WE know it is the festive season because that’s what we’ve come to expect. Christmas is merry, a time for us to give joy to the world and make the yuletide gay, an end-of-year celebration that leads into a promising new year. December’s end comes with decorations and greetings and carols, so many carols, reinforcing the mood everywhere from the lift, to the supermarket, to the workplace. Put simply, Christmas is the happiest time of the year.
Then why are so many people stressed out?
Regardless of your religion, the summer break can be a special time, one for reflection and thankfulness, a time to spend with loved ones. But not everyone is able to choose their circumstances or control the mood of the occasion. Family structures differ greatly, as do personal situations, and as the tragic events in Sydney this week show, people may have reason to feel anything but festive. While some may flippantly describe the end of December as the silly season, there is evidence that increasing levels of stress and anxiety can have tragic results, particularly in the days and weeks after Christmas.
According to the Black Dog Index, an initiative of The Australian and the Black Dog Institute, powered by Newspoll, stress levels may depend on who you are and what role you give yourself at Christmas. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, when asked how stressed we think we will feel because of Christmas this year, we give ourselves a 2.8.
But there are significant differences, and potential causes of tension: men, for example, give a 2.4 whereas women give a 3.2. Those aged 50 and older have a 2.6 beside their name — like men, below average — but the people aged 35 to 49, perhaps those with kids or greater responsibilities, give it a 3.2.
Indeed, married people are more stressed than the unmarried (three compared with 2.5) and those with children are more stressed than those without (3.4 to 2.5). This goes against the normal thinking that relationships are good for our mental health. It certainly shows the Christmas advertising and marketing campaigns in a different light.
So what can we do? The Black Dog Institute has 10 suggestions:
1. Prioritise tasks in order of importance. Make the tasks possible; don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself. And don’t spend all your time preparing and not enjoying.
2. Think before you commit yourself to other people’s expectations. It is OK to say no to requests that are unreasonable or more than you can handle at the time.
3. Practise relaxing, take time out. Don’t expect relaxation to miraculously come to you.
4. Make a list of events that normally leave you emotionally drained, with one or two ways to reduce the stress for each.
5. Take your time. Don’t let people rush you. Frenzied activities lead to errors, regrets and stress. Practise approaching situations mindfully and live in the moment.
6. Set aside time each day for recreation and exercise, which help reduce stress. Hobbies that focus attention also can give you a sense of achievement and satisfaction.
7. Think positively. Smile whenever possible. Even if you have to walk away from a difficult situation, try to do it with a positive thought.
8. Watch your alcohol intake. Sometimes a drink or two can feel like a solution to a problem, but it’s only temporary. Is there another way to achieve sedation or stimulation?
9. Perform small acts of kindness. Giving not only makes you feel good about yourself, it enhances your connection with others and can bring you positive feedback from others.
10. Don’t do it alone. If times get tough, pick up the phone and talk to someone you trust.
This article first appeared on ‘The Australian’ on 19 December 2014.