Christmas is getting too stressful, this is why I’m opting out

Christmas is getting too stressful, this is why I’m opting out


The department stores’ festive lights are on, but not all is calm or bright. So much drama is attached to contemporary Christmas, it is considered as one of the six most stressful life events, along with divorce, moving house and changing jobs.

So much so, it could give you a seasonal heart attack, in what researchers have dubbed the "Merry Christmas coronary”.

The beach is a preferable option to a huge drama, involving flights to see family, for us this Christmas.

As a health writer, each year at this time I receive press releases with tips from psychologists to help people "cope" with Christmas. This does not strike me as "the most wonderful time of the year".

I’m quite sure that the line "you better watch out, you better not cry" in the jingle was referring to our bank balances once the bright lights and shiny baubles have been packed away and the Christmas delirium has worn off.

Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in the communal consumerist throng. We want to show the people we love that we care and, at Christmas, we have been sold the belief that the only way to do that is to buy things we can’t afford on any other day of the year. Or we just buy tokenistic crap that mostly ends up in landfill within six weeks.

And, once we’ve done that, we squeeze our credit cards dry on food to fill our empty pockets with and booze to take the edge off any tension and fuel us through the spending and socialising frenzy.

On average, Australians spend $1178 at Christmas and most don’t pay that off until Easter.

This is because about three quarters of Australian households are already in debt with nearly one third (27 per cent) in a state of over-indebtedness where their liabilities equal three or more years of disposable income.

It hurts my brain to think of the pressure people feel to put themselves through that each year.

Whether it’s finance, the roast dish of messy family dynamics intensified with a gravy-load of booze, the pressure on the host to meet expectations of a picture perfect Christmas or the random regressions where 40-year-olds slip back into their seven-year-old selves around family, up to 62 per cent of people feel “very or somewhat” stressed during the holidays.

My partner and I have decided not to book flights to see family, we’ll go to the beach, maybe go for a walk, have a picnic, watch a movie.

Adding to the heady mix, are the Christmas jingles everywhere you go, which are nostalgic and fun to start with, but, when they have been on repeat since November, can really start to grate.

And let’s not forget about the "mandatory joy” or that the "togetherness" of Christmas becomes a prickly pine-cone poking into the heart of anyone who feels lonely, isolated, or is grieving for a loved one.

So, you could get zen like Leo Babauta and use Christmas – or any other holiday family gathering – as "the ultimate mindfulness training ground". You could try a little positive reframing (i.e. seeing the motives and behaviour of others in a more benevolent light), acceptance or humour – all of which, would you believe, are more effective coping strategies than self-blame, venting, denial or getting sideways drunk.

You could go minimalist with gifts, add some sanity back into the whole palaver by breathing (try the DFS – defuse family stress – breath), volunteering, or being a community visitor at a hospital or aged care home.

You could join the Christmas resistance and take a stand against the “holiday hysteria” because, after all, "you know this annual consumer frenzy wreaks havoc on the environment, filling landfills with useless packaging and discarded gifts".

Or you could just opt out of the stress of the season; the manic schlepping between homes, the diplomatic balancing act making sure no one feels neglected and everyone feels sufficiently loved and the inherent pressure to spend money we don’t have on presents we don’t need.

"Tis the season to be jolly." Right?

So that’s what I plan to be. The halcyon warmth of summer, the mango season and the buzz of people excited to be on holidays is enough for me to feel the festive heat.

As an atheist, though, the value of Christmas is the excuse to show love, share good food and wine with those closest to me. So I plan to do that, just not on Christmas day.

My partner and I have decided not to book flights to see family this year and then, with a one-year-old in tow, do the dizzying race 300 kilometres between them.

Instead, we’ll go to the beach on Christmas day, maybe go for a walk, have a picnic, watch a movie. It will be slow and stress-free and when the mayhem of the Merry season has passed, we’ll make sure we show our families our love and spend quality time with them.

Who knows, we might even give a gift out-of-season. For the lack of pressure and stress, I suspect we'll all be far more jolly, happy souls for it too.

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