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As Christmas looms, one-in-six Australians say the festive season is the most stressful time of year, and nearly as many fear this Christmas will be more so than previous years.
The HCF Summer Health Report surveyed 2,500 Aussies about how the pandemic has affected their mental wellbeing this year, and in the lead up to the holiday season, and the results were worrying.
Christmas is always a tough time for people and experts say a lot of it is caused by a build-up of expectation, which this year will be greater because we’ve had a long time to think about it.
And according to HCF Chief Officer Member Health, Julie Andrews, the effect of the pandemic on mental health did not end with the easing of restrictions or lockdowns.
"Our research tells us that even though pandemic-related restrictions are easing, this Christmas won’t be without stress for many Australians," Julie says.
"It might be even more worrisome for many, given the year we’ve had.”
So what are Aussies most stressed about?
According to the report, these are the top areas causing stress across the holiday season:
23 per cent fear overeating and under-exercising will lead to weight gain
22 per cent feel pressure to be more social with family and friends than they want to be
21 per cent worry about travel restrictions and whether they will have the Christmas they want
19 per cent of Aussies feel pressure to spend more than they can afford on food and gifts.
19 per cent report feeling lonelier and sadder at this time of year.
Women, parents and youth hit hardest
The survey results show parents with children at home (80 per cent) were more likely to experience stress, pressure and/or loneliness this holiday season.
Women were twice as likely as men to say they take the load when it comes to planning gifts and festive meals (21 per cent vs 10 per cent).
Younger generations were more likely to expect holiday stress and/or loneliness: 79 per cent of Millennial's, 75 per cent of Gen Z and 72 per cent of Gen X, compared to Baby Boomers (63 per cent) and the Silent Generation (65 per cent).
What can we do?
Psychotherapist Lissy Abrahams says the key to a gentler Christmas is to understand your own triggers for conflict.
“There’s an expectation to make Christmas a happy time, especially when the host works hard to create this, but family dynamics are not always enjoyable," she says.
"No-one wins when we argue, upset people, or lose our temper. We all have to do our bit to create a nice occasion.
“Try to avoid controversial topics, and the hot-heads or know-it-alls at your festive gatherings. At Christmas, it’s often easier to get on if we keep conversations lighter and in a safe zone.”
Lissy also suggests these tips to reduce stress and support your mental health over the holidays:
If you’re the host, reduce your physical and mental load by delegating tasks to others
Consider using a food-delivery service - the experience of connecting with loved ones is more important than how many hours you spent in the kitchen
Check in with your expectations for the day - what is important? Why am I doing things this way? Is there another way that’s still special but less stressful?
If you feel agitated take time out, otherwise you’re at risk of going into fight or flight mode.
Breath in slowly for five seconds, hold for five seconds, then slowly breath out for five seconds. Repeat five times. It’s a wonderful calming tool.
Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Online support is available via Beyond Blue.
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