• Sharon Cunliffe

Surviving the Stresses of the Christmas and New Year Season

"As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same."     


Donald E. Westlake (American Writer 1935-2008)


Christmas is traditionally seen as a joyous occasion. That time of year when many decorate the house, overindulge, exchange gifts and reconnect with our loved ones. Yet, for many the festive season can be one of the most stressful times of the year, not only escalating a number of pre-existing stresses, but adding additional ones to the list. So, here are a few ideas to help you to survive the Christmas holidays and come out the other end feeling refreshed, rather than completely burnt-out.


1. Try to be organised

Being organised can really help to alleviate stress and anxiety. Planning ahead the weeks before Christmas descends on you, can prevent that last-minute overwhelming sense of panic.


  • Write a list of everything that needs to be done (from card writing to last minute food shopping), allocate a date for each to be done and try to keep on top of it.

  • In the weeks leading up to the big day, pop a few Christmas presents or non-perishable food items in with the weekly shop. This not only means there will be less to get nearer the time, but can also help spread any financial strain.

  • Wrap presents as you buy them. Wrapping all your presents in one go can be timely and a little uncomfortable (if you are anything like me and you sit on the floor to do it!). By doing it gradually, it can feel more fun and less time consuming.

  • Delegate jobs to family and friends! If help is available to you, don’t be afraid to ask for it!


2. Set limits on who you buy gifts for and how much you spend

Although exchanging gifts is meant to be fun and exciting, it can often lead to not only a financial burden, but the added pressure of knowing exactly what to buy and for whom.


  • All too often we can find ourselves in a situation where our gift list has gone through the roof. Maybe you started buying gifts for each other 15 years ago at the height of your socialising, but now you are buying out of habit or politeness? It takes a brave person to breach the subject about ending the exchanging of gifts, but from my own experience, when breached in the correct manner, people are genuinely very relieved and more than happy to oblige.

  • For those family members or close friends you still want to buy gifts for, think about setting an agreed budget. This not only gives you a good pricing guide to go by, but also reduces any uncertainty or apprehension about whether you have spent too much or not enough!

  • Or alternatively, if you come from a large family or social group, instead of buying gifts for everyone, why not try secret Santa? Everyone in your family/group gets allocated one person to buy for. Again, set an agreed budget. As you are only buying for one person, you could spend slightly more than you would per person, than if you were buying for everyone. This not only means less shopping (and hopefully less stress), but less financial strain.


3. Manage your expectations

It can be so easy to put pressure on ourselves to have the perfect Christmas. But more often than not, when we set very high or rigid expectations for ourselves, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. For most of us, Christmas is an incredibly busy time and this is in addition to our already busy pre-Christmas lives. Although it is understandable you want everything to pull together on the big day and go well, don’t let this pressure be at the expense of your enjoyment and happiness.


  • If you are hosting, let your guests know in advance what and when you will be eating. This not only helps you to plan for any specific food requirements, but reduces the risk of any last-minute stressful adjustments.

  • It really doesn’t matter if the Christmas tree doesn’t look perfect or if the mince-pies are a little on the charred side, Christmas is meant to be a time to come together with loved-ones and have fun. Try to keep things in perspective and remember that these small imperfections are not the end of the world and they certainly won’t ruin the day unless you let them.

  • If you have children manage their expectations too. If you are on a budget, be honest with them. Set them realistic price limits for their Christmas list. Children learn from our own examples, if we don’t set boundaries, they don’t learn that there are any. For younger children, explain to them, that although Father Christmas will be bringing them presents, Christmas isn’t all about receiving gifts, it is about coming together with family and having fun.


4. Don’t compare yourself

There is a powerful image of a mirror with a beautiful red apple sat in front of it, yet what you don’t see in the mirror is the back of the apple which is bitten and bruised. I love this image because I think it sums up social media really well. It is all too easy to be sucked in by the perfect images and the fairy tale posts. But remind yourself when most of us post on social media, we post the best bits of ourselves. We post the images we want to portray. And, as this powerful image shows, pictures and posts may only be telling half the story.

