The overwhelming cost of Christmas

When we get to the end of another year, we often feel the stress and events of the last 12 months weigh on us. As we head into the holiday season, the overwhelming pressure and stress of spending can take a toll.

You don’t need to keep up with the Jones’ at Christmas, or any other time of the year

We live in a world driven by consumerism. New smartphones are released every year or two, the temptation to upgrade to a fancier car when your current lease ends lingers and our social media feeds, while sometimes a source of inspiration, can tend to celebrate material possessions. It seems we’re bombarded with Christmas music, decorations and gift ideas earlier each year. And seeing people around you shopping up a storm or feeling the need to spend a certain amount on your loved ones can leave you feeling pressured to keep up. Add the likes of buy-now, pay-later services to the mix, and it can feel tempting to go into a debt-fuelled shopping spree each holiday season.

The impact of holiday spending on people’s mental health

While the holiday period itself may not impact mental health conditions, it’s the added pressure around this time of year that can increase your stress levels. If you’re already managing mental health conditions, the holidays can exacerbate any feelings of stress, depression or anxiety. And this impacts your physiology too.

Psychiatrist Suvrat Bhargrave says people typically associate the holidays with positive experiences; however, the reality — travel, family dynamics and financial stress can create pressure and take a toll on your mental health. Feeling stressed can manifest in physical health symptoms, including headaches, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndromes (diabetes and strokes). With these impacts in mind, it’s important to remember that you have a choice about how you spend your time and money this holiday season, and every other holiday season.

Focus on your health, family and loved ones

Whatever Christmas looks like for you, it’s essential you spend your time and money in a way that brings you and others around you joy and deeper connection. This is a time of year where there are rarely work and other commitments that need attention, leaving us with the space to focus on deepening the special relationships around us. Put simply, Christmas is about quality time with loved ones, not overextending yourself by spending too much.

If you still want to give gifts to people, think of some creative ways to make these affordable and personal. You could make people some holiday treats, create a piece of art, write a heartfelt letter or even get a favourite photo of you and your loved one framed. If you’re from a big family, you could suggest Secret Santa and setting a reasonable spending limit for everyone.

When it comes to the other festive trimmings such as food and drinks, focus on buying only what you and your loved ones need. It’s nice to have some leftovers for Boxing Day, but if you know in previous years that food has gone to waste, try scaling things back a little this year. Everyone will still enjoy celebrating together, and you’ll thank yourself that there aren’t too many treats to tempt you in the days after Christmas.

Ask for help and support

If you’re feeling overwhelmed this holiday season, ask those around you for support. This could be help getting your home ready for Christmas day or getting together with a few friends to have an afternoon creating gifts for friends and family. If the pressure of the holiday season is impacting your mental health, speak to a health professional for strategies to assist you to enjoy this special time of year.

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 636 (available 24/7 over the holiday period), online chat (3pm-12am AEDT)

Lifeline – 13 11 14 (available 24/7), text messaging service (12pm to midnight (AEST)

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