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Introduction

Relationships Australia’s previous online surveys have identified the Christmas period as a time of increased stress for people and families.  These findings are consistent with other published studies that indicate high levels of family conflict, anxiety, depression and loneliness at Christmas time.  In 2016, one-third of respondents to our monthly survey reported that their family relationships at Christmas time were significantly negatively affected by work-life pressures and financial stress.  In 2015, 12 per cent of men and women reported that their family relationships were affected to a large extent by increased conflict, while a further one-third of men and women reported that their family relationships were affected, at least, to a small extent by increased conflict between family members over the Christmas period.

Family relationship problems can lead to increased social isolation and reduced wellbeing at any time, but conflict may be exacerbated by family and societal rituals and expectations relating to Christmas.  Research commissioned by the Salvation Army, for example, found more than two million people experiencing social isolation at Christmas, with one in four Australian adults experiencing anxiety and three million suffering depression (Salvation Army, 2018).

Social isolation has been associated with a range of other poor mental, physical and socio‑economic outcomes, including low self-esteem, suicide, heart disease and poor physical health, with the impact of social isolation estimated to be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Valtorta, 2016).  Associations between poor family relationships, poor wellbeing and nationally celebrated events and holidays are increasingly gaining interest from policy-makers who seek to identify and respond to the risks of increased vulnerability.

Relationships Australia’s December 2018 online survey sought to further understand family relationship stress and social isolation being experienced by visitors to our website during the Christmas period.

Relationships Australia State and Territory websites