How to Guide: Manage Festive Stress

21 December 2021

For some of us, Christmas is a joyous time, one filled with celebrations of familial love and cheer. But for many of us, it can be a difficult time filled with stress, anxiety and loneliness. There are many reasons why we might struggle to cope during the festive season. Let’s look at the causes and remedies for the anxiety creep that we can experience around this time.

Why so stressed?

Christmas is typically a time when families come together. In families with difficult relationship dynamics, the holiday period can be challenging and often triggering. There might be family members who you don't see for most of the year due to estrangement, boundaries or simply because you just don't get along. Christmas often brings together people who, for most of the year (and their lives) avoid one another. These rifts can sometimes stem back from as early as childhood – old wounds and grievances can be reopened and aired.

For others, the holiday season can be marred by painful memories, particularly for those who grew up in homes of abuse or neglect. Seeing how others celebrate the season with their family can bring up strong emotions in those who experienced a very different version of family. It can be a triggering time for those victims of domestic family violence.

Ways to Cope

Setting boundaries is a great place to start. Knowing what you will and will not accept will help plan your festive calendar and manage your self-care at the same time. Allowing yourself to say 'no' is one of the biggest challenges - around this time there is mounting pressure to accept countless social invitations and to increase your workload to prepare for the holiday season.

Budgeting is a great one to get on top of before the season hits! Know what you have allocated and try to stick to it. The dangers of mindless spending are all too real, and it's very easy to get carried away in the spirit of the season only to regret it in the new year. Budgets will help alleviate financial pressure.

Getting plenty of sleep might be unrealistic but the idea is to find time and ways to wind down and de-stress leading up to and during the festive season. It could be time away from work and the family to exercise, go for a walk, have a bath or do some meditation. It's about taking time out to recharge.

Saying No

Why is it so hard to say no during the festive season? Believe it or not, once you get started, t's easier than you think!

Saying no doesn't mean being rude for the sake of it – you need to remain aware and understanding of other people's feelings and that they might not share the same view of Christmas. Being aware of other's feelings shouldn't dissuade you from exercising healthy boundaries and the ability to say no, but rather help you to manage the situation with compassion. Work together to find a mutually beneficial outcome if possible, otherwise know that speaking up about your limitations is a valid form of self-care.

Here are some top tips for saying no at Christmas:

  • Try and keep it positive
  • Stand your ground
  • Think about alternatives
  • Avoid the arguments.

Managing children’s expectation

Kid's expectations of the festive season are unrealistic. We know this just by asking them what they'd like for Christmas? It's usually a long list of large scale items, not all based in reality, that very few parents could fulfil. It's about re-defining Christmas in small ways. Start changing the focus from presents to family time, social connection and being present in the moment.

The four gift rule is a good place to start and an easy rule to follow. Buy them something they want, something they need, something to wear (or somewhere to go) and something to read. The focus shifts from the mindless 'spending for the sake of spending' that defines holiday purchases to a more sustainable, considered way of gifting. Rather than succumbing to the pressure of stuffing stockings until they burst just to better last year's efforts, think more about what your child might like and involve them in considering their choices. Perhaps this might seem like more stress – the idea of having to think more and purchase mindfully, but ultimately it will save you the financial stress and the guilt of wasteful spending in the long run.

Tips on how to make the most of the season

  • Begin with gratitude
  • Set a budget
  • Release expectations
  • Keep it simple
  • Spend time in nature
  • Entertain without perfection
  • Light candles
  • Buy gifts mindfully
  • Wrap creatively
  • Rediscover meaning and purpose
  • Reach out to someone lonely
  • Take a drive or a walk
  • No last minute shopping.


Links to support:

If you need support after reading this article, please talk to someone at work or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. You can also contact and discuss this with your GP.