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A Therapist’s Guide to Surviving Christmas

Van With Christmas TreeWith Christmas just around the corner, I can’t help but embark on my yearly reflections on the meaning of Christmas, followed closely by an internal conflict based on whether I actually like this time of year or not. As I write this I can almost the hear gasps of horror coming from those of you who love everything to do with Christmas. Admittedly, the joys of Christmas do outweigh the challenges. However, for those of you who resonate with my feelings but won’t dare admit it, I’m going to go through some of the challenges which arise during the festive season and how we can make things a little easier for ourselves.

Ease the festive workload

With the end of year approaching, the pressure to close off outstanding projects, finalise reports and clear our inboxes can take its toll. If you notice your anxiety and stress levels rising, make a list of everything that needs to be done and prioritise. Ask yourself, ‘Does this task really need to be done before I go out on leave or can it wait?’ Then make a plan of how you’ll manage the workload on your return so you can switch off and enjoy your time away from the office. I imagine that some of you may feel compelled or may even be required to check work emails during your time off. This doesn’t need to ruin your holidays and it won’t if you create some limits as to how and when you’ll work. Allocate a specific time of the day to check emails and stick to it, allowing yourself to have the break you need and deserve. When socializing or spending time with your loved ones, resist the urge to check your phone constantly. Allow yourself to have quality time with the people you care about without work emails or technological devices taking priority.

Then there are the Christmas-related tasks, which can be just as time consuming as our full-time jobs. If you’re planning a large get-together, Christmas lunch or the like, don’t do everything yourself. Delegate tasks to others, such as cooking or preparation on the day. If the task of Christmas shopping can be shared, then share it. Don’t take all the responsibility yourself. You may rattle a few cages if the people around you are used to you taking on most of the workload but don’t let that stop you. Keep reminding yourself that you too deserve to enjoy the holidays!

Take care of family dynamics

For most of us, Christmas is an occasion to spend quality time with family and friends. This is often a time for extended families to reunite, particularly for those families who live in different countries or who are too busy to meet regularly throughout the year. Whilst such get-togethers can be lots of fun, it’s almost inevitable that prolonged periods in close quarters with family members, all with their own baggage and history, can lead to conflict or stress. Some years ago I remember a client telling me how, when she and her grown-up siblings returned to the family home for Christmas, everyone would seem to revert to the roles and behavior that defined them as children. Unnecessary conflicts and the re-hashing of old memories would then ensue, creating an atmosphere of tension and anxiety. Whatever it is, whether it be the uncle who gets drunk and embarrasses people, or the cousin who tries to start arguments, remember that nothing which hasn’t been resolved after all these years will be resolved over a boozy Christmas lunch. By all means, make it clear what you will not tolerate, but don’t allow yourself to be drawn into family dramas and unnecessary conflict.

Reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness

Not everyone is surrounded by family and friends during the Christmas period. This may be due to family conflict, separation, bereavement, or due to living far away from family and friends. Whatever your situation is, try to make plans for the day. Is there anyone you know in a similar situation who you can spend your day with, such as friends who also can’t make it home for Christmas? Make a nice meal, watch a festive film and play some games, anything that will be fun and help you connect with the people around you. If you’re feeling sad, lonely or isolated, allow yourself to grieve and feel sad. However, do try to make that extra effort to reach out. You may be quite surprised to find that you’re not alone in whatever it is you’re feeling.

Manage your expectations

If we were to believe the Christmas ads, messages sent through social media and the countless Christmas films which adorn our screens, Christmas is made up of perfect families coming together to enjoy a day of love, laughter and generosity. The pressure to conform to this picture-perfect Christmas creates frustration, sadness and stress for anyone whose reality doesn’t quite match-up. Yes, Christmas is a time to socialize, spend time with people we love and exchange gifts, but things needn’t be perfect for us to enjoy this time. Relationships are often tested, family structures can be complex, and our difficulties and challenges don’t just disappear because it’s Christmas. You’d be wrong to assume, based on the media’s portrayal of Christmas, that your life doesn’t match up to that of most people. You may not have the perfect, ‘traditional’ family or be invited to every party. Christmas may be a time you miss someone who is no longer with you, making Christmas a time of sadness as well as joy. Whatever your situation is, scrap the idea that Christmas is perfect for anyone and try to appreciate what you do have, no matter how small. Remember also, while scrolling through Instagram, Facebook and so on, that comparing your full reality with snapshots of people’s lives only when they’re enjoying themselves is not a fair or realistic comparison.

Minimise over-indulgencePeople With Drinks

With office parties and other Christmas get-togethers springing up in your calendar, this can also be a time of over-indulgence. There’s quite a high probability that you’ll eat more during the Christmas period and drink more alcohol, particularly since increased stress can lead to cravings for sugary, fatty foods and alcohol. This can cause nasty hangovers, tiredness, indigestion and heart-burn, as well as weight gain. Whilst I’m not suggesting taking a container of carrot sticks to your next party, or replacing your mum’s buttery mince pies with a crunchy apple and faking enjoyment, I am going to suggest a few measures to balance the over-indulgence:

  • Drink plenty of water, especially on days before and after a day you drink alcohol
  • Try to balance a heavy-eating day with other days where you eat fresh fruit and vegetables and lighter meals
  • If you have an exercise routine, don’t let it slip just because it’s Christmas. If you don’t have one, try to use this period to get some fresh air, take long walks or take a class, etc. Exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good so it’s the ideal way to take care of yourself, inside and out.
  • Take the time to re-energise and reflect on your year – what went well, what didn’t and what you’d like to change next year
  • Try meditating, taking a yoga class or doing anything which you find relaxing, such as reading a book, watching a film, having a massage or taking a walk by the sea.


No matter what your situation is and how you choose to spend this Christmas, I wish you the best in finding healthy ways to manage any stress which arises during this period. Finally, I’d like to suggest using Christmas as an opportunity to give to others rather than simply receive. You’ll find that the satisfaction you feel from connecting with others and bringing them joy is much longer-lasting than the short-lived joy of receiving.

Danjela Falzon - Malta therapy clinic

About Danjela Falzon

Danjela has been practising as a Psychotherapist since 2011, having read for a BSc in Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, followed by a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at GPTIM. She works therapeutically with individuals, adopting an approach which is warm and empathic, yet direct and challenging when necessary. She also works with groups, teaching mindfulness and providing support and guidance to reduce stress and anxiety.

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