Understanding Christmas Stress & Depression

///Understanding Christmas Stress & Depression

Understanding Christmas Stress & Depression

LifeLine South Africa

We all know that the festive season is a time of celebration, but for many of us out there, the festivities also mean extra pressures like buying gifts, attending many social gatherings, staying away from home or entertaining family and friends. Coupled with great expectations of what the festive season will bring, these pressures can build up and cause stress, which if ignored may lead to mental health disorders, particularly depression.

 Stress and depression not only have the potential to ruin the festivities, they also have considerable negative health effects which may persist if ignored. It’s easier to avoid stress and associated depression than it is to cope with these conditions when they happen.

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Understanding Depression

Depression is the most common leading cause of illness-related disability in the world. It is characterised by a persistently depressed mood, low self-esteem, self-criticism and lack of pleasure. People who are depressed usually feel more vulnerable and guilty than usual. They may be self-critical and distance themselves from other people. Depression also commonly produces feelings of hopelessness or helplessness and may leave affected individuals with difficulty sleeping or feeling tired all the time.

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Understanding Stress

What is stress?

Stress is a psychiatric condition characterised by the individual feeling intense emotional pressure with which they are unable to cope. Everyday pressures such as work, relationships and finances, with which one individual copes, or even finds motivation from, can produce stress in some people. They may find themselves unable to manage day-to-day life and that stress about one problem affects many or all aspects of their lives. They may suffer insomnia, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating.

Stress also causes physiological changes, in particular increases in heart rate and blood pressure. In the long term it increases the risk of cardiovascular problems and other chronic health conditions. It can also have a considerable negative impact on a person’s quality of life, and causes difficulties in intimate and professional relationships. Stress is a difficult condition to prevent, however there are many strategies that can help you cope with stress.

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Causes of stress and depression at Christmas

The festive season is a busy time when normal routines are often interrupted. There are many behaviours and situations which may cause stress and/or depression at this time of year.

Poor nutrition

The festive season is a period of over indulgence and the combination of too much food and generally poor nutrition can have a negative impact on an individual’s mood.


Excessive alcohol consumption

Excessive alcohol consumption is common, particularly in the festive season. While alcohol temporarily produces positive feelings and relaxation, when it’s intoxicating effects wear off it can contribute to stress and depression.

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Financial stress

The festive season is also a time of considerable expense, and the financial strain associated with buying gifts and food and travelling to visit loved ones, can contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. The materialistic nature of society is thought to contribute to depression in general, and in the festive season there is considerable pressure to buy luxuries, which causes financial strain for many.

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Family conflict

Festive family gatherings are, at least according to expectations, a time for sharing love and joy. In reality they often mean extra work and can be a time of conflict. Conflict with family members can cause stress and contribute to depression.

Juggling work and festivities

For many individuals work is a necessary part of the festive season and managing work, festive season shopping, celebrating and entertaining can contribute to stress for many. Many may find it difficult to get enough sleep in this busy period, which can have a negative impact on their moods.


The festive season is traditionally a time for getting together with loved ones and the expectation of being part of a loving social network can make coping with isolation more difficult.

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Tips for coping with stress and depression in the festive season

In the busy and often stressful festive season, it’s important to be aware of strategies that can help you reduce the likelihood of stress or depression.

Eat well, exercise and relax every day, and enjoy alcohol in moderation

A healthy body is the foundation of a healthy mind, and maintaining good nutrition and performing plenty of physical activity can have a positive impact on festive season mood.

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Despite the culinary temptations the festive season brings, it is important to maintain a healthy diet, including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Buying healthy festive snacks and minimising sweet, fatty and salty treats is one measure you can take to ensure your festive season diet remains healthy and balanced.


Alcohol should be consumed in moderation. Alcohol intoxication can fuel conflicts and also lead to risk-taking and other unwanted behaviours which may ultimately contribute to, rather than relieve, depression and stress in the festive season.

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The festive season is a busy time when routines are disrupted, and many people ignore their normal exercise routines or struggle to find time for daily physical activity. To ensure you get enough holiday exercise, plan to go for a walk every day, for at least 30 minutes, and find other opportunities for fun, festive physical activities.

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It’s also important to get enough rest and put aside some time for holiday relaxation and enjoyment. A massage is a pleasurable and relaxing treat which can help you avoid festive stress. However, simply setting aside 15 minutes a day of personal time to take a break and clear the mind is also a wonderful way to beat stress. It doesn’t matter what the 15 minutes involves. Whether it’s a relaxing walk, listening to music or sitting and staring at the stars, personal time can help you cope with the added demands of the festive season. A good night’s sleep is also an important stress-busting technique. Set aside enough time to sleep properly in the festive season

Have realistic expectations

The festive season is unlikely to be perfect or stress-free. Coping with the stress of festivities can be easier if you approach them with realistic expectations. Expectations may relate to festive season activities, from gatherings with loved ones to shopping for perfect Christmas gifts. Use you past experiences to inform your expectations of this festive season. Consider which aspects of the festive season are likely to be easier and which will be more challenging to cope with. Negative feelings such as grief or conflict do not disappear at the beginning of the festive season and acknowledging them, and taking time out to talk or cry is an important coping mechanism.

Make a realistic budget and stick to it

With so much pressure to spend money in the festive season it is little wonder that many of us feel the financial pinch at this time of year. Ideally you will have put aside money throughout the year to help you cope with the added expense of Christmas, but regardless of your savings status, you will benefit from careful festive financial planning. Setting limits is important. Make a list of people you want to buy presents for and allocate price limits. Stick to them. Leave your credit card at home when you do your Christmas shopping to avoid over-spending and creating financial stress for the New Year.

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If you have a loved one experiencing stress or depression, offer support when and where you can. Talking about the person’s feelings and experiences may be enough; however for those who require more support, it may be necessary to seek professional help. It’s important to reserve judgment; telling a depressed friend you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour and offering support is probably the best place to begin. Encouraging them to eat well, be social and get out for physical activity and to see friends can also help. Try not to leave friends or family members who seem depressed alone.

You can always call us here at Lifeline if you are experiencing anything similar or are battling to lift the spirits of a loved one or friend. Remember you are never alone!  

Contact us on our National Councelling Line – 0861 322 322

or alternatively you can contact us on :

Phone: (+27 11) 715-2000

Mobile: 082-231-0805

Fax: (+27 11) 715-2001

Email: safetalking@lifeline.org.za