Christmas and New Year are a time of celebration but there are many people this year for whom the festivities will be more of a burden than a joy and that is partly thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to be kinder to ourselves as well as others in the way we approach this festive season.

One person who is familiar with how issues of personal and financial stress, loneliness and uncertainty can isolate when others are together celebrating Christmas is Dr Melissa Petrakis of the Department of Social Work at Monash University.

“I have worked 10 years in therapeutic roles. What stands out is that particular things get amplified around this time of the year,” she told Neos Kosmos. “I would encourage people to be kinder to themselves and each other and try to not over-compensate for not spending as much (at this time of the year) as they would normally do.”

“Instead of going through the stress of turning out the perfect meal, cook a simpler dish and ask others to contribute to the meal to reduce the pressure on yourself. Or have a meal at a restaurant and take the stress away completely,” Dr Petrakis suggested.

“Remember not to over-indulge in alcohol – it may give some short-term comfort but it can also lead to saying unedited things to others that you cannot take back.”

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She said the sense of being lonely and isolated was especially strong after living much of the year in enforced isolation because of COVID-19 regulations. This added to the sense of isolation some will have experienced because of relationship breakdowns or bereavement over the loss of loved ones who would have otherwise have been there to make Christmas special.”

Dr Petrakis said the fact that 655 elderly people died in Aged Care Residential homes in Victoria (30 died in the rest of Australia) meant that many families would be missing loved ones at Christmas who were the holders of special family memories at this time of the year.

For many families who have not lost a loved one, this year’s Christmas will also be hard because of job and business losses over the year because of COVID-19 or feelings of insecurity over what the new year will hold.

“Economic recessions of any kind are demanding on the social fabric. People are fearful and do not want to burden others with their problems at this time of the year. We often place additional stress on ourselves when we don’t want to load on to others.”

She said that long with pressure of creating a “Perfect Christmas” for everyone there was also the burden of trying to live to unrealistic New Year resolutions.

“We should focus more on supporting loved ones in distress. Spend some of your time and talk to someone in need. Offer the gift of your company. Notice the strengths of others.

“When we give of ourselves we often find that that this means far more than buying expensive gifts for others.”

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