Joy & Stress: Don’t Forget about Your Self-Care This Christmas


Joy & Stress

The feeling most typically associated with Christmas is joy. You may have noticed it, in your peripheral vision, written around every department store while you’re frantically hunting down the last Frozen backpack for your niece.

Certainly, there are parts of Christmas that are joyful. But, is joy really what is most often felt during Christmas time? If you randomly called up a thousand people around Christmas time and asked them what they were feeling at that moment, I dare say the most common response would be “stressed”.

If we were all being honest, there would be little golden trinkets hanging from Christmas trees that spell out the word “Stress” instead of “Joy”.

For anyone old enough that Santa has stopped buying them presents, Christmas is a stressful time of year. There seems to be more of everything around Christmas time: More socialising, more drinking alcohol, more eating poorly, more shopping, more pressure, and it’s all packed within a short period of a few weeks.

Things get even worse if you have other problems in your life. Seeing the “joyful” spirit all around you can make for a harsh contrast to highlight how unjoyful your life is. Particularly, the spot light is placed on family problems during Christmas time, when there is pressure for all the family to get together and have a very Brady Christmas (complete with a family rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful”).

For the one-in-five Australians experiencing mental health problems, the “Joyful” spirit can be even more difficult to deal with. Also, for people who have lost family members, Christmas can be a sad reminder of their absence. If you have clinical depression or ongoing anxiety problems, you should seek professional help. If you’re otherwise doing OK, here are some tips to keep the stress to a minimum this holiday season:

It’s OK to be a Grinch:

Christmas isn’t everyone’s thing. Placing pressure on yourself to act joyful, and feeling as though this is meant to be the happiest time of year, can be the worst thing you can do for your anxiety. If you’re not feeling it, it’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with you. Just take what you like from this time of year, and leave the rest behind.

Spend time with people who make you feel good:

This doesn’t always mean family. The holiday season is an opportunity to catch up with people we care about. Remember to balance the obligation catch-ups with social occasions that you enjoy and that help you unwind.

Make self-care a priority:

When was the last time you picked up that book you were reading? Have you been neglecting your physical health? Do you need to cancel a social event and take some time to relax? Christmas is a time when we’re constantly thinking about other people in our lives. So, of course, sometimes we can forget to think about ourselves. Check in with yourself every now and then and make sure you’re doing OK.

You don’t have to be the world’s best gift buyer:

It’s not a competition. You don’t have to be the Oprah Winfrey of gift buying. If you’re spending more time (or money) than you’d like shopping and it’s stressing you out, remind yourself that your relationships with your friends and family do not hang in the balance of this one gift. You do not have to buy your relationships. It actually is the thought that counts.

Create a new tradition:

In Seinfeld, when George Costanza’s father is overwhelmed by Christmas stress, he creates “Festivus”. You may not need to substitute your tree for a pole like he did, but creating a new tradition with friends or family can be a great way to ensure this Christmas, and all future Christmases, include something meaningful. This can be particularly helpful for people whose usual Christmas tradition included someone who has passed away. If you used to spend Christmas eve with someone you’ve lost, staying home with your thoughts, while tempting, may not be the best option. Surround yourself with people with whom you feel comfortable, who are aware of why this is a difficult time for you, and engage in some kind of activity (even if it’s something as simple as playing a board game or ordering-in dinner).

The typical holiday message we’re told around this time of year is to take the time to think about what we’ve done this year, and what we hope to do next year. This may not be the best advice. You would be far better off taking this opportunity to stop thinking about your life, your job, and everything you want to change, and for one time this year, just be present in the moment, surrounded by people you care about. That’s the best thing you could do for your mental health.