Knutsford-based mental wellness expert, Philippa Saunders, tells us how the belief that ‘Christmas is stressful’ can ensure that it is.

As we turn over the calendar to December, the pressure to be merry and bright can be overwhelming. Amidst the carol singers, twinkling lights, and cheerful gatherings, there is often an undercurrent of stress and loneliness that affects many people.

Until I had my children, I didn’t enjoy Christmas all that much. Turbulent family dynamics meant it always seemed like a time of stress. But deep down the problem was that I ‘believed’ that Christmas was stressful. Paradoxically it was this belief that contributed to making it genuinely stressful.

What do I mean by this? One of the ways we make sense of the world is to look for the evidence that fits in with what we believe. Similarly, we don’t process the evidence that doesn’t. This ensures that a belief that ‘Christmas is stressful’ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Understanding the psychological dynamics at play can help us challenge and change any limiting beliefs.

Great British Life: You don't have to be or do it all - prioritise yourself, tooYou don't have to be or do it all - prioritise yourself, too (Image: Getty Images)

Expectation and social pressure

One of the primary factors contributing to the stress of Christmas is the expectation and social pressure that surrounds it. We are bombarded with images of perfect family gatherings and joyful celebrations. Not everyone has close-knit families or social support networks. Many people are estranged from family, living far away from loved ones, or have lost someone dear, so loneliness is a big factor at this time of year. Depictions of the perfect holiday set an impossibly high standard that many believe they must achieve. It is the belief that we must meet these expectations that can make the season genuinely stressful.

Financial strain

The rising cost of living means that financial pressure is real for many people at the moment, and this is heightened at this time of year with pressure to buy gifts and welcome people into our homes. When we believe we must meet these financial expectations to create a "perfect" Christmas, it can lead to real financial stress and for us to create anxiety.

Time and energy demands

The holiday season often demands a significant amount of our time and energy. We fill our calendars with social events, shopping, cooking, decorating and more. The belief that we must participate in all these activities can lead to exhaustion and a sense of overwhelm. The very thought that we should do it all contributes to the stress we experience.


The fear of missing out (FOMO) often drives us to overcommit during the holiday season. We say "yes" to numerous events and obligations because we believe we should be everywhere, do everything and see everyone. Overcommitting can lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion, and it's the belief that we must do everything that makes it stressful.

The perfectionist trap

Perfectionism is closely tied to the belief that Christmas should be stress-free and perfect. Perfectionists set unattainable standards for themselves, leading to a constant feeling of falling short. This self-imposed pressure can result in heightened stress, anxiety, and a diminished sense of fulfilment during the holiday season.

Anticipatory anxiety

The lead-up to Christmas can be filled with anticipatory anxiety, driven by the belief that something will inevitably go wrong. This anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing us to obsess over potential mishaps and problems, which then leads to stress and anxiety.

Great British Life: Set realistic limits and communicate openlySet realistic limits and communicate openly (Image: Getty Images)

Overcoming the paradox

To break free from the limiting beliefs around Christmas, it's crucial to shift your mindset and reframe your expectations. Here are some strategies to help you do so:

Set realistic expectations

Understand that perfection is an illusion and that the "perfect" Christmas doesn't exist. Accept your circumstances and prioritise what genuinely matters to you and your loved ones, rather than conforming to societal pressures.

Budget wisely

Create a budget for holiday spending and stick to it. Communicate openly with loved ones about financial limitations. Consider alternatives like homemade gifts or a Secret Santa exchange to reduce financial strain.

Don’t forget to look after yourself

Packed schedules often leave little time for self-care and rest. Schedule time for yourself, whether it's a quiet evening with a good book, a bubble bath or a walk in nature. Taking time for yourself is essential for good mental wellbeing.

Learn to say no

Be selective about the events and commitments you accept. Don't overcommit in an attempt to please everyone. Prioritise your well-being and seek balance to avoid emotional exhaustion and burnout.

Find healthy ways to cope with your emotions

It’s important to be aware of and to acknowledge how you feel, be it happy, sad, angry, frustrated or something else. Talking to someone, journaling and exercise are all healthy ways of dealing with emotions.

Monitor your alcohol intake

Excessive alcohol consumption can worsen mental health symptoms. Be mindful of your alcohol consumption and opt for non-alcoholic alternatives if needed.

Christmas is a time for celebration, but it’s also a time to prioritise your mental health. Recognise the challenges it presents and take steps to protect your well-being. By understanding the sources of Christmas holiday stress and adopting a more mindful and realistic approach, you can let go of limiting beliefs, external pressures, and embrace the imperfect reality of the holidays.

Philippa Saunders is a licensed ThriveR Coach based in Knutsford. You can find her on Instagram @thrive.with.philippa and Facebook @thrivewithphilippa