We don’t want to be all ‘Grinchy’, but for the most wonderful time of the year, the holiday period sure does seem to pile on the stress. Perhaps it’s the post-pandemic attitude that we have lost time to make up for. Maybe it’s because talk of Christmas now starts in September. It could be that social media is making us all a little bit more competitive regarding the festivities (where exactly are your snaps of your jaunt to Lapland?).

Smita Singh, Senior Lecturer (Psychology) at James Cook University Singapore (research.jcu.edu.au/portfolio/smita.singh) understands the pressure. “The holiday season can often bring about anxiety, particularly in relation to the financial burden of purchasing gifts and food. The expectations and traditions associated with this time of year can certainly create a level of stress to meet specific standards,” she says.

Indeed, the cost of living has risen globally. For expats, the price of visiting family for the celebrations can be especially high. “With inflation and the aftermath of Covid-19, travel expenses have become even more burdensome,” Smita continues. “This means that people who must pay for travel to see loved ones are facing even greater monetary strain than ever before.”

With this in mind, Smita takes us through some common scenarios that might make your yule feel less than cool.

Seasonal strife: Christmas is expensive

“It’s helpful to plan and save ahead of time. Create a budget for Christmas, which can help prevent overspending,” Smita suggests. “This might involve setting aside a portion of your earnings throughout the year and sticking to a predetermined shopping list to prevent impulse purchases.” Too late? Start your shopping now! If you’re someone who dislikes the hustle and bustle of crowded places, reduce angst by avoiding Singapore’s busy malls and buy online instead. “Next year, consider spreading your shopping out over the course of 12 months, starting with post-Christmas sales to take advantage of the discounts,” Smita says.

Also, remember that gift-giving doesn’t necessarily require splashing your cash. There are alternative ways to show someone your appreciation and love, such as offering your time and expertise as a present.

  • Plants in DIY pots are unique presents, which can make families and friends feel valued
  • Make your own gifts. DIY crafts and online tutorials are great for ideas. For instance, a photograph displayed in a picture frame can be done in various creative ways
  • Passing your favourite book of the year to a friend with similar interests shows you’ve taken their preferences into account

Seasonal strife: Everyone in your condo is hosting a soiree

You want to return the generosity to your neighbours, but it’s inconvenient and you know your platter of Tim Tams won’t cut it. Smita says that it’s crucial to share your worries with close neighbours who may have similar concerns. “Engage in honest conversations with them,” she says. “Rather than organising individual events, it may be beneficial to work together as a community to plan a group gathering, allowing for a collective effort where everyone shares the cost.”

Seasonal strife: People are visiting for Christmas

You love them, but two weeks with them?! Smita recommends assigning household chores to members of your household to keep running a smooth ship. By doing so, everyone can be accountable for their responsibilities, and it also fosters a sense of fun and sharing within the household. Additionally, organise activities such as picnics in public spaces which can be an excellent way to bond, but also gets everyone out of the house.

Seasonal strife: There will be family conflict

From the husband who hogs the TV remote, to the sister-in-law who demands attention, it’s common for families to experience tension at this time of the year when harmony is expected. Keep expectations realistic: if your family members typically argue a lot, it’s likely that they will also argue on Christmas Day. “To avoid conflicts, consider breaking up the celebrations and keeping contentious family members apart,” says Smita. You could plan separate gatherings on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. After-lunch activities, such as playing cricket in the park or heading to the coast can also help distract from potential rows. And try to avoid excessive alcohol consumption. We all know what happens when Uncle Jim has too many Eggnogs …

Seasonal strife: You have to do it all!

From the food shopping to present-buying, decorations to the entertaining, it all comes down to you. Here’s how to manage: 

Firstly, it’s important to decide early what you’d like to do for Christmas, and ensure that any children have a say in the plans. This will help to avoid any last-minute changes or disappointments

Listen to your body. Be mindful of overindulging in rich foods, and if you feel tired, prioritise a nap

Remember that Christmas is not the time to sort out long-standing grievances. Wait until the new year before discussing any unresolved issues

  • Seeking support from friends or a counsellor can be helpful to sort through difficult feelings that may arise during the holiday season. Remember that it’s okay to ask for help, and there are resources available for those going through challenges
  • Take time out alone to rejuvenate. Sometimes a coffee on the beach might be all you need for composure
  • Know that it’s okay if things around you are not perfect!