Feeling stressed or lonely this festive season? Here’s what can help


5 minutes

06 December 2021

A man hugs his dog with a Christmas tree in the background

A psychologist shares some tips for looking after your mental health this festive season.

The festive season is often talked about as the happiest time of the year. But for many people, it doesn’t always feel that way.

Whether or not you celebrate a holiday at the end of the year, the busyness and festivity of the season can sometimes bring feelings of stress, sadness and loneliness.1

But if you are having a challenging time, it’s important to know there is support available, and there are some things you can do to support your wellbeing.

We talked to psychologist Dr Marny Lishman for a few expert ideas.

In this article

Mental health during the festive season

“The festive season can be one of the busiest and most overwhelming times of the year,” says Dr Lishman.

“It can increase people’s mental load on top of their usual daily demands and financial pressures can make it stressful.”

Celebrations can sometimes cause feelings of anxiety, particularly around family issues, separations or conflicts, she says. They could also trigger feelings of regret or resentment.

The festive season can also spark feelings of grief and loneliness – especially if you’ve experienced loss or can’t be with loved ones.1

Signs you may need support

“Most people feel a little stressed or anxious around this time of year,” says Lishman.

“This may become an issue when these feelings are ongoing and start impacting you negatively.”

Some signs that you may need some extra care or support for your mental health include:2 3

  • Feelings of irritability, frustration, sadness, overwhelm or guilt
  • Excessive fear, worry, catastrophising or obsessive thinking
  • Withdrawal from close family, friends and social gatherings
  • Feeling fatigued or run down
  • Relying on alcohol
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss or change of appetite, or significant weight loss or gain

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek support. Talking to your GP can be a good place to start.

“Reach out as soon as you start to feel like you’re struggling,” advises Dr Lishman.

“Seek out professional help and talk to friends and family to let them know how you’re feeling.”

Self-care strategies

Beyond seeking professional help, there are things you can try to help ease your stress and calm your mind.

Here, Dr Lishman shares a few ideas to try.

To support your mental wellbeing

  • Eat a healthy diet. Support your physical and mental health with a nutritious, balanced diet and limit your alcohol consumption.
  • Seek out good company. Surround yourself with positive influences and people who support you and make you feel good.
  • Don’t ‘compare and despair’. Avoid unhealthy comparisons and limit exposure to social media if that triggers you.
  • Let yourself rest. Listen to your body and energy levels and ensure you get plenty of rest and sleep
  • Try relaxation techniques. Use meditation, mindfulness apps, yoga or breathing exercises to help soothe stress and lift your mood.
  • Enjoy nature. Spend some time outdoors in the fresh air or around animals.
  • Do something enjoyable just for you. Try new activities or hobbies, or just make time to read an enjoyable book or watch your favourite TV show.

To reduce the stress of celebrations and social or family gatherings

  • Make a list. Keep a list of all the things you need to do and check them off, so you feel more in control.
  • Don’t try to do too much. Be realistic in what you can achieve. Learn to say no to things, set boundaries or scale back on commitments.
  • Ask for help. Share tasks with others where you can.
  • Reduce shopping stress. If you exchange gifts or you need to shop to prepare for a celebration, set yourself a budget and stick to it. Shop as much as you can beforehand or buy gifts online to avoid the stress of busy shops.
  • Find ways to try to reduce conflicts. If your family has a history of arguing over a certain topic, for example, try to steer the conversation towards more agreeable things. Have realistic expectations of family and friends and consider ahead of time how you might deal with common conflicts.
  • Consider simplifying things. For example, if you usually host a big celebratory meal that causes you stress, you might consider setting up a buffet and asking everyone to bring a plate instead. Or if you usually exchange gifts with everyone in a group, you might suggest an arrangement where everyone gives a present to just one other person.
  • Do it your own way. There are lots of different ways to celebrate holidays. Find your own meaning in festivities and make your own traditions.

To reduce loneliness

  • Stay connected online. If you’re unable to be with friends or family in person, connect with them online or by phone.
  • Get involved in your local community. There might be local events you could go along to, or community interest groups or classes you could join.
  • Try volunteering. This can be a great way to connect with others and feel good about making a positive contribution.
  • Reach out to a neighbour. You never know who else around you may be feeling the same way or appreciate some extra friendliness.

Seeking help

If you are finding things challenging, there is mental health support available. A range of health professionals can help, including GPs, psychologists and counsellors.

Talking to your GP is a good starting point, or you can reach out to helplines such as:

How can health insurance help?

At HBF, we know how important it is to look after your mental health.

  • HBF extras cover can give you benefits towards visits with a psychologist, who can help you manage your mental health and wellbeing.
  • HBF hospital cover can pay benefits for hospital psychiatric services to treat mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Learn more about HBF mental health cover and how it could help you.

If you’re an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.

Mental health cover you can feel good about

Find health cover that includes mental health services, for extra support when you need it most.

Find out more


  1. 1healthdirect – Beating Christmas stress and anxiety (2020)
  2. 2Beyond Blue – Anxiety – signs and symptoms
  3. 3Beyond Blue – Depression – signs and symptoms


This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.