The festive season is known as a time of celebration and togetherness with friends and families – yet it consistently rates high on the scale of stressful life events, right behind losing a loved one, divorce and moving house.

Every summer, there’s a spike in cardiac arrests, relationship breakups, domestic violence and suicide attempts around the holiday season. Social media bombards us with an endless stream of festive posts that seem to jingle with joy and excitement: but in real life a lot of people are feeling stressed, sad and exhausted. Are you craving some peace, a welcome respite from the seasonal chaos? Stress management is essential. We’ve compiled a list of sanity-saving tips to help you and your family survive and thrive throughout the holidays.

Alone? Seek the company of family and friends

Many people find the festive season a very challenging time of year. Some people feel socially isolated, whilst others are grieving the anniversary of a loved one’s passing. Being around other people can enhance your sense of connectedness and lessen the sting of loss you may be feeling. It’s so important to reach out – you’d be amazed how many other people are alone at this time of year.

Accept invitations to socialise, invite friends over, or volunteer with a local charity and support those less fortunate than yourself.  If you’re single and ready to start dating again, social psychology research has shown that holidays are also a prime time for finding someone via online dating, with a 60% increase in users over the summer months.

This time of year is also steeped in tradition for many people – we have a lot of rituals around the ways we celebrate annual holidays and family time. If you’re feeling the absence of a loved one, creating a new ritual honouring their memory can help with the healing process. Light a special candle for them at the dinner table, or dedicate some time to talking about shared experiences and fond memories.

It’s important to consult any family or friends present as to how they feel about these gestures, as people grieve in different ways. Creating a new ritual together that celebrates the lives of those who have passed can strengthen the bonds connecting those left behind.

Kids need routines: Teenagers need down-time

There’s a lot going on for children to process around the festive season: the excitement of lots of family and social gatherings can take their toll on your children’s emotional wellbeing and behaviour. For little kids especially, the demands of the festive season can be over-stimulating, resulting in cranky tantrums and difficult behaviour. If you’ll be socialising with smaller children, it’s crucial to maintain their usual routine as much as possible. Ensure they get their regular nap time where possible, and give them lots of physical and emotional affection for reassurance in unfamiliar settings.

It’s also a good idea to let them help choose a bag full of their favourite toys and activities to carry with you: this ensures they’ll have enjoyable distractions and a sense of familiar normalcy in different environments.

Although it’s important for adolescents to feel included in family gatherings and festivities, it’s also a great idea to allow them to slink off and have some private time to catch up with their friends, or take a solo break from the demands of socialising with family. Involving teenagers in holiday planning gives them a sense of inclusion, but allowing them to sleep in, or take a few hours to themselves each day will alleviate the stress of managing holidays with a potentially moody, frustrated teenager in the mix.

Time-out is for grownups, too

If you’re holidaying with your in-laws or extended family, give yourself permission to take time away from the group occasionally, either by yourself or with your partner. There is incredible pressure on families to function as a happy, harmonious unit, but if there are pre-existing difficulties or interpersonal conflicts in your family, sometimes the holiday season can amplify those issues. Balance family togetherness with self-care for your own sanity and the overall health of the family unit. It’s not selfish to take some time for yourself – it’s an essential element of wellbeing and stress management.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed and struggling to cope, talking to a professional can help you to process any mixed emotions you have about this time of year, and identify ways to alleviate your stress and find joy in the season.

Holidays and wellbeing research resources:

Backer, E., & Schänzel, H. (2013). Family holidays: Vacation or obli-cation?. Tourism Recreation Research, 38(2), 159-173.

Garcia, J.R., & Fisher, H.E. (2015). Why we hook up: Searching for sex or looking for love? In S. Tarrant (Ed.), Gender, Sex, and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century, (pp. 238-250). New York: Routledge.

Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2002). What makes for a merry Christmas? Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(4), 313-329.

Mutz, M. (nd.). Christmas and subjective wellbeing: A research note. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 1-16.

Sezer, O., Norton, M. I., Gino, F., & Vohs, K. D. (2016). Family rituals improve the holidays. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 1(4), 509-526.

Marcus Andrews

Marcus Andrews

Marcus Andrews is the founder and director of Life Supports, which was established in 2002. He has extensive professional experience working as a counsellor and family therapist across a broad range of issues. The core component of his role at Life Supports involves the supervision of other counsellors, including secondary consultations. Marcus has worked in many sectors, including private, government, non-profit, health, forensic and community practice.

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