Introduction to stress and the festive season

Stress and the festive seasonStress is the feeling people experience when they are under too much pressure. When an individual feels stressed, a number of changes occur in their body, for example the heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and stress hormones are released. Feeling stressed can also adversely affect an individual’s behaviour (e.g. a stressed person might be irritable and have difficulty getting along with family members and work colleagues). In the long term, stress increases the risk of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disorders.

The festive season is a time when many people are busy enjoying time with friends and family, however it can also be a stressful time for many people (remember the year the in-laws arrived on the doorstep unannounced?). Some 20% of Australians experience stress at this time of year. The same proportion of the population also experience health-related stress and stress because of relationship problems, meaning that the festive season is a major cause of stress in Australia.

People may be more likely to experience stress over the festive season because they are busier than usual or because they have many additional expenses at this time of year and more commitments than usual (e.g. family and other social gatherings). Individuals that have high expectations for the festive season may become stressed if the period does not live up to their expectations. Others may experience stress because they are feeling lonely or isolated. While the festive season can be a stressful time, there are many ways individuals can avoid stress and also ways in which they can help their loved ones to remain stress-free.

Avoiding financial stress

The festive season is an expensive time of year and covering the additional associated expenses can be stressful. There are however many ways in which financial stress can be reduced with good planning and sensible spending.

Budget and save to avoid credit card spending

Many Australians love to give presents to loved ones on Christmas day, however many also dread the thought of footing the Christmas shopping bill, running up their credit card balance and can become stressed about Christmas-related finances. Preparing a budget early in the year and saving for expenses throughout the year is a key way to avoid financial stress at Christmas time. Having money put aside for expenses will also reduce the need for credit card spending, which can create significant additional expenses because of interest payments and stress related to paying credit card bills in the New Year.

To avoid financial stress and credit card bills this festive season try:

  • Preparing a Christmas budget early in the year- it should include an amount for forgotten or unexpected presents and extras;
  • Put aside money on a regular basis throughout the year, starting early in the year;
  • Leave your credit card at home when you go Christmas shopping;
  • Set limits on the amount you spend, for example by:
    • Limiting the number of people you buy gifts for;
    • Limiting the cost of each present;
    • Suggesting to your family that each family member buys a present for just one other person, rather than for everyone (e.g. Secret Santa);
    • Suggesting to your family that you only buy gifts for the children.

Stick to your budget and avoid extravagance

A budget is only as good as the individual’s ability to stick to it, and there are many temptations to overspend on the festive season shopping. To avoid blowing the budget, remember to:

  • Avoid extravagance and buy meaningful presents instead of expensive ones;
  • Try making gifts instead of buying them.

Avoiding shopping stress

Stress and the festive seasonMany people dread the thought of shopping in the busy festive season and may become stressed just thinking about it! Planning what you need to buy before you get to the shops, for example by writing a list of presents, can help avoid stress whilst shopping. Starting the Christmas shopping early, before the shops are busy, is also a great way to avoid shopping-related stress. Some people buy presents online or from mail order catalogues to beat the festive season shopping queues.

Maintaining good health

Health problems cause considerable stress and maintaining good mental and physical health in the festive season is therefore an important factor in reducing stress. Taking time out from the busy festive season to relax, get plenty of exercise and eat a healthy nutritious diet is essential for maintaining good health.


The festive season is a busy time of year when many people have hectic work schedules (e.g. because they are preparing for holidays), busy social lives and additional demands (e.g. Christmas shopping and entertaining) which may mean they have little time to relax. However, it is important to put time aside for relaxation, including in preparation for Christmas day celebrations. It is also important to get plenty of sleep and quiet time, for example to meditate, perform yoga, read or do other relaxing things.

Get plenty of exercise

Exercise can add fun and energy to the festive season and is important for maintaining good health. However, over the festive season when schedules are disrupted (e.g. because of holidays) and people are often very busy, exercise may be neglected. But the holiday period provides many opportunities for recreational exercise for the entire family. For example, days at the beach, bushwalking holidays and playing with outdoor Christmas presents with the kids are great opportunities to get some exercise. All people should aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise everyday- even when they are busy during the festive season.

