December. It’s madness. These last few months of the year are so packed with events, albeit lots of fun ones, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed out and sleep deprived. At work, we’re racing to meet those elusive pre-Christmas deadlines, madly crossing things off our to-do lists in order to start fresh in January, and doing our best to attend every work function thrown our way. Socially, our most-said phrase is: we must get together before Christmas! It’s well meaning, but seriously, lets just do it in January! There are family gatherings to think (worry) about, presents to find, trips to organise, parties to attend, outfits to buy, NYE plans to make… “Busy” is an understatement.

We’re all under a blanket of pre-holiday stress, but is the stress you’re feeling in the lead up to Christmas and New Year normal for this time of year, and something that will pass as the speed slows down in January? Or is it something you should be keeping an eye on. After all, 2019 was the year the World Health Organisation officially listed “burnout” as a diagnosable syndrome. One that shouldn’t be ignored by health professionals.

For advice on recognising and managing end-of-year anxiety, we asked Dr Alice Heikkonen, a clinical psychologist from PsychSessions, with offices in Civic and Deakin. Here’s what she told us.

Is my stress serious?
“If you think you should always be doing something and you can’t sit still, you can’t switch off, you can’t put your phone down, or you can’t wait patiently at the traffic lights, then stress might be creeping up on you,” says Dr Heikkonen.

How to deal
There’s no avoiding the fact that the Christmas / New Year period is a busy time of year, and one that can cause all sorts of emotions with families, partners, friends. So how do we get through it in one piece, relationships in tack, mental health still strong? Dr Heikkonen says there are two things you can do: “In terms of managing end-of-year stress, have a think about reducing your demands and increasing your resources.”

Reducing your demands
“This might mean saying no to things you don’t really want to do, not overthinking present buying, and crossing off half of your well-intentioned to-do list of food, decorations, personalised gifts… and so on.”

Increasing your resources
“This might mean making sure you go to bed when you’re tired, instead of staying up late, ensuring your house is stocked with groceries and healthy (but still enjoyable) snacks, and taking time out to unwind every day, even for a little while, without worrying about what isn’t getting done. Remember that at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Your to-do list will never be finished, but if you’re happy and relaxed, that’s an accomplishment in itself.”

About the expert
Dr Alice Heikkonen, PhD(Clin.Psych), is a clinical psychologist and personnel and resources manager. She works primarily with women, specialising in treating eating disorders. Contact the PsychSessions team, in Deakin or Civic, on 6247 5485, or visit www.psychsessions.com.au.