Christmas Coping




It is probably reasonable to say that, in Australia, Christmas is a well entrenched cultural celebration – and it is also fair to suggest that Christmas traditions are expressed in a unique way by each of the different families, cultures and ethnicities across our country.

It’s also difficult to avoid Christmas…(look at Ebenezer Scrooge- it just followed him everywhere!!) Lets face it… Even if you do not celebrate Christmas you will probably find yourself immersed in it as you go about your daily life e.g. at the shopping centre or when you’re online and adverts pop up reminding you that you haven’t purchased that essential 17th toy reindeer with the glowing antlers…

For those who do celebrate Christmas, whether that be with a faith focus or with a family focus or a combination of both…what is your current feeling toward it?

Are you excited and “wish it was Christmas every day?” (“Yes!!!”…a faint cry from a 7 year old child is heard in the distance)

Are you feeling optimistic and peaceful?

Are you feeling empowered to help those in need?


Or are you…


Feeling frustrated or worried?

Expecting the worst?

Are you feeling negative and lonely?

Are you inwardly groaning at the thought of the approaching season?

That might be because Christmas is not a joy-filled extravaganza for you.

The festive season can be dampened for some of us due to:

  • Isolation– which can result in loneliness and low mood or even depression.
  • Relationship strain, conflict or loss – which can result in Christmas highlighting a family dysfunction or leading to avoidance behaviour because of anticipatory Christmas ‘dread’.

If these are familiar to you then here are some tips for managing the festive season successfully:

PLAN for the tricky times e.g. family conflict or tension or social isolation

Oh hang on…there’s only one tip.

Well…it is just that putting some plans into place can really assist you to cope with Christmas tribulations. In psychology ‘planning’ has other names like ‘problem solving’, ‘activity scheduling’ and ‘conflict management.’ In essence though planning is useful because taking a small planning step now might mean that the awkward family situation over Christmas is at least manageable. Taking a small planning step is also useful because it might mean that you will have some social contact arranged for Christmas day if you might otherwise have been alone.

Now before I lose everyone because I said ‘Plan’ and you’re all secretly going “that’s ironic because all I do for Christmas is plan and I’m so busy!”…..I just want to reiterate that by ‘plan’ I simply mean, for example, organising a small discussion with close family members about the best way to handle a difficult family member or family dynamic.

So…after that family discussion or after you have given some thought to your own personal needs over Christmas the list on your fridge might read like this:

  • Order Christmas ham
  • Mind Jamie for Sal to do Christmas shopping
  •  Take ‘time out’ after the most trying part of Christmas- Day e.g. go for a walk after  the  ‘lunch gathering’
  • Take it in turns to ‘look after’ Uncle Frank

If isolation is going to be a reality for you over the festive season then planning for some social contact on Christmas Day is a good idea. It does require a little bit of planning such as registering to help with a charity organisation or finding out about a local Christmas lunch being hosted by a church or charity. So the fridge list might say this:

  •  Put up Christmas tree
  • Post present for Susan
  • Go to a local ‘Carols by Candlelight’ evening.
  • Christmas day- volunteer as a driver or helper for the Exodus Foundation charity organisation.

Two more things I will add:

For some people Christmas can be a time when the absence of someone they love is keenly felt and perhaps Christmas triggers grief for their loss. One way to cope is to dedicate some time to honouring the loved one through a reflection activity or by finding a time to speak of good memories with a friend or family member.

Lastly, if you are a “Bah humbug” kind of person around Christmas and “Christmas is for kids”…well- take a second and try to remember (or imagine) Christmas through the eyes of a child. It probably looks a little like this…

…tingling excitement, indescribable feelings of joy, excellent secrets and surprises, family, friends, yummy food, fun decorations, play time, and giving and getting (mostly getting) presents….

images (1)

So ‘plan’ to allow yourself a little excitement and joy. Like the children. You never know…it just might fill you up enough so that there is a little bit left over to pass on to someone else this Christmas…;)

Have fun planning your Christmas coping strategies…because “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!” ♫♫


Shannon Gostelow

Provisional Psychologist

supervised by Julie Crabree, Lyn Worsley and Sylvia Ruocco


Suggested charity organisations to volunteer for:

Suggested Christmas Day lunch provision:



‘Depression and the festive season PDF Fact Sheet’, 14th December, 2009. The Blackdog Institute.





What is EMDR?

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is an evidence based psychological treatment recommended by the World Health Organisation for the treatment of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
EMDR is also used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, addictions, phobias, performance anxiety and dissociation. It is also been found to be effective in pain management.
EMDR was developed in 1987 by Dr Francine Shapiro and is one of the most researched psycho-therapeutic approaches for the treatment of PTSD.
It is usual for the mind to heal itself naturally during sleep however some disturbing events can remain in memory and cause distress when we think about them. If the brain does not process stressful or traumatic experiences as it ordinarily does, the memory can become frozen in time. Remembering the distressing event can then be as bad as going through it for the first time.
During EMDR the therapist works with the client to identify a specific issue as the focus of the treatment session. The client brings to mind the disturbing issue or event and the therapist begins eye movements or other bilateral stimulation. The eye movements are used until the memory becomes less disturbing and associated with a positive thought or belief.
EMDR has a positive effect on how the brain processes information. Treatment using EMDR can result in the person no longer reliving the trauma and no longer experiencing flashbacks or nightmares. Memory of the event remains, but it is no longer distressing.
EMDR practitioners are qualified mental health professionals who have completed training in the use of EMDR.

Mitchell Brown
Alpha Psychology Epping

Ref: ‘EMDR an Evidence based Psychological Treatment’
EMDR Association of Australia