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Five ways to survive the holidays

19 December 2020

Five ways to survive the holidays

How to make it through, and even enjoy, the festive season

Words Jessica Morris

It’s that time of year when everything comes to a head. While the holidays are meant to be enjoyed, it’s often not the case for many of us. Frayed relationships inevitably cause conflict over the dinner table, stress is at an all-time high, finances are tight, and grief is a constant friend.

Cultural norms suggest we should all be happy over December and enjoy the carols and lights. But this is not always easy when we are hurting and in pain.

If that’s you, and Christmas is something you’re dreading or are anxious about, we hope these five strategies will help you to survive the holidays, and maybe even enjoy them.


The sense that we have to do everything and please everyone is very high this time of year, so it’s best to start by sorting out what you want and need to do, and then get rid of the rest.

Make a list of everything you feel is expected of you this season, add what you actually want to do and tasks you already have booked in. Then, one-by-one, go through the list and ask yourself, “Do I want to do this? And do I need to do this?”

If the answer is yes, consider if there is a way to make that task or activity easier. You could ask a friend or family member to help you set up or cook, order food in or eat out, talk to a local charity and ask for help, or sit something out while the rest of the family, or your friends, participate.


There is a difference between being consumed by your pain and honouring it. When our pain consumes us we feel depressed, lethargic, and allow negative thoughts to cycle in our head. This flows into our conversations and we become the ‘negative’ or ‘angry’ family member who always complains and makes everyone else feel sad.

Your pain is valid, and the best way to recognise it is to honour it. This could be as simple as telling a friend that you are struggling with illness or finances or relationships and talking about how to care for yourself over the season.

If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, or a relationship, it’s important to give yourself space to feel this. You might consider holding a memorial for them, or put their picture on the mantle during family festivities.

Whether you’re grieving someone who has passed on or a relationship, try not to completely disengage because in these times, you need community more than ever. Let yourself feel the love of the people around you and show your love to them in return.


If you feel yourself struggling during particular events or on Christmas Day, consider removing yourself from a situation. To do this, organise an exit strategy for yourself before the event.

This could look like scheduling in a certain amount of time for each event so you have an excuse to leave, wording up a friend or spouse with a code word so you can go outside and get some air, or taking an impromptu bathroom break to catch your breath and refocus.


The holidays are hard, and no one can ‘do’ them perfectly. If you find yourself slipping, don’t mentally punish yourself. Have grace and start again.

So, if you respond with anger or negativity, take a breath, apologise, and start again. If you sense yourself drinking or eating too much, take a breath, go outside, and start again. And if you feel yourself overwhelmed by emotions and are near tears, take some time for yourself, let someone know you are struggling, and, when you are ready, start again.


Before you go to an event or have people over, make a mental note of who your ‘safe’ people are. These are the friends or family members who you feel comfortable around and know you can trust. You might speak to them prior to the event and let them know about your stress so they can help, or seat yourself at the table next to them.

These people can be your buffer in awkward conversations, when conflict arises, or when you feel yourself breaking down. Chances are they may be feeling the same way, and you can also become their ‘safe’ person over the festive season.


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