The Christmas decorations are up, the present shopping is underway and every time you turn on the television it seems there’s another advert featuring the perfect family having an amazing festive gathering.

As Christmas gets closer, the list of things to do and people to please seems to be getting longer rather than shorter and you can begin to feel your stress levels rising.

We spoke to BACP counsellor Natasha Page, of This is Me Counselling and Psychotherapy, to get some advice on how to stay calm this Christmas and make the most of the festive season without sacrificing your mental health.

“There’s so much expectation around Christmas, people feel under so much pressure to achieve this perfect day when everyone’s happy,” Natasha said.

“For people who are dealing with bereavement or loss, it can be a very painful time of year. The financial implications can cause a lot of stress as well.

“But there are some coping strategies that can help with the expectations and family situations,” said Natasha.

Here are her top tips:

1. Think about what you want from Christmas

Natasha said it’s good to have a clear idea of the things that are important to you this Christmas.

What do you want to get out of it? Is the priority to spend quality time with your family or enjoy all the glitz and glamour of the Christmas party season?

“It can be really helpful to write a list of the things that are important,” Natasha said.

“Aim to achieve some of these, but if it doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself up about it. When it’s all over is anyone going to be bothered if you burnt the brussels?”

2. Manage other people’s expectations

Does everyone have the same expectations of the Christmas period?

A lot of people put themselves under pressure trying to keep everyone happy. Now you’ve sorted out what is important to you, make sure other people know how things are going to work.

“It’s often about how things are perceived. It’s sometimes good to lessen expectations a bit,” said Natasha.

Natasha Page

BACP member Natasha Page

3. Don’t feel tied to Christmas traditions

A lot of people become preoccupied by Christmas traditions – but just because other people celebrate Christmas in a particular way, or because you have always done a particular thing in the past, it doesn’t mean this Christmas has to follow that path.

“Think outside the box,” said Natasha.

She uses the example of her own family.

“There’s a lot of small children in my family. We all decided that a family Christmas with everyone together for a long time wasn’t the way to do it.

“Now we do a Christmas breakfast. We share a really good couple of hours together in the morning, rather than the whole day. It works for everyone.”

4. Make time to relax

“Some people continuously push themselves to keep going, but it’s vital to recognise your needs not just everyone else’s. Take time to consciously relax. Have some time out.

"That might be having a relaxing bath, going for a walk, spending some time reading a book. Often at Christmas we may drink more, do less exercise.  We need to be aware of what we can do that’s good for our emotional health,” she said.

5. Breathe

Natasha also suggested taking a few minutes out when you feel stress or pressure building during the Christmas period.

She recommended closing your eyes and take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.

“When our bodies breathing rhythm changes to a calm controlled breathing rate it helps to calm our stress system response. There are some great apps out there that can be downloaded to help with learning breathing and mindfulness techniques,” she added.

To speak to a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist about stress, search our Therapist directory.