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How to handle the festive season: tips from a neuropsychologist

How to handle the festive season: tips from a neuropsychologist

Dr. Kris Fernando, Neuropsychologist and Chief of Clinical Services at Active+ explains how to deal with the stress of the silly season.

How to handle the festive season: tips from a neuropsychologist

After such a challenging year, we all deserve to have a relaxing and fun time over this festive season. Christmas can be a stressful time but it doesn’t have to be.  Keeping Christmas simple this year and sharing responsibility will reduce pressure on people and will result in everyone enjoying their time with one another.

COVID has led to many people losing jobs and experiencing financial problems. For those who usually get together with family living overseas during the festive season, this will not be possible. COVID has also had some positive effects with some of us discovering the benefits of simpler living, have learned what is really important to us, and the value of family and friends.

As a family, think about what will make Christmas meaningful this year. For many of us, it is not the presents we receive but the chance to get together with family and friends and have a relaxed, fun time. It is our time and presence with others that gives our lives more meaning. You can make this year a festive season which is inexpensive with the focus being on coming together and having fun.  

Tips for coping well during the festive season

Plan Ahead of Time

Plan and get organised early by making a checklist of what you need to do such as buying presents, shopping, food, and travel arrangements. Writing things down saves your mind churning over what needs to be done. Save the list so that it can be used next year. 

Make sure everyone shares the load – delegate tasks and remember that no one person needs to be responsible for all the planning, preparation, and expense. By the time Christmas arrives, everyone will be relaxed and feel as though they have contributed by doing their bit.

Budgeting – Money and Time

Set a budget and stick to it so that you don’t have to face large credit card bills which take months to pay off. Work out a time budget so that you have some time for rest and relaxation leading up to Christmas day and the holiday season. If in paid employment, plan how you will get your work completed before Christmas without a major rush as the end.

Think about giving small personalised inexpensive gifts. Some families decide to give presents just to the kids or alternatively do not buy and give presents at all.  

Shopping online can avoid the bustle of Christmas shopping malls and save time and money through making considered decisions in the peace and comfort of your own home. Order food on-line but make sure you get in early to book a delivery slot because the premium slots get filled quickly.  Many menu items can be prepared early and frozen. 

Being Selective

Leading up to Christmas, there are often many social occasions which can lead to too much alcohol and food consumption and late nights. Be selective and decide which functions you most want to attend and those you can avoid. Give yourself permission to say no.

Avoiding Conflict

Christmas brings together family members who would normally avoid each other at other times of the year. Try not to get drawn into arguments and conflict.

If you are hosting, think carefully about seating plans so that those people who are likely to get into conflict are not placed close to one another. Have fun engaging in games and sports that everyone enjoys and keep conversations light-hearted

Giving to Others

For those family members overseas who you might normally have got together with, plan an on-line celebration so that you can still all get together. If you have no family here, get together with friends who are in the same situation and plan a special day.

For those who do not have close family and friends, Christmas can be a particularly lonely time. You can help by visiting people/whanau in the community who might be alone during the festive season. They will appreciate your gift of time.

Looking after Yourself

Take time to appreciate nature such as going for a bush walk or spending time at the beach sitting in the sun 

Try and maintain your normal sleep routine as much as possible. Rich foods and excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt sleep and too little sleep can make people feel irritable and stressed.

Maintain healthy eating habits and avoid over-eating. If you are hosting, ensure you offer plenty of healthy food options. 

When socialising, alternate alcoholic drinks with water and juice. This will help you keep hydrated and will means you wake up the next morning feeling good.

Keep up a regular exercise routine; even just a walk after dinner, will help you feel healthier, sleep better and reduce stress levels. 

Relaxation – Make time for yourself and engage in relaxation/mindfulness exercises.

How to get help

If you ever feel Christmas pressure is affecting your or someone else’s mental health, there is help available – call or text 1737 (New Zealand) or 1300 22 46 36 (Australia). Their trained counsellors are always on hand to help.

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