How To Survive Christmas According To A Therapist

There is Egg Nog, Christmas pudding, presents and Christmas decorations, carols and Christmas movies on TV. All of these things bring back the happy memories of Christmas I experienced as a child. 

There’s no doubt Christmas can be a magical time of year, it often means family time, celebrations and relaxation. On the flip side, it’s also the most likely time of year for people to experience stress, anxiety and depression!

Many people are also having to contend with feelings of isolation, loneliness, or the pain of having lost a loved one. Sometimes additional strain is placed on families due to complex situations and spending more time with family members.

When it comes to Christmas I can say that a lot of my clients experience the holiday season as less joyful and more stressful. In fact, if you’re feeling more like the Grinch than the Jolly Mr or Mr.s Claus you’re not alone, and you might relate to feeling any one of the below:

  • A sense of obligation rather than gleeful giving

  • Grief at having lost a loved one and the holiday season evokes a painful reminder that they’re not here with you.

  • Stressed out by the holiday crowds and shoppers, you want to avoid people altogether.

  • More Bridget Jones recently because you have been through a divorce or breakup and have that feeling that you might end up going alone to those Xmas and new year’s parties

  • Worried by the financial struggle, knowing you don’t have the funds to spend going out.

  • Tempted to just go out and spoil yourself rather than waste time looking for presents for other people.

  • Worried about the additional kilos that could result from eating and being merry.

Here're 5 things on my survival checklist for Christmas

Be ready to set your boundaries: If you're someone who like to please others and finds it difficult to say no you're likely to feel the pressure at Christmas time from those around you who are relying on you to be the organised, steadfast and reliable one. Not only can this cause feelings of anger, stress, anxiety, but it can leave you feeling exhausted. Talk to your therapist (and if you don’t have one, you might want to consider getting one because your issues with setting boundaries probably aren’t limited to the holiday season).
Say Yes and no – The yes no method states that you may only say yes to requests from others if you do so without resentment, and you may only say no to others without guilt.

Have a break, have a kit-kat: So whilst you don’t need to have a kit-kat literally, you do need to take a break. It’s easy to glorify busy and get caught up in the rush at Christmas time.

One of the major influencing factors in our mood and mental well-being is the time we take to focus on our own sense of well-being. The amount and frequency of time you will be able to take is different for each person. However I recommend for the month of December take 1 hour a week minimum to just be. If you’re struggling to know what I mean by this, you really need to consider doing some of the below.

Spend one blissful hour, no work, no phones, and no distractions.

For me it’s lying in the sun soaking up some of the summer rays and drifting away for an hour, for others it might be seated meditation, a long walk outside in nature, enjoying a cup of coffee people watching or getting pampered at a day spa.

 The key is: the less you do the better.

Dealing with grief: Ensuring you have a wealth of support if you are bereaved during the Christmas period is particularly important, you need to surround yourself with those who will allow you to express and discuss your grief in helpful ways to you, rather than feeling as though you need to carry the burden alone. Create a ritual or do something to remember your loved one. This might look like listening to your loved ones favourite song, lighting a candle and saying some special words, journaling a memory about them or simply  allowing yourself to remember them. Whatever the ritual, it’s important to honour and remember your loved one in a way that feels right for you.

Organise an appointment with your therapist: Ensuring you have made an appointment with your therapist during the festive season means you can receive the support you need to prepare in advance for any stressors or triggers that may arise. Leave yourself enough time to schedule in some sessions before your therapist takes leave so you can feel as though you’re prepared for what lays ahead.

Know you are not what you eat over Christmas: You can enjoy the Christmas food but ditch the stress. Know that weight gain and disease are not caused by one or two days of excessive eating. The lifestyle choices you make throughout the year are what impact you. Stressing about what you eat and breaking out of your normal eating pattern will likely cause you more stress than needed. If you know you’re going to indulge or eat more than usual on Christmas day then use the extra energy from the carbs in a workout the next day. Take walks and keep active, remember to fill your plate with one large serving – this way you can see everything you’re eating (the brain registers this) and don’t go back for seconds.

Noted, these are only a few of the experiences you may have over Christmas, other stressors are often present, If you have any other additional ways you have found useful   during this time I would love to hear your experiences.

May you experience less stress and more happiness during this holiday season, may this guide help you to enjoy or tolerate Christmas more! 

Natajsa Wagner is a Masters qualified Psychotherapist based in Brisbane, Australia. Natajsa blends relational Gestlat methods, contemporary Psychotherapy and neuroscience practices in her work. Natajsa guides and mentors professionals in understanding themselves and their behaviour patterns so they can make more aligned choices in their life. Natajsa is thought leader and advocate for authentic human conversations and connection. She works experientially with individuals and groups to teach, that in a moment, we can create and experience more deeply satisfying connections with each other.

Her work offers an antidote to the modern day disease of disconnection.She invites others to create a ripple of connection in the world, so that we might all feel more intimacy, belonging and aliveness. Natajsa has been featured as an expert both locally and internationally and has contributed to a number of print and online media outlets including: Womens Health and Fitness Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine & ABC Online.

You can find her sparking conversations online in the following places:

Natajsa Wagner