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Approved by Dr Adil Jawad MBBS, DPM, FRCPsych — Clinical Lead for MindClinix

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Christmas is the time of good cheer, a period of high-octane excitement, of planning parties and presents, and a time to spend, spend, spend. 

That can be overwhelming. 

People struggling with their mental health are particularly vulnerable at Christmas and many feel hostage to mood swings or perhaps prone to manic bursts of comfort or mood-driven spending, and many struggle to plan or to keep track of their money.

Invariably, it’s the women within the family household that are responsible for keeping track of the spending, and at Christmas the pressure is even greater than at any other time of the year.


Why women get depressed at Christmas

It’s hard to create a magical Christmas if you are feeling stressed and depressed. Many dread the whole festive period, which now starts in November.

A commercial juggernaut, heralded by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, amplified by glossy adverts full of happy people spending lavishly.

Social media heaps peer pressure onto already burdened shoulders, urging us to keep up with family, friends and neighbours. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is an alternative Christmas.


Why Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect

This is a Christmas that doesn’t add to the annual spend-fest on presents, estimated at being around £700 million, of which about £45 million ends up in landfill. 

It starts by changing your mindset. Ignore what society tells you to do or what you think everyone else is doing.


Set a budget (and keep to it)

The single biggest reason for overspending at Christmas is a desire to please the kids, to give them the perfect Christmas.

There is also the wider peer pressure of family and friends. Draw up a list of who you are going to buy for and how much you are going to spend on each person.

Include a budget for entertaining – inviting friends and family over for dinner can be a significant cost.


Involve the whole family 

It’s awkward discussing money, but if you tell them you only have a set budget to spend, they will understand.

Perhaps when they come for dinner they can bring a dish – and exchange a token present that won’t embarrass anyone.

Encourage them to understand that Christmas shopping is not about how much you spend, it’s about how you spend what you have – and not going beyond your means.

The thrill is in the hunt, in finding something original, that a click on Google can’t deliver.

Something that might not be brand new.


Look for nearly new

A hunt that starts in the charity shops and at car boot sales.

Look for nearly new. The all-encompassing eBay is a rich source, and niche sites such as bookshop.org are a great alternative to Amazon.

Everyone is on the same wavelength and most people understand that you should only spend what you have.


Only spend what you have

This means not using your credit card or taking out a loan. The interest rate on these can be crippling.

Getting through Christmas on credit is the quickest way of getting debt shock in January – and adversely affecting your credit record. 

Instead, plan ahead. Try starting a Christmas fund as early in the year as you can. If you’re reading this in December, plan for next year but keep to your budget this year.


Spread the cost

Instead of joining everyone else for a stressful, one hit present-buying spend at Christmas, why not spread the cost evenly throughout the year, starting with the January sales.


Smart budget hack 

January sales are a great source of discounted gift ideas and essentials for next Christmas, including decorations and wrapping paper.


The best presents can be free

For most of us, our best childhood memories at Christmas are from the build-up. 

Who can forget decorating the Christmas tree, going to see the Christmas lights with mum and dad, everyone bunching up on the sofa to enjoy a Christmas movie classic.

These interactive ‘gifts’ are timeless and most cost little or nothing. Santa could fill his sleigh with ideas that are free.

A sack full of ideas that might include one for mum – one that dad and the kids could give her.


A Christmas gift for mum

Remember to tell the family that you need ‘me’ time. Time alone, time to go for a walk, have a long relaxing bath or escape with a girlfriend for a coffee. 

Make sure that the family shares the burden where they can – let them share in everything that makes Christmas a success: the planning, the cooking, the shopping.

Your family need to help you, but you also need to help yourself.


Bonus tips for a stress-less Christmas

You can help yourself by taking small, but significant steps:

  • You can’t please everyone all the time, so don’t try.
  • Detox from social media over the Christmas period and banish the demons of social comparison.
  • Streamline your social calendar over the festive period to what you can cope with.


Last word

Christmas is still going to be stressful. Depression doesn’t disappear overnight, however carefully you plan, but setting a budget and talking to family and friends can make a huge difference both to Christmas and the New Year.

Remember, Christmas is not about spending money, it’s about spending time with those you love.

Start now, be kind to yourself, and have a Happy Christmas.

Written by Charles Waters.
November 2021.

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