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Introduction

For some people the Christmas period can be a time of high stress.  While for many families, Christmas is a time for celebration, relaxing and holidays, it is also the most likely time of the year for many people to experience anxiety and depression, particularly those who are divorced, have experienced a death in the family or are socially isolated.  People can also feel increased financial pressure from the costs of buying gifts, entertaining and holidays, and there can be added strain from spending time with family members.  For those people with complex family structures, Christmas can present even greater challenges.

Studies conducted over the past decade confirm a range of negative effects on health and wellbeing associated with the Christmas period, including a spike in death rates around Christmas.  However, while there is a greater chance of dying on Christmas Day, the day after Christmas or New Year's Day than any other single day of the year, contrary to popular belief, rates of suicide do not increase at Christmas time.  Higher death rates at Christmas have been associated with disease and natural causes, with research suggesting that higher death rates may be due to stress and loneliness exacerbating existing conditions and people being slower to seek medical treatment in the holiday period (APPC, 2010).

While preparing for Christmas may be stressful in itself, factors commonly associated with poor mental health at other times of the year are also more prevalent in the Christmas period.  These include relationship breakdown, workplace stress, and financial pressures (Hawton, 1997; NMHC, 2013).

In December 2014, Relationships Australia asked visitors to our website to participate in a two‑minute survey that asked them about their experience of stress at Christmas time.  Respondents were asked to report on a five-point scale (not at all, slightly, moderately, quite a bit, extremely) how much a selection of factors commonly associated with Christmas stress impacted on their family relationships.

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