For many, Christmas is a time to look forward to, a break from work, and an opportunity to spend time with your family with lots of festive cheer. But for some the whole experience can be stressful from beginning to end. 

There are so many factors that cause stress during the holiday season, not least the pressure people feel that they have to enjoy themselves.

Christmas is in some ways an artificially poignant time. We are bombarded with images of happy families having a good time. We are supposed to enjoy ourselves and suppress our fears and concerns, yet just below the surface people are often struggling to cope.

Celebrations in these highly-charged atmospheres with people you may only see at this time of year and perhaps don’t particularly like, can be trying and sometimes end in painful and explosive arguments.

Last year Samaritans published a survey saying nearly half of men in the UK feel sad or depressed over Christmas. Men particularly will let their problems bottle up and are less likely to seek counselling or professional help. As a counsellor I know only too well that the suicide rate at Christmas is higher than at any other time of year. It is best to bear in mind the stresses and strains that the holiday period can bring and give yourself and those around you enough space and support.

Christmas puts extra strain on relationships, both for emotional and financial reasons. This extra pressure can lead to anxiety and depressioone of the most common times of year for relationships to break down. According to the charity Relate, their phone lines last January in 2014 were 53% busier than the same period in 2013. What does this tell us? Are relationships put under more pressure these days than in the past? It seems that might be the case. Many divorce solicitors say that the early New Year is the busiest time for them.

With a new year coming, we tend to reflect on our lives and therefore if there are problems within a relationship we may feel this is the time to for a new start, or at the very least time to make changes. This is often when people seek help from counselling. Counselling helps put things in perspective and allows a person the time to reflect quietly about what could be the best way forward. A good counsellor will provide a safe place and be there to listen to you in a non-judgemental way - helping you through a difficult and painful time.

Having pointed out a few of the problems that arise over the Christmas and New Year period it should also be said that Christmas can also be a wonderful, loving and cheerful time. People need to take the time and a little extra thought so that they and the people around them make the best of the festive opportunities.

For example, do you know any elderly person who is likely to be alone this year? The elderly can feel very isolated at Christmas, particularly if this is the first Christmas since the loss of a spouse. If someone comes to mind, do try and pop in and check they are OK. A friendly face and a chat can make a big difference to someone who’s feeling alone and cut off from the world.

If you have space around your table, think how happy you could make someone by inviting them to join you on Christmas Day – it can be a real life-saver.  

It can be far better to talk through your problems than to trying to deal with them alone, particularly when we are told that we should be having fun.

For people who are feeling the pressure of Christmas and need to talk to someone over the holidays,Samaritans are there day and night, call: 116 123.  But do think about finding a counsellor, as with their support and expertise, finding the answers to your problems might be a little less stressful.