The festive season is without doubt one of the most complex and stressful times of the year. Christmas and New Year can have a polarising effect, these stressful conditions bringing out the best and the worst in people. For some, it’s a time for family. For others, and for those without strong family ties, it can be more about friends and smaller groups and gatherings.

The holiday season presents a kaleidoscope of demands — shopping, long drives, parties, and cleaning to name just a few. Beyond these immediate aspects, the festive season can also be a bit of a drain. It can be stressful, anxiety-provoking, expensive and even lonely. It’s something we sometimes see people endure, rather than enjoy, and for those that struggle with food or substance addiction, it can be a very challenging time.

Akin to running a marathon, we tell ourselves “just keep breathing, these stressful conditions will soon be over… Toward the end of the season normality starts to re-enter our lives, and I for one welcome this settling down stage of the season.

For many, the festive season is also marked with meaning and significance, ritual and religion, joy and charity, loss, memory and regret. It can also be many of these things simultaneously, making it a very tricky time. The conspicuousness of it all can quickly amplify thoughts and feelings. So with that said and bah-humbug aside, how do we ensure we keep well, safe and sane during this tricky time of year where expectations are high, and emotions are served up with a side serving of Aussie Christmas trifle?

Keep open to connection

If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, pre-empt the season blues by seeking out a community or social event that makes you feel connected. Community groups can offer support and companionship during the festive season, and many people find that volunteering is the one gift that keeps giving! It’s not a material gift, but spiritual. It can broaden your friendship groups and be a meaningful and altruistic experience.

Accept difference and move on!

No two people are the same. We all have a particular way of doing, seeing, and being in the world. Make the festive season a time to understand each other better. Put aside upsets and arguments for a more appropriate time. It will be the kindest, most compassionate thing you do for yourself and the other folk around you.

Stick to a budget this festive season

The festive season doesn’t need to be about excess. Before you start to shop for gifts, food and festive treats, plan how much you want to spend and keep to your budget. Over-committing yourself financially is not a stressor you need in the New Year. That new credit card won’t pay itself off, and Katie, Tim and Mum don’t need that extra gift under the tree. Really… they really don’t!

Sad? I’m not sad…

If someone close to you has recently died or moved away, or you can’t be with loved ones, accept that it’s normal to miss these folk, to feel sadness and to grieve the passing of friends and family. Don’t force yourself to be festive if you’re not. Acknowledge these emotions and see them as they truly are, a normal and natural response. Express your feelings and know that they too will pass.

Tune into the meaning

The festive season will mean different things for different people. For me, I find it’s a time to reflect deeply on things like the true essence of giving, forgiveness and change. I tend to see things from a values framework and so find this type of reflection meaningful and enriching. For other folk, it will be less about the underlying meaning and nourishment of everyday things and more about the celebratory and social aspects of the season. Of course, all of these things and approaches are all absolutely OK. My emphasis here is to tune into what makes the festive season meaningful for you and go from there!

In conclusion, I find that the festive season can be as complex as the individuals experiencing it. As much as we all love tradition, sometimes things change, and our rituals and gatherings will change in response to this. For example, as adolescent children and siblings grow, these folk move away and start to create their own family groups. This makes the logistics of the BIG extended family gathering even more difficult to achieve, and that’s OK! The holidays don’t have to be perfect.

The festive season can sometimes amplify the reality that we just need to feel more connected. Working with people to build more connection, meaning, and resilience in their life is what I do.

This festive season, don’t let feelings of depression and anxiety isolate you even further, reach out to someone. Below is a couple of useful resources you may want to keep in mind or share with family or friends. Wishing you all the very best for this festive season.

Beyond Blue:

Disclaimer: This article contains the views of the author and is not a replacement for therapeutic support. Please reach out to a registered therapist if you are experiencing distress and require assistance.