For some people, the festive season is nothing but a source of anguish and despair.

Calls to The Samaritans rose by six per cent during Christmas and New Year last year.

Meanwhile a new NOP poll has revealed almost two-thirds of those interviewed expected to find the period stressful or depressing.

According to Diana, a volunteer with the Brighton branch of The Samaritans, more than three million people across Britain will be gripped by depression during the festive season.

She said: "The problem comes largely because everyone has huge expectations at this time of year. There is so much pressure to have a good time.

"The shops have decorations up for weeks ahead, there are adverts everywhere and there's no way of escaping.

"It's the combination of commercial and social pressures which makes this period so difficult. If it doesn't work out, people feel like they are the only ones not having a good time."

Diana, who cannot give her surname, identified several main problem areas during the festive period.

The first is loneliness. The NOP poll showed that one in ten people will have spent Christmas alone this year. With images of happy families opening presents under the tree, it is easy to see why loneliness is felt so strongly at this time.

However, spending time with the family can be even harder. According to Diana, Christmas and New Year can bring out tensions that remain suppressed for the rest of the year, leading to explosive conflicts.

She said: "Probably 50 years ago it was usual for families to spend a lot of time together.

"Arguments would get absorbed into the family dynamic throughout the year. Now this big get-together often only happens at this time of year and it piles on the pressure.

"The first issue is who to spend it with and where to spend it. That is often a source of conflict in itself. People often end up spending it with people they don't want to out of duty.

"This is a lot to do with the modern family pattern. Stepfamilies who don't necessarily get on well will often be thrown together in highly-charged situations.

"People have to travel for miles to see relatives and may feel frustrated by the time they arrive. When they are off work for up to a fortnight, tensions brew and it is even more difficult to escape difficult relationships."

For bereaved, single-parent and low-income families, or those coping with serious illnesses, the tensions are even worse.

Christmas is always a huge millstone for those who have lost a loved one while low-income parents often end up getting into serious debt.

Calls to The Samaritans at this time of year are often from harassed mothers trying to hold their fraying family together or older people facing the period alone.

But the charity has also launched an email service, which has proved popular with younger people.

Young men are at the highest risk of committing suicide and are also the hardest group to reach.

Diana said New Year is often the hardest time for this group. Again, expectations are high for young people on New Year's Eve - but it is January which proves the crunch point.

She said: "If people are going through a hard time, they might have high hopes for New Year, which they see as a fresh start. But when things don't change overnight, they give up hope. They find it hard."

However, there are coping strategies for people having trouble dealing with the festivities. Diana has several key pointers to making it through:

When reality doesn't match up to expectations or things you hope for go wrong, don't blame it on yourself. Don't feel bad about not feeling good - you're not alone.

Spot signs of trouble and take them seriously. If the future looks bleak and you've lost interest in everything, if you are having trouble eating or sleeping, if you know you are drinking too much and you are feeling anxious or angry but you don't know why, you should think about asking for help.

If your body is fit, your mind will be able to deal with things better. Take time to relax - try meditating or listening to soothing music. Go for a walk or bike ride. Eat healthily.

Do something you enjoy every day. Even if it is something simple, such as watching a TV programme you like or savouring a box of Belgian chocolates.

Take time out. If a situation becomes awkward and there seems to be no way of resolving it in the heat of the moment, walk away from it. Don't allow yourself to have a big row if it won't achieve anything. Get out of the house for a few minutes.

Ask for help. There is no reason why anyone should shoulder the burden of Christmas and New Year. Ask children and relatives to help with peeling spuds and wrapping presents. It's even possible to make it fun - and it's more likely to bring the family together than crashing out in front of the TV.

Talk about your feelings with someone who understands. This is where The Samaritans comes in. It can often be easier to talk to a stranger but talking to friends helps too.

To contact The Samaritans, call 08457 909090. To contact the Brighton branch, which covers Lewes and Haywards Heath, call 01273 772277. The web site is and the email address is You can drop into the Brighton branch at 102 Clarendon Road between 10am and 10pm.