If you are already feeling overwhelmed and setting high expectations of how you want your Christmas to be, comparing yourself to the images you see on social media or elsewhere, is only going to upset you. Remember, we are all human and we can only ever do our best. So be kind to yourself this Christmas and praise yourself for how well you have done. Try to remind yourself of all the things that have gone well, rather than focusing on the things you feel haven’t quite gone to plan.


5. Moderate

Although Christmas is traditionally known for being the time of year when we loosen our belts and over-indulge, try not to overdo it! According to the British Dietic Association the average calorie intake on Christmas day is around 6,000 calories (approximately 3 days’ worth). Although there is nothing wrong in enjoying a bit of what we fancy over the festive period, drinking and eating to excess can not only end up with us feeling physically sluggish and wiped out, but it can leave us experiencing remorse for over-eating and drinking, hence lowering our mood.


  • So, when the prosecco corks pop and the drinks flow freely, try to be aware of how much alcohol you are actually drinking. Try to alternate between alcoholic beverages and either soft drinks or non-alcoholic alternatives.

  • Likewise, when the next box of chocolates or bowl of goodies gets handed round, try not to end up in a food coma! Overeating can lead to an onslaught of adverse consequences such as weight gain, heartburn and/or indigestion, feeling bloated and undoubtedly uncomfortable!

  • Stay hydrated: Alcohol is a diuretic and when we add all the extra calorific, salt and sugar rich foods into the equation is it any wonder we feel sluggish, bloated and not quite our best. Try to make a conscious effort to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water throughout the course of the day. Water will not only keep you hydrated (hence alleviating the effects of any over-indulgence), but it has many other important health benefits for all areas of the body including the maintenance of the kidneys and digestive system, the regulation of blood pressure and body temperature. It has also been shown to boost physical performance and increase energy.


6. Look after yourself

With all the demands of Christmas it can be easy to spend less time taking care of ourselves both physically and emotionally. Christmas is recognised as a joyous time of family unity and harmonious connection. Yet for many who are alone, recently bereaved or separated, Christmas can be an extremely difficult time. It can often open up old wounds or intensify daily struggles. This is where self-love is fundamentally important.


The sense of loss is often accentuated during the Christmas period. It can be especially hard when those around you are full of excitement and you may feel the added pressure to put on a brave front and suppress your true feelings. I lost my own father a month before Christmas thirteen years ago. I remember all too well, my sense of grief and guilt as I continued to celebrate for the sake of my own young family. I knew in my heart that was what my father would have wanted, but it still caused me pain. What has helped me to deal with this loss for the many years that followed, was my ability to still include my father in our celebrations. We decorate the tree on the day of his passing, we visit his grave Christmas morning and we talk about him often. Whether you are experiencing grief through the passing of a loved one or the end of a relationship, the important thing to remember is to do what feels right for you.


  • Sharing your feelings with friends and loved ones, not only enlightens them to what may be going on for you, but it also provides the opportunity for them to talk about their own experiences. This not only opens up the channel of conversation, but can help you to not feel so isolated with your own grief.

  • Don’t feel that you have to stick with the same old traditions, if it helps to change old ones and create new ones, give it a go.

  • Delegate: Don’t be a martyr and expect yourself to do everything. If someone offers to help wrap the Christmas presents, prepare the Christmas vegetables or clear the table, take them up on their offer. This will not only help to alleviate your stress levels, but knowing others are there supporting you, can help you feel more connected and appreciative of your loved ones, which can be very good for your overall wellbeing.

  • Exercise: Although most of us know exercise is good for us, Christmas can be so hectic with one thing and another, that it can be all too easy to let the exercise routine slip. Even light exercise such as walking, has been shown to increase the feel-good chemicals in the brain. Which in turn can enhance our mood, alleviate stress or anxiety and aid our sleep.

  • And last but certainly not least…remember to take some time out for yourself. The last thing you want on Christmas morning is to feel exhausted, so in the build-up to the big day make time to relax. Bath, watch a movie, snuggle up on the sofa with a good book, whatever it is you like to do, find some time to do it. Likewise, if you feel overwhelmed on the big day and need to take yourself off for ten minutes or so, do it. Christmas will still be there when you get back.

“I planned out our whole day. First, we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookie dough as fast as we can, and then to finish we’ll snuggle”


Buddy the Elf (Elf the movie, 2003)