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Handling the stress of Christmas and New Year

Added 25 Nov 2018

The Christmas and New Year period is drawing near, and it’s important to take pause and take care of your mental health. As we all know, the festive season can be extremely stressful, indeed, the widely used Holmes and Rahe social readjustment scale lists Christmas as an indicator of stress. Add to this various individual factors like bereavement or family conflict and Christmas becomes overwhelming, marching in and thwarting our coping efforts. Therefore, it is important to prepare not just for the turkey and pressies, but for ourselves too.

The cost of stress

The end of the year swiftly approaches, the end of a busy time at work, wrapping up projects and getting ready for a shutdown period. You’ve done hours of overtime, busting your chops for the boss, and gotten your ducks in a line and you’re longing for a break. What happens if you don’t allow yourself to have one? Well, allostatic load, or the ‘cost’ of stress on our bodies, puts us at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and even premature death. Mentally, chronic stress triggers prolonged activation of biological responses (e.g., secretion of ‘stress hormone’ cortisol) which can cause damage to the brain and body.  Such damage can be seen in impaired functioning of the metabolic (e.g., insulin, fat storage), cardiovascular (e.g., high blood pressure) and immune systems. Therefore, not taking a break from stress can harm our bodies and increase our chances of getting sick.

Christmas shopping

It can be enormously difficult to bring yourself to join the throng of people doing last minute gift buying, but sometimes (often, if you’re unorganised like me), you have to. Not only is it physically exhausting to hustle through the bustling shopping mall, it’s downright anxiety provoking. On top of that, everyone is in the same boat – harried, stretched, and concerned about overspending (again!). One way to get through the Christmas lead-up in a more relaxed fashion is to try doing as much shopping as you can online. Why face the battleground of Westfield when you can do it from the comfort of your own home?

While it can be tough to get around to it, making a budget is the easiest way to avoid overspending. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a spreadsheet wizard, there are apps you can use to track your spending in the lead up to Christmas (check out ASIC’s TrackMySpend app on the MoneySmart.gov.au website). If you’ve got a set amount you can afford to spend, make a list of who you need to buy for and assign amounts to each person, then you can find presents that fit the dollar value, a bit like doing a Kris Kringle where there’s a limit on what you can spend. Additionally, you could come to an agreed amount that you and your recipients can spend up to; this helps to avoid the dilemma of feeling you need to keep up with the more extravagant gift-givers.

Christmas Day expectations

Christmas means something different to each of us. For some people, Christmas signifies a painful reminder of those we cannot share it with; for others, it can be a time of conflict and tension. Additionally, these experiences are often compounded by unrealistic expectations and ideas of what Christmas “should” be like. It’s important to make sure you set realistic expectations of the day and keep in mind that many of the people you’re sharing the day with may be stressed out too. Focusing on an activity is a great way of reducing tension, such as playing backyard cricket, or going to the beach. If there are likely to be tense times, try keeping the gathering short and try to limit the number of Christmas drinks - it may not be the best occasion to accidentally tell Aunt Jean what you really think of her Christmas cake! If you’re missing someone at Christmas, remember that it’s okay (and sometimes necessary) to express your grief. If you can talk about it, you might find it brings you closer. It might also be helpful to change your Christmas routine, instead of having Christmas lunch at home you could go out instead.

New Year, new you?

New Year’s resolutions tend to be overreaching and unrealistic. Rather than setting yourself up to either struggle or even fail to meet your goals, aim for attainable targets. If your plan is to get fit, try not to overdo it and burn out - you’ll be less likely to stick with it, especially if exercise hasn’t been a normal part of your routine. Create a realistic plan; like starting with regular walks before progressing to running with walk breaks to ease into full jogs. You can download apps that help complete beginners progress to become regular runners, one example is C25K (couch to 5k). Also, remember that if you don’t stick to your plan (i.e., skip your training because you’re on holiday for a week) you can just pick up where you left off. It’s easy to feel like giving up because you’ve slipped up.

Take time for yourself this festive season, it’s easy to forget about your own needs when there’s so much to do. Try and make things easier and plan ahead! Be good to yourself and have a lovely summer.


Written by Kate M – ADAVIC Volunteer

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