More information on exercise during the festive season.

Eat a healthy nutritious diet

One of the great things about the festive season is all the good food- eating out at work functions, yummy snacks and parties and of course the Christmas feast. Eating a healthy nutritious diet is essential for good health in the immediate and long term. During the festive season it is important to remember the difference between eating plenty and maintaining good nutritional health. At this time of year many individuals are busy and may eat take away or snack food because they are too busy to prepare healthy meals at home. There are also lots of opportunities to over-indulge on unhealthy foods at Christmas parties or dinners. However, maintaining good nutrition whilst enjoying the festivities is possible.

Spending meaningful time with children and other loved ones

Stress and the festive seasonThe festive season is an important time of year to spend time with family and friends and time spent with friends is an opportunity to chat, relax and reduce stress. However, organising festive meals can also be time consuming and stressful, and getting together with family members may also create stress for some. Getting everyone involved in organising the Christmas feast or a social gathering (e.g. by bringing a plate of food to contribute) can reduce stress on the day and ensure there is more meaningful time for friends and family.

It is also important to remember:

  • That spending time is more important than spending money. Children will be just as happy with a small number of gifts and lots of personal attention from their parents, as they will be with lots of presents and little love;
  • That family gatherings are often less than perfect- don’t expect them to be, but take time to clear the air prior to gathering, if there are any issues between members of the family;
  • To drink alcohol in moderation.

Managing split custody arrangements

Organising who will take custody of the children can be a stressful exercise at any time of year. Working out custody arrangements for Christmas day may be even more difficult especially if one or both of the parents have found a new partner, as this will mean there are more people trying to coordinate their Christmas day schedules. It is important for parents who share custody of their children to make advance arrangements about where the children will spend their time on Christmas day, in order to avoid stress on the day and to protect their children from stress.

To reduce the stress associated with making Christmas day custody arrangements remember:

  • To be flexible and willing to compromise with your child’s other parent;
  • Put the needs of the child first- it is unlikely that everyone will be pleased with the arrangements, so making sure they suit the needs of the children is most important;
  • Set aside or resolve differences for Christmas day;
  • Support children to spend time with their other parent;
  • Give lots of love and make children feel special, whatever arrangements are made.

Be sensitive and caring towards those in difficult circumstances

Stress and the festive seasonWhile enjoying the festive season, remember that not everyone is happy and festive at this time of year. In fact the festive season might be a particularly difficult period of the year for some people, for example individuals:

  • with financial problems;
  • who relate Christmas to a tragic event such as the death of a family member;
  • who have recently experienced a tragic event such as divorce or death; or
  • who are isolated.

Take time out over the festive season for loved ones who may be experiencing difficulties. Showing them love and care can reduce their stress and also help you feel good about yourself. For example, you may wish to:

  • Be aware of the signs of stress (including irritability, loss of appetite and tiredness) and be ready to limit your activities, or advise your loved ones to limit theirs, if you notice signs of stress;
  • Invite someone who is lonely to share Christmas lunch;
  • Be prepared to support loved ones who are feeling stress, for example by being available to chat to them when they need someone to talk to;
  • Be prepared to refer loved ones to professional support if you notice they are not coping.

Managing stress

There are many ways of managing or reducing stress should it occur. If you or a loved one are feeling stressed out about the festive season why not try:

  • Talking to a friend or family member or lending someone your ear;
  • Taking time out to relax and do something you enjoy when you feel stressed;
  • Remaining calm and focussed and not making rush decisions;
  • Having a plan for dealing with stressful situations, for example to go for a walk or sit alone and practice relaxed breathing for a few minutes;
  • Seeking professional help if things get too stressful and coping is difficult.

And remember, don’t be tempted to smoke, drink or gamble to relieve stress. These behaviours are only likely to increase stress in the long term!


More information

Festive health For more information on health during the festive season, including sleep, diet, exercise and stress, see Festive Health.


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