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Whether it's the rising mercury, fighting family members, financial woes or food poisoning, Christmas can be a stressful affair, but there are ways to restore contentment.

This Christmas, most of us will overindulge - we'll spend more, we'll eat more and we'll stress more. By January, we will have gained anywhere between 800g and 1.5kg each, reports Nutrition Australia.

Every Australian will spend on average $993, according to the Commonwealth Bank's latest research. It reports that we'll spend our hard-earned cash on gifts, extra food, alcohol and entertaining, in a national spend of $16.2 billion.

And a report compiled last month by Chemists' Own, a brand of pharmaceuticals, shows that one third of Australians will attend at least one Christmas function a week throughout December, with 3 per cent set to attend up to nine separate events.

The survey of 1258 adult Australians revealed that 26 per cent would drink more alcohol than usual and almost half, 43 per cent, said they would eat richer foods. Why not, we'll reason, it's been a long, hard year and it's Christmas. Throw into the mix simmering family tensions and a growing kids' wish list for the latest toys and Christmas could spell disaster, and not just for our hip pockets.

Adjusting budgets can keep our minds and relationships, as well as our bodies, in good shape say food, fitness, family and finance experts.

Dietitian Julie Meek said when it came to diet and exercise, it was too easy to blame December 25 alone for the extra kilos. Studies showed the extra weight gained was often carried into the new year, contributing to the growing obesity problem. "December and January are all about socialising," she said. "It's important to have a game plan. If you know that this week there is more than one party or occasion, then choose which one will be a big night and which one will be normal."

Ms Meek said people should approach the festive season as they would a football game - it was all about having a plan. Persisting with a 20-minute daily exercise program would help ward off the extra calories while keeping energy levels up and stress levels down.

Financial planner David McGregor, of N.C. Bruining & Associates, said the festive season was the most common time for people to have a budget blowout. However, people should resist the temptation to spend well beyond their means. "Make sure you have three months' income tucked aside for an emergency," Mr McGregor said. "WA has a strong economy, but we are seeing redundancies all the time. All too often, we see people spend or commit to borrowings based on their current income, which may be as good as it gets."

Aside from financial pressures - and often because of them - Christmas could be an emotionally difficult time of the year for many, particularly those living alone, going through a separation or divorce or enduring the death of a loved one, said Relationships Australia counsellor Mary-Jo Morgan.

"Christmas and the holidays are often fraught with high emotion and expectations," she said. "We see an increase in depression and anxiety levels. There can be huge drama around families.

"I often say to people - although it's a big ask - try to view Christmas as just another day in the year. Have a look at your own expectations and examine whether they are realistic."

The West Australian

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