You've heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, right? Well, I'd like to introduce you to Post Christmastic Stress Disorder.
This is a relatively new phenomenon, usually seen early in the month of January each year. From the studies we have done, it appears that women tend to suffer more than men, being more susceptible to social and familial pressure to creat the "perfect" Christmas. The explosion over the last 10 years or so of Christmas as a commercial, rather than religious or cultural event, can be said to have contributed to the prevalence of this new disease. In this first issue, we will explore the symptoms and contributing factors to this illness as well as identify the demographics most likely to suffer.
The symptoms of the disease often present themselves physically, in the form of reduced immunity or a bug that the patient cannot "shake off". Of course, under normal circumstances, the patient may take a few quiet days at home to rest if they are ill with a cold or tonsilitis, for example, but at Christmas not partaking in the perpetual rounds of either entertaining or visiting would be unheard of. Hence, the patient will often push themselves to join in with everything and not give themselves any chance to recover, resulting in a persistent illness that may last well into the first weeks of the New Year.
Other symptoms of PCSD may be less obvious, that is to say more psychological and emotional. Trouble sleeping, or disturbed sleep patterns have been reported, due to anxiety, relating to seasonal worries such as whether all purchases have been made for the ever burgeoning present pile under the tree, or indeed whether the festive meat is properly defrosted, lest Aunt Ophelia be struck down with a dose of salmonella from undercooked turkey. Concerns occur as to how to keep children entertained during visits to relatives, and indeed which relatives to visit and when can be a source of strain.
I wish to examine a particular demographic which seems to suffer from PCSD more than others, and that is those in blended or stepfamilies. The normal stresses and strains of the holiday season seems to be exacerbated in these circumstances. If we examine why that is, it may be attributed to the additional concerns that these families have around their holidays. Where the children in the family will spend their time and how this should be divided. If this cannot be agreed between the children's biological parents, this places additional stress on all concerned, particularly when arrangements are changed last minute. Step-parents in these families, particularly those without children of their own, frequently report pressure to prioritise their partner's family over their own at Christmas, because of the need of their partner's family to spend time with the children, particularly when their partner is a non resident parent. The effects of stress are also notably seen in the children in such families, who may be getting pressure from one or both parents to prioritise one side of the family over the other at Christmas, and may feel stuck in the middle or unable to please anybody, as of course they cannot divide themselves in half. In such families where high conflict exists between the former partners, stress is likely to be exerted in many different ways on all members of the family. Children can be caught in bigger loyalty binds at Christmas than at other times, because of the social pressure mentioned at the start of this study to have the "perfect" Christmas, and of course how can it be perfect when the child is missing for some or all of the time? High conflict exes can be resentful of any time spent with the other parent, and incidences have been seen of these high conflict exes actively trying to ruin the time the child spends with the other parent, often with incessant communication and "guilt trips" or frequent calls to remind the child what they are missing at the other home. This is most stressful for the child, but also creates unnecessary dramas and interruptions on top of the usual tasks of cooking, cleaning, entertaining guests and visits.
The other contributing factor to PCSD is also the financial strain of Christmas. It seems to get bigger every year, and as children get older, the expense of the presents they wish for gets greater. It has been noted by our experts that in split families, the pressure is greater, as competition may exist between the two households for where the child has the "best" time (which of course in modern terms is defined by how materially spoilt they get). There may be a certain self-exerted pressure on non resident parents to spoil the kids more at Christmas time as a compensation for seeing them less during the year. The temptation to do this is great, but overspending can lead to relationship conflict when budgets are exceeded and cuts must be made in other areas to accommodate it. As a society, we appear to have become very preoccupied with measuring quality in terms of quantity of money spent, and feel guilty or stingy when we do not splurge for the festive season. But the consequences of such splurging, where families cannot really afford it, are a major contributor to PCSD. It is worth noting that it does not just occur in stepfamilies, but I mention them specifically because of the added pressures on those families that make this more likely.
In our next issue we will explore how we can treat existing PCSD, identify the warning signs and stop it developing further, and even prevent it completely.