5 Essenial Therapist Tips for Avoiding Christmas Stress

The festive season is portrayed as time of joy, love, and togetherness. TV ads and billboards depict happy, smiling families gathered together around tables groaning with delicious food, with piles of gifts beneath a twinkling Christmas tree. 

But the reality for many is worlds apart from this idealised image. 

Christmas can be a real pinch point, bringing with it a unique set of stressors that can strain relationships to breaking point. It is no surprise that when a new divorce legislation came into effect from 6th April 2022. Between January to March 2023 there were 28,865 applications made (76% from sole applicants, 24% from joint applicants), including those for dissolution of civil partnerships.

The demands of the festive season can create a perfect storm, so how can you show up as your best self in the face of so much pressure? Here are my top therapist tips for navigating this sometimes fraught time of year…


  1. Manage expectations

Idealised depictions of Christmas on TV and social media create unrealistic expectations, leading to frustration, stress and disappointment. The fact is, almost no-one’s reality aligns with these romanticized ideals and trying to create the "perfect" festive experience just sets the stage for tension and disappointment.

Therapist’s tip: Show up as yourselves. Acknowledge that perfection is an illusion and try to embrace the imperfections that make your family unique. Meaningful connections are far more important than perfect decorations or elaborate meals, so prioritise these.

  1. Reduce the financial strain

This year, the cost of living crisis is adding to the financial strain that so many of us traditionally feel at Christmas time. The burden of gift-giving, travel expenses, and hosting holiday gatherings is a huge source of stress for many, coupled with feelings of guilt and inadequacy if you can’t afford to buy what you’d like to buy. 

Therapist’s tip: Set realistic budgets for gifts and activities. Consider alternatives, such as homemade gifts or experiences that focus on shared moments rather than material possessions. Open communication about financial expectations is crucial to avoid unnecessary stress. It’s not worth stretching your finances to the limit at Christmas and then agonising about how you will pay things back in the New Year. 

  1. Navigate difficult family dynamics

It can be a shock to the system to find ourselves spending extended periods with family members over the Christmas period. Such close proximity to people we may not see very often, combined with festive stress and often with the addition of alcohol, can shine the spotlight on conflicting personalities, unresolved issues, and differing traditions. The result is often tension and arguments.

Therapist’s tip: Set healthy boundaries and communicate openly with your partner or family members about expectations. Be mindful of your own triggers and practice self-care. Rather than staying all together under one roof, it might be helpful to stay nearby in a hotel or B&B so everyone can have a bit of space and downtime. Consider compromising on traditions or creating new ones that accommodate everyone. 

  1. Manage your time

Time constraints are a major source of tension over the holiday season, as there can be a packed schedule of events, from office parties to family gatherings. Balancing these commitments may leave little time for relaxation and quality time with loved ones. It is easy to become over-tired and irritable as your normal sleep pattern and diet go out of the window, and there can be very little opportunity to recalibrate before the next set of social engagements. 

Therapist’s tip: It’s important to prioritise self-care and quality time with your partner or family. Learn to say no to commitments that feel overwhelming. Focus on creating moments of connection, even if they are small and simple. If you have overindulged or had a late night, have a day or two of eating simple food or going to bed early to give your system time to catch up. 

  1. Be mindful of your communication

The festive season is a classic time for misunderstandings and communication difficulties to arise. People’s unspoken expectations can lead to conflict and when everyone is feeling more tired and stressed than usual, even the most effective communicators can find themselves getting tripped up.

Therapist’s tip: Practice active listening – stop and take the time to hear what the other person is saying, without jumping in to express your own point of view. Be open about your thoughts and feelings. Use "I" statements to avoid blaming and encourage empathy – “I feel….”, “I heard…” Schedule regular check-ins with your partner to discuss any concerns or expectations.

Although the holiday season is undoubtedly a stressful time for many, it also brings with it an opportunity to create precious memories and develop greater understanding of ourselves and others. By acknowledging the challenges and proactively implementing strategies to navigate them, you can show up as your best self and foster stronger, more resilient relationships. If you need help or support, either individually or as a couple, please contact me. 

I wish you a very peaceful Christmas and New Year.