family conflict.

Be financially festive

The gifts, food and expectations can all start to add up. If you’re not able to spend money comfortably, don’t – this will only add to stress in the new year. Instead do something meaningful for others and give gifts such as a handpicked care package, a babysitting voucher or offer to help with the huge pile of dishes after Christmas lunch.A lady wears a Santa Claus beard with sunglasses on

Give back

Volunteering is a great way to boost self-esteem and support people who may be going through a difficult time – or if you don’t want to be on your own. You could serve a meal at a community centre, take gifts to a children’s hospital, visit people at a nursing home or if you’re a Christian, attend a church service. Some councils may also offer a community Christmas party you can join.  

There are also other ways to give a gift that keeps on giving; donate to a charity, collect old nick nacks, books or clothes and give them to an op shop or start a conversation with a stranger or neighbour – it could be just the thing you both need to get in the holiday spirit.

“A couple of years ago I did help out with the Christmas lunch our Church puts on for people in the community who have nowhere to go for Christmas … After we served the people, we ate with them at the tables … So it was not just a case of ‘providing’ the food, but providing friendship and welcoming as well.” – Doolhof, Community Champion 

Reflect and set goals

You can choose to forget the year altogether or take the opportunity to look back on your journey and celebrate your achievements – regardless how small they may seem. 

As you plan for the year ahead, try to come up with positive and achievable goals that contribute to making you feel positive, healthy and fulfilled – and give you a great sense of achievement. It’s easy to make New Year’s resolutions – but sticking to them is the difficult part. A good place to start is to jot down all the positive things you experienced and activities that made you feel good over the year. Focus on the things that build your confidence and bring you one step closer towards better mental health. Staying well is about finding a balance that works for you.Illustrations of Santa delivering gifts

Stay in the present

Being mindful can be an effective way to cope with holiday stress. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, try to bring yourself back to where you are, slow your breathing down or try a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. Incorporating breathing and relaxation exercises, practising mindfulness or yoga are great coping strategies to manage emotions that may get stirred up around this time of year. Most of these activities you can do almost anywhere and for little or no cost; if you download them ahead of Christmas, or download the Smiling Mind app, they’re right there in your pocket for when you need to find a sense of peace and calm among the chaos.

Get support

If you’re feeling alone or lonely, it’s important to reach out and talk to someone. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about what’s going on but it could be as simple as sending a text, a message on social media, inviting someone over for a cuppa or making a phone call. If you’re supporting someone who has anxiety or depression these holidays it’s important to look after yourself too. 

Occasions like Christmas can also bring up feelings of sadness and grief for people who have lost someone special. If you feel you can, talk about your loved one, share memories – and tears. You may also like to spend some time alone so you can think about your loved one. It’s also OK to enjoy yourself, don’t feel guilty, it doesn’t mean you don’t miss them.

“I like to light a candle for loved ones who cannot be with us for Christmas for one reason or another. The glow of the candles is comforting to me and help provide a sense of peace and happiness.” – Doolhof, Community Champion

The mental health professionals at our Support Service are available over the holiday period 24/7 on 1300 22 4636, online chat (3pm-12am AEDT) or email responses (within 24 hours). There are also other services to contact for support over this time if you need someone to talk to.

If you’re looking for virtual companionship, our Beyond Blue forums are available to seek support or information, join conversations, and share holiday coping strategies.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from Beyond Blue

Related reading: Am I Normal? Festive stress: ways to manage your stress when the festive season rolls around.

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