While the festive season is supposed to be a fun time, family holidays can also be a time of tension and stress. Here’s how to avoid a meltdown and have a happy holiday.

Most of us look forward to a break at the end of the year – the thought of long, lazy mornings, parties with friends, time spent away from work and responsibility, the chance to explore new places, and quality time with family, are the stuff of daydreams by the time November rolls around and the countdown to Christmas begins. But, all too often, this much-needed free time becomes stressful, when tensions rise, planning becomes overwhelming or anxiety about festive functions becomes too much. We chatted to an expert about how to manage stress levels and make the most of the holidays.

Keep the peace

Counselling psychologist Kirsten Friis explains that family holidays can be stressful because families tend to spend more time together than they would during an average week. In addition, organising holidays and travelling can be stressful, so families may find themselves feeling quite fragile before the holidays have even begun.

“It is important to exercise tolerance and patience with one another. In anticipation, allow each family member to suggest some activities they would like to do over the holiday period and make a commitment to doing at least one activity that each person has suggested. Also allow for family members to spend some time apart during the holiday,” suggests Friis.

Go for a walk alone or with your partner from time to time, for example, or take some time out to read a book when you need a break from the group. When it comes to hosting family and friends over the festive season, or planning a big get together or event, Friis suggests trying to not put additional pressure on yourself by trying to please everyone. “When hosting or organising an event, keep everyone’s preferences in mind, but avoid asking everyone for their input as this could create a situation where people feel disappointed if their suggestions don’t come to fruition.

If there are people who would like to be more involved in the planning, delegate tasks and duties to individuals. This helps to alleviate some of the stress placed on you, and it allows family members to feel more included in the planning and organising,” she says.


Stay calm

Parties, work functions, and get togethers with friends all might sound like fun, and for many people they are, but for those who suffer from social anxiety, these kinds of events can be very difficult to attend. “Try to find coping strategies for yourself that make events less anxiety-provoking such as attending with a friend, having conversations with individuals rather than in a large group, and even wearing comfortable clothes that you feel more confident in,” urges Friis.

If social anxiety persists throughout the year, seek professional help – a psychologist or counsellor will be able to help you develop strategies for managing your anxiety in the long term.

Avoid loneliness

While the holidays are often a time spent with loved ones, they can also be lonely for those who don’t have family members around. If you’re alone, try to be gentle with yourself during this time and give yourself permission to do the things you most enjoy – go to a market, make your favourite meal and hire a movie for a night in, take yourself out for coffee. “If the feelings of loneliness are uncomfortable try to avoid isolating yourself during the holidays – you’d be surprised at where the friendly faces pop up if you allow them to,” says Friis.

But, it’s important to note that chronic feelings of loneliness may also be a sign of depression. If the feelings don’t go away or seem to be getting worse it is advisable to speak to a psychologist or counsellor. You can also contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) between 8am and 8pm Monday to Sunday on 011 234 4837 or SMS 31393 if you feel that you need to speak to someone.