Season to be jolly also the most stressful

SIENA YATES
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2012

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It's the time of year which for most means a break and some family fun.

But for some, Christmas is the toughest time of year. The stress and pressure can have severe effects on families, say those who deal with the fallout.

Child, Youth and Family Waikato operations manager Sue Critchley said Christmas heightened feelings about how connected people were to their families.

"Especially when we're surrounded by messages about what a happy family Christmas is supposed to look like, and compare our own circumstances to ideals of bright happy celebrations," she said.

"These feelings, combined with worries about paying for presents . . . can create pressure points.

"Everybody wants what's good for their kids, but sometimes what children need can get lost in the noise of our own worries."

Ariana Simpson of Te Whakaruruhau Maori Women's Refuge said their team dealt with the inevitable fallout of that pressure every year.

"It's not a matter of if we get a callout, it's how many," she said. "Things are quite difficult for families as it is . . . and when you have got domestic violence, the pressure's really on for families to make ends meet."

She said advertisements put a lot of pressure on parents to buy the things their children saw and wanted.

But, with the loss of jobs at the Huntly mines and other industry closures, that was not always possible

The refuge typically has a "lull" at Christmas: "It's the calm before the storm. How our Christmas goes depends on how their Christmas goes - how much alcohol is consumed, how much stress there is in the family. If anything is going to make you break, it's going to be Christmas." Hamilton Age Concern manager Gail Gilbert said that while most older people were resilient, Christmas could be rough if the family did not visit.

"If they're not expecting anyone they will often make their own plans, with friends or spending the day quietly doing something, but most clubs and places they would normally go to are closed . . . so they're kind of hit with a double whammy, so it's quite a lonely time."

But the main message to create change was to talk, and ask for help: "If you know someone who is struggling, or who is going to be on their own over the holidays, just go and have a chat, offer a hand or an invitation. Just be friendly to people, it makes a huge difference."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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