In Therapy: reducing Christmas stress

Our resident columnist, psychotherapist Jess Henley, PGDip., MA, tells us why it’s so important not to succumb to the ‘perfect’ Christmas expectation, and recommends ways to reduce Christmas stress
Photography: Stocksy

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So, what’s the problem?

For many people, Christmas is a time that needs to be ‘perfect’ – ie, families come together in happy unison and all worries are forgotten for one special, joyous day. In a usual year, this unrealistic ideal means unreasonable amounts of pressure are heaped onto already stressed and anxious mindsets. Then throw in a pandemic and worldwide lockdowns, and the pressure on Christmas 2020 increases a hundredfold.

How does it manifest?

Levels of stress and anxiety shoot through the roof. These can lead to a host of issues, including insomnia, racing thoughts, constant worry, lack of concentration, irritability, arguments and increased pressure on all types of relationships. These, in turn, lead to levels of daily stress and increasing anxiety – and the vicious circle continues until eventually there could be a breakdown, or depression sets in.

How to tackle it

If you’re in a good place mentally, then it will radiate from you and help those around you feel happy and relaxed, too. That’s a much better gift than anything money can buy!

Here’s how:

Share the load Christmas is for families, so ask your family to help! People like feeling needed and helpful, especially this year, having been forced to spend so much time apart. Hand out tasks and let them lighten your load so you can all work together towards Christmas.

Forget ‘perfect’ There’s no such thing. And the idea of it only piles a whole heap of unattainable pressure on yourself and everyone else. If you relax and allow for the ups and downs of life to be a part of Christmas, too, this will alleviate pressure on everyone. Then, by default, a much more enjoyable time will be had by all.

Book in some me-time Whether it’s a weekly yoga class or heading out for an hour’s walk every Saturday morning, find time that’s just for you and has nothing to do with Christmas. By giving yourself space from it all, you’ll be better able to see the wood for the trees and keep the stress and anxiety from overwhelming you.

Remember: you can’t be everything to everyone It can be tempting to try to solve everyone else’s issues, but all you’ll end up doing is adding a new mountain of worries to your own heaving pile. Be kind and caring and empathise with others, but don’t try to fix their problems for them – that’s not your job. Accept that Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone and that others might be in a difficult mental place, especially this year. Being able to talk to you about hardship might be exactly what they need, so make listening (not solving!) your gift to them.

If your thoughts are spiralling out of control and you feel excessively anxious or depressed, talk to your GP. Or contact SANEline, a mental health helpline, on 0300 304 7000.