Psychologist: No reason for Christmas to be so stressful

FORGET the fairytale Disney Christmas or you might start tearing your hair out when you should be tearing into a honey-glazed ham.

For those gripped by unrealistic expectations for their December 25 festivities, family rifts or tensions, finances and even loneliness could all act as a yuletide spanner in the works.

Queensland University of Technology psychologist Dr Leith Henry said there was no need for Christmas to be so stressful.

She said the "perfect Disney day" was often a myth - not everyone was going to be completely happy and not every morsel of food was going to be perfect.

"It's not in one person's control to have a perfect day," Dr Leith said.

She suggests starting new traditions that involve helping others, like volunteering, and keeping up exercise and sleep so that you're not left frazzled.

"Remember that others may be stressed too, so be patient and tolerant," she said.

Also learn to say no - "you don't have to attend everything you're invited to, be the life of the party or stay until stumps".

If money is an issue, consider playing "secret Santa" or set a dollar limit on presents being shared.

For Dr Henry, even as an expert in understanding the signs of stress at Christmas, she conceded she did not always practice what she preached.

"Last year I was so exhausted with my very dear friends, I could almost not engage in conversation I was so shattered," she said.

"This year I'm going to pace myself through the season and focus on connection and rest."

For others, she said, it might be about re-establishing a connection with their religion, friends, trying to rest or making the most of their free time.


Find a balance between expectations and reality.

-Keep up sleep, exercise, healthy eating

-Allow extra time for things to go wrong

-Consider that others are stressed too

-Start a new tradition of volunteering or helping others.


Be careful of these stressful triggers:

-Family - can increase conflict, tension and pressure.

-Extended family - With the in-laws in town, you might need to shake off the extra scrutiny.

-Finances - Keep costs in mind, think about a secret Santa

-Grief and loneliness - These emotions are heightened at Christmas.

-Overeating/drinking - Aside from the weight gain, embarrassing yourself in front of the family will not help.

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