CHRISTMAS may be a wonderful time for many but a Bolton-based psychotherapist is urging people to avoid trying for the “perfect” Christmas this year opting instead for “good enough” festivities to reduce potential stress.

Anne-Marie Alger explained: “There is huge pressure for people to host the ‘perfect’ Christmas. Yet, with the seasonal cocktail of over-excited children, visits from extended relatives, blended families coming together, overnight guests, numerous social functions and events alongside over-indulgence in food and alcohol, this can lead to a recipe for disaster.”

Many people described Christmas as a “time of increased stress, masquerading as a time of great joy”.

But, for some people, this December would be the first Christmas following the loss of someone close and for others, the first Christmas since a relationship ended — “both generating strong feelings,” said Anne-Marie.

Some people already had difficult relationships with alcohol or food which made this time of year “feel more challenging when you are exposed to an abundance of alcohol or rich food wherever you go, with expectations and assumptions about willing participation”.

There may also be financial pressures to create the perfect family Christmas, to offer the perfect gift, provide the perfect Christmas dinner or to attend social events.

“Time is also a precious commodity”, stated Anne-Marie. “How time will be spent, how it will be divided between parents, between in-laws, between friends.”

Christmas was also a difficult time for those with relationships already under pressure. “Decisions need to be made here on how to ‘get through’ the Christmas period to avoid crisis when external pressures start to build up,” she said.

“When extended family come together, there is also always the potential for tension and words to be had. If you are aware that this could be a source of stress for you, explore now how you can manage this.

“What would help you to step away, to count to 10 and not bite back? What would give you some breathing space during the day? How can you create some boundaries for you?”

She advised on “creating some balance – don’t over-commit or take on too much. Be OK with saying ‘no’ but be prepared to compromise with an alternative offering.

“Practise some self-compassion, don’t become a victim or martyr to everyone else’s focus by losing sight of what matters to you. Or at least conserve some of your energy and resources and plan a reward or treat for yourself post-Christmas if it feels like this Christmas is a feat of endurance.”

Remember, she stressed, that Christmas day “is one day out of 365 and perhaps we need to put this into context. Yes, it matters, but you can create a Christmas period where celebrations can take place on alternative days, where two Christmases can be held if a child is not with you on the actual day or a loved one is on shift.”

"Although Christmas is all about tradition," she added, “There is nothing to stop you creating your own traditions such as what you decide to eat, how you choose to spend the day, when you exchange gifts and when you visit others.”

Anne-Marie advised anyone worried and anxious about how Christmas will unfold this year to talk to someone — friends, family or contact a counsellor or relationship therapist.

“Share how you feel, explore what you want to happen, determine what really matters to you,” she said, “And then decide what you would like to do or what you can do to make the day feel better.”

“Think about your own needs and how you can help to meet these.”