How to cope with the stresses of Xmas

Dr Jen Nash NHS trained Clinical Psychologist with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from a British Psychological Society accredited university.

Dr Jen Nash has a diverse range of experiences within NHS and private settings, working with both adults and children struggling with a range of emotional and psychological difficulties. She currently works in private practice at, a therapy and consultation service that offers a range of psychological therapies; including cognitive behavioural, psychodynamic, narrative and solution-focussed approaches. Jen is passionate about translating complex psychological concepts into easy to digest information. She is a Lecturer for university psychology programmes and writes for a number of academic and patient publications. Her skill in this area has been acknowledged by her being shortlisted for a MIND journalism award.
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There is a lot of pressure around over the festive season and it can be a time of stress and anxiety for many. Here are some tips to help you cope with some of the common concerns that occur at Xmas.

I always feel anxious at this time of year as it’s when I meet up with my extended family. Everyone’s looking each other up and down and comparing notes on the year’s progress. I feel fat and unattractive and this stresses me out.

In today’s busy and disparate world many people do only connect once a year during the holiday season – so a certain amount of comparing is perhaps inevitable. From a practical point, of view, what will make you feel more confident in the experience of meeting up with your loved ones? Could you choose something to wear that makes you feel beautiful, or make a special effort to paint your nails a gorgeous colour?

But beyond your appearance – you know that you are more than just the sum-total of how you look. Could you take time to think over your non-material achievements over the past year that you could share with your family when you meet? Not with the intention of showing off; rather to gain positive reinforcement from others for the elements of your life that express your identity.

Time away from the usual commitments over the holiday season can prompt reviewing and reflection. If your appearance is something that you would like to change, is there something you can commit to doing in the run up to Xmas? If it’s your weight that you’re dissatisfied with, could you research a walking route that takes you to peasant surroundings in your locality? On Xmas day itself – could you commit to making just one healthy food swap? These will be small reminders that you that you do have control over your body and your life.

Money is a bit of an issue this year and I’m dreading the expense involved in putting on a great Xmas. How can I cope without getting into the stress of more debt?

Put Xmas into perspective. Think back to last Xmas. What do you remember? Can you actually recall the gift each person got for you? I doubt it. More likely you’ll remember who was there, what funny comments the children made and who gave the silliest Santa impression. With this in mind, now think about this Xmas. Yes there is inevitably an element of expense. How can you control this in advance? Could you ask guests to bring something to contribute? The Xmas pudding, cake or crackers? At the very least, sitting down and deciding a budget will help with the anxiety and keep you feeling in control.

Secondly, have a think about your values. Are you valuing the ‘show’ involved in Xmas? Is your worth as a person dependent on material things? If so what’s your fear? That people will think less of you or think that you’re not good enough? Examine this thought; what’s the evidence for and against it? Ok, your Xmas may not be as extravagant as you want – but does this really mean that you’re worthless? Globalising one small aspect of your experience to have a meaning for your whole identity is a way of letting the anxiety spiral out of control. If a friend were feeling this way, how would you respond to her?

I find Xmas anything but joyful. The run up to the 25th is manic and then the day itself is full of people making demands on me. Xmas usually ends up with a big family argument.

What’s the meaning of Xmas for you? Knowing what your values are around Xmas can ensure you do achieve a sense of joy. Is there a spiritual dimension? A family dimension? A pleasure dimension? To help you with this, think back over the past experiences of Xmas that come to mind. Which aspects of the day have been enjoyable and which have been not so good? What has made an ideal Xmas for you? Is it having time to relax and catch up with family and friends you haven’t connected with all year? Is it a chance to have an hour of alone time, or with your partner? With this in mind, how can you carve this out for yourself this year?

Secondly, are you are taking responsibility for everyone else’s’ enjoyment at Xmas? Yes, you can do all that can to ensure it goes well for others – but you aren’t accountable for their lived experience. Do you see the subtle but important difference here?  Having a simple coping statement for the day – “I am only responsible for my own joy” can really keep you reminded of this sentiment.

If you have a relative who’s intent on an argument, one of the best ways to diffuse an argumentative comment is to simply ignore it. Do not respond, leave the room to refresh your glass, or strike up a conversation with someone else. Remember that you can’t control others, only yourself.