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Mercy Community inundated with stressed-out clients in need of Christmas counselling

‘Tis the season of peace and goodwill to all men (and women). 

Or is it? 

Whether it’s fear of being judged over the quality of cooking, a simmering resentment over alleged favouritism, or a fierce argument about political values, Christmas with loved ones isn’t always a special occasion. 

And with the big day fast approaching, counsellors at Mercy Community’s Family and Relationship Services are already seeing an increase in clients with additional stress triggered by the festive season. 

Counselling Program Manager Jessica-Lee Stonier said increased social interaction, mental exhaustion and excess alcohol were a recipe for heightened anxiety, conflicts and burnout around the Christmas tree. 

“We find Christmas stress and conflict accounts for 90 per cent of our work at the moment,” she said. 

“People are tired out from the year and feeling the pressure of having to put on the perfect Christmas for everyone. 

“There are more people running around with lots to do, and increased holiday gatherings that they may not want to go to. 

“With the climate we’re living in, the heat doesn’t help either – it just makes stresses, anxieties, and anger easier for us. 

“With emotions running high, it sometimes takes just a small thing like someone to be intoxicated and say something inappropriate, or someone to open someone else’s gift, and suddenly the whole family is at war. 

Ms Stonier said one of the main causes of conflict at Christmas occurred when one person was left do all the shopping, cooking, gift wrapping, organising and cleaning as well as managing their day-to-day life. 

Furthermore, individuals frequently become frustrated with the ongoing responsibility of hosting Christmas Day for the entire family.  

Some families are so worn out by the tradition, that they have even opted to implement a ticket price for relatives, covering the expenses of food and beverages. 

It’s an extreme response to the stress of having everyone relying on your hospitality at Christmas, but people should be mindful that the workload needs to be shared,” said Ms Stonier. 

“It becomes a bit unfair to assume that one person will do everything all the time. It’s not surprising that these people lose their Christmas spirit and positivity, because there’s nothing positive in it for them.” 

Ms Stonier urged people to take time out for themselves at Christmas in order to stay happy and conflict-free. 

“It’s important to remember that we can’t control others, but we can control ourselves,” she said. 

“We urge people to check out our top tips for a happy festive season and be open to fostering a positive and harmonious family gathering.” 

Mercy Community operates counselling services and support for families, couples, and individuals across Brisbane, Ipswich, and Toowoomba.

Find our more about our counselling services here.

Mercy Community’s top tips for a conflict-free Christmas 

Take a break  

Take a nap or go for a walk to give yourself some time out from the festivities. Remember that it’s ok to prioritise your wellbeing. Take deep breaths. 

Accept offers of help and delegate  

Try switching the hosting each year or allocating people different jobs to do to make things fairer. 

Set realistic expectations  

Recognise that family gatherings may not always be picture-perfect. Acknowledge that imperfections and differences are a natural part of any family dynamic and accept that everyone is unique. You don’t have to agree with everyone’s views but you can sit and listen. 

Notice the positives 

Anxieties and frustrations may be present but try to make an effort to stay positive. Instead of dwelling on past conflicts with family members, celebrate shared traditions and cherish the moments of joy.  

Be present 

Focus on what the day brings – the presents that the kids open, the conversations, the smiles, the laughs. This time together helps to bring back the Christmas cheer.  

Plan activities 

Organise activities or games that everyone can participate in. This can help divert attention from potential conflicts and create a positive, shared experience. Consider activities that create happiness and laughter. 

Communication is key 

Open communication can prevent misunderstandings. If there are specific concerns or potential conflicts, address them calmly and respectfully. Clear communication helps set boundaries and ensures everyone is on the same page. 

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