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While this may be the season of joy, for some, the festive period brings a lot of stress and anxiety. We spoke to some professionals to find out how you can navigate tricky situations this Christmas so you can be prepared

No matter if you celebrate it or not, Christmas is typically a season that brings family and friends together for parties, gift exchanges and more. However, for some, the holidays are a time of incredible stress, anxiety and discomfort.

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From dealing with the pressures of having to attend parties with strangers who may not respect your boundaries to dealing with emotional issues such as loneliness and stress, there is no shortage of problems that tend to crop up during the festive season. 

To find out how to better manage and navigate these tricky situations, we speak to a number of licenced therapists to find out how you can cope with these often overwhelming feelings and pressures that may come and go. 

Here, we tackle some of the most frequently asked questions. 

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How do I set boundaries?

A key feature of any festive celebration includes family parties and get-togethers among friends or colleagues.

While this is fun for most of us, it does cause a lot of stress for many who may worry about invasive questions asked by some family members.

“Take a deep breath before you answer so you can decide how to respond. We tend to say ‘Yes’ so quickly without thinking more about what we really want to do so this helps,” suggested Anita Barot, a marriage and family therapist from Lotus Psychotherapy.

If you really cannot shake this person off your back or feel you need to be more assertive, you can try politely changing the subject or expressing your discomfort.

Of course, this is not always easy especially in Asian families where a great emphasis is placed on respecting people older than you.

There is a chance that someone may think you are being rude or disrespectful if you try to stand up for yourself. In cases like this, a non-committal answer or vague one is probably your best bet. You can then attempt to change the subject. 

“You can say, ‘Wow, I don’t know. Check with me again in 10 years’ or ‘That is a tough question. I don’t really have an answer for you’,” suggested Padma Jairam, a counselling psychologist at Padma Jairam Counselling.

Remember that boundaries are about respecting ourselves and those around us and that it is not an attempt to kick anyone out of your life. Rather, it is an attempt to keep them there. 

Key advice

According to Jae-Mie Yiew, a clinical psychologist at Psychology Blossom, focusing on yourself and not putting blame on the other person is the best way to go.

“Try using ‘I’ statements that focus on stating your feelings, needs and thoughts in a non-accusatory, non-blameful way to communicate your boundaries. For example, you can say, ‘I feel uncomfortable when talking about this topic. Let’s change the conversation, I’d love to hear more about how you’ve been doing’,” said Jae-Mie Yiew, a clinical psychologist at Psychology Blossom.

How should I deal with loneliness during this period?

Some of us may live alone, have lost someone we love, or are separated from others due to Covid-19 or maybe not have received an invitation to social gatherings over the holidays.

It can be extremely difficult when you are in this position particularly because social media is an ever-present reminder that you are missing out on the love and camaraderie that comes with Christmas. 

If you are struggling this year, the most important thing you can do for yourself is to accept and allow space for your feelings. 

“I think normalising and giving yourself permission to feel what you feel is key. During festive periods, there can be immense social pressure to be a certain way or to feel a certain emotion. However, what might help is to distinguish being alone from being lonely,” explained Padma.

“One can be alone and not feel lonely. Many times, I have had clients who tell me that they are actually very comfortable being on their own but when they look at online posts of people having social gatherings, they wonder if they are weird to want to be alone,” she continued. 

Once you have established what you are feeling, there are many things you can do to feel better. 

“One way to address feelings of loneliness is to practice self-care. Fill your time with activities you enjoy or find meaningful which are outside of your usual routine. Although it may not completely erase those feelings, it can alleviate stress and allow you to approach being alone with a different perspective,” suggested Yiew.

Another way to combat feelings of loneliness is to simply start to become comfortable with being by yourself and learn to do things that make you happy on your own and for yourself. 

You can take a walk by yourself, spend time in a mall when it is less crowded or have a meal by yourself to practise being comfortable in your own skin. 

“Spending time alone is about building a healthy relationship with the most important person, ourselves. And I think that can be a powerful way to combat loneliness, at any point in our lives,” said Padma.

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How should I deal with change?

Many of us have Christmas traditions with our friends and families that have been solidified over the years. From secret Santa gift exchanges to Christmas breakfasts and dinners at specific homes or restaurants, we tend to gravitate towards the familiar and it can be hard to have to adjust to changes. 

Unfortunately with Covid-19 limiting travel and social gatherings, we have had to adjust and will continue to have to do so this year. 

Of course, learning to cope positively with change is a very complex concept that should be discussed on a personal level with a trusted person or a professional. However, here are some things you can think about in the meantime. 

For one, if you typically did not enjoy your annual traditions, this is a good time to rethink them.

“Given the restrictions, you have an excuse to take a break from the tradition and to see if there is a way to do away with it or adapt it in your own way without necessarily upsetting others who may enjoy the tradition,” said Padma.

If you miss your traditions and do not welcome the disruption, one thing you can do is to look at this change as an opportunity to rethink your traditions and make new ones.

“Adjust your expectations. Be mindful and allow yourself to enjoy the present rather than dwelling on the past. You may not be able to recreate traditions from past holiday gatherings, but you can adopt changes and new traditions that reflect your own values,” said Yiew.

Remember that while the tradition may not be continued, the family ties that you have will prevail and that what truly matters is the bond you have with the people in your circle.

How do I establish boundaries around my money during the festive season?

With how common gift-giving has become during Christmas, it can sometimes be easy to forget that some people may not be able to afford gifts for various people or that they might not be comfortable or in a position to spend that kind of money. 

While it can be awkward to try to tell someone that you would not like to participate in a secret Santa gift exchange or that you would prefer to not do gifts this year, it is worse to just agree without meaning it. 

“The simple rule is to spend what you have and spend what you want to spend on. I think rules around spending should be based on what we set for ourselves rather than what your group of friends or family members have decided on for everyone,” said Padma.

There is so much pressure to do things this season. How do I deal with that?

With parties to plan, gifts to buy, outfits to get and meals to cook, the festive period can certainly be challenging and overwhelming even for the best of us. 

A key thing to remember is to do what you want to do and what you are capable of.

“You want to have a good time and that is optimised when the organizer is in a positive mindset and wants to share that positivity with friends and family at the party,” explained Padma.

Let go of what you cannot control and set boundaries so that you do not end up betraying yourself or simply making yourself miserable and we can guarantee that this Christmas will be a vastly improved experience for not just you but the people around you. 

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