Why many of us find
Christmas stressful

As 2020 draws to a close, for many in New South Wales their celebrations and holiday plans have been disrupted. We know how incredibly disappointing this might be.

It reminds us of the importance of being supportive of each other. But even without the latest turmoil, this can be an incredibly stressful and anxious time of the year for many people.

Getting ready for Christmas has been compared in the past to moving house or losing your job in terms of how stressful it can be. Yet we’re often expected to simply get on with it without revealing how we really feel.

Christmas stress 

The factors behind those stresses and anxieties are many and varied. For some, it’s about Christmas shopping, with surveys finding more than 60 per cent of people find it a difficult and unpleasant experience.

For others, the chores surrounding getting everything ready for a family Christmas can add to stress, especially if it’s combined with full-time work. If you’re the one in charge of pulling Christmas Day together, make sure you speak to your loved ones and ask for more support this year, including delegating chores. Surprising as it may seem, most people actually like to be asked to help and feel involved. Equally, allow for some mishaps before and during the lead-up to Christmas and don’t put pressure on yourself to offer everyone “the perfect day”.

Relationship and financial pressures

Other expectations which can cause stress come via social media, where the display of friends’ or acquaintances’ “happy families” can feature on a regular basis. If your marriage or relationship has recently ended, or your family is not quite so traditionally cohesive, these posts may cause a lot of distress.

Even though we may love our families, some of us have difficult relationships within them – such as a falling out with a parent, child, in-laws or siblings – this time of year can bring those difficult relationships to the fore while sitting around the Christmas table for an extended period.

Financial pressures can also be rife. It is often a time of year when people max out their credit cards, thinking they will deal with the debt later when their finances improve. Too often that moment never comes and the interest payments keep mounting, adding to relationship stress. To reduce those concerns, discuss this and decide on a budget (there are many low-cost gifts out there) and stick to it – no matter what.

Loss and new beginnings 

For others, Christmas is a more emotional time. If the family has experienced the loss of a loved one, this time of year can trigger feelings including sadness, grief, emotional vulnerability, anxiety, and anger. It can be a time when you hate being asked: “How are you?”

Similarly, if you are recently separated or divorced, Christmas can be very challenging, including for the children. They may be experiencing their first Christmas Day after the family has split up and may need time and understanding about going from one set of familiar circumstances to new ones.


Loneliness can be a contributor to stress. The expectation is that everyone will be with family or close friends at Christmas, but a Relationships Australia study found that many Australians experience loneliness and emotional isolation on a regular basis. It can be stressful to try and think about how to handle the festive season on your own.

One way to tackle this is to help those even more unfortunate than yourself and put your name down to volunteer at a charity event such as a Christmas lunch or soup kitchen – or plan the day well beforehand with a set list of activities you really enjoy, without necessarily spending a fortune – such as visiting a favourite spot, going to the movies, going on a day trip, or even starting a gratitude journal.

Get support

With all these stresses and strains, it is important that you feel okay about sharing your feelings with a trusted person, such as a qualified counsellor, who can offer guidance and support during difficult times.

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