Why some of us suffer from holiday anxiety and how to manage it
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The holiday season is all about good cheer and fun times with family and friends involving a lot of yummy treats and lovely gifts. Well not for everyone! For some of us, it is a time filled with anxiety, gloomy feelings, self-reflection and loneliness. The gatherings can also set the scene for interpersonal conflicts, stressful conversations, a feeling of not having achieved much and plenty of other circumstances that aren’t great for our overall health and happiness. We may find people struggling to keep their anxiety under check during the holiday season when expectations are high and daily routines are disrupted. However, some preparations and planning can help us cope with the season and even enjoy it.
What is holiday anxiety?
Holiday anxiety involves both physical and emotional factors. Its is a feeling of being worried, panicky and increased tension as the festive season looms over. These could include feelings of irrational thinking, feeling on edge and a sense of impending doom. These feelings can be overwhelming. Some of the ways in which holiday anxiety is exhibited are:
- Body tension and/or an upset stomach
- Heart palpitations and dry mouth
- Insomnia- Sleeplessness
- Excessive eating/ drinking.
Why do we suffer anxiety during the holidays?
Balancing the demands of shopping, parties, family obligations, and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and increased tension. Some of us already suffer from occasional anxiety and the holiday, with all its social events, offers a lot of opportunities for ‘things to go wrong’. Different people experience anxiety due to different reasons, it’s not like “one hat fits all”. Anxiety is partially a genetic trait which may make you more sensitive to stress and prone to worry.
Some of the reasons that trigger anxiety are:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Over commercialization
- Financial stress
- Feeling of loneliness
- The inability to be with one’s family and friends.
- It could be due to childhood trauma.
- It could be a recent trauma or past experiences like a breakup, some medical issue or a previous holiday gone wrong.
The following tips can help prevent anxiety associated with the holiday season:
- Make realistic goals and expectations for yourself for the holiday season. Pace yourself. Do not take more on your plate than you can handle. Making a list and prioritizing the important activities can help make holiday tasks more manageable.
- Plan ahead for how you want your holiday to look, so that you are controlling the experience rather than the experience controlling you.
- Don’t exhaust yourself preparing for that one special day. The festive cheer can be spread across the holiday season.
- Live in the present and enjoy it to the fullest.
- Don’t follow the old traditions, make your own. Do something new and enjoy the holidays in a novel way.
- Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing today with the “good old days” of the past. Leave them in the past and look towards the future. Each phase of our life is different and will create different memories that we may cherish forever.
- Volunteer to helps others if you feel lonely. Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends or connect with someone you haven’t heard from in a while. Take out time to contact a long-lost friend or relative and spread some holiday cheer.
- Keep a check on your holiday spending. Overspending can lead to anxiety after the holidays are over. Find activities that are free, such as taking a drive to look at holiday decorations, watching and enjoying the winter weather, whether it’s a snowflake or a raindrop or making a snowman with children.
- Limit your consumption of alcohol, since excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of anxiety.
- Focus on fun, not perfection. Control your urge to do everything to make the season perfect for everyone. Just have as much fun as you can and don’t expect it to be perfect.
- Remember that it’s ok to feel sad or lonely in the holiday season. You don’t need to banish these feelings or suppress them. However, you could choose not to express them.
- Learn to say no and be honest with yourself about what you really want out of the season, so you can be your own boss. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty about it.
What is the treatment for holiday anxiety?
One vile trait of anxiety is the way it breeds more of itself. Thinking whether you are or aren’t anxious leads to your being even more anxious. For a change, say, “I accept I’m feeling anxious” and see if you feel any relief, no matter how small. Always remember that until you accept there is a problem, you can’t really deal with it.
People suffering from any type of holiday anxiety may benefit from increased social support during this time of year. Counselling or support groups provide a layer of social support during this vulnerable time period. They are an important way to relieve some of the anxious feelings and stress of the holidays. A reassurance that there are other people who feel the same way and sharing your thoughts and experiences can help you manage your feelings.
An essential step to cure anxiety during the holiday is self-care. Pay attention to your sleeping and eating patterns. Be careful of alcohol and recreational drugs. Even though there might be people indulging in drugs and alcohol – know that these are proven triggers of anxiety. You may also try simple techniques such as journaling, muscle relaxation, deep breathing, focused exercises like yoga and mindfulness. There are various mindfulness apps that can be downloaded for the same.
For a better holiday, you can find ways to reduce the stresses associated with the holiday, either by limiting commitments and outside activities. Ask yourself, will this party/event/person make me feel good? Will there be some people who may trigger especially your anxiety and will this not be the best time to see them? Is it in your budget, or will it leave you more anxious? Make arrangements to share responsibilities such as gift shopping and meal preparation, try and agree upon financial limits for purchases, most importantly take out extra time to rest and rejuvenate. Remember, all you want is to enjoy the season.
If you are looking for help, whether for yourself or a loved one, our psychologists can assist in exploring underlying issues through therapy. Please visit our practitioners’ page to find out more, or call (03) 9820-5577 for an appointment or to make enquiries.
Psychologists at the Centre specialised in Anxiety Disorders
- Mindfulness in Therapy
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- Dealing with Stress
- Stress, Depression, and the Holidays: Tips for Coping (Mayo Clinic)
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- ADAA: “Find Your Holiday Happiness: Manage Anxiety and Depression”
- Sanaam Hafeez, PsyD, a New York-based psychologist and faculty member at Columbia University.
- Robert Hudak, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh
- Julian Brass, an anxiety coach based in Toronto, Canada and author of Own Your Anxiety: 99 Simple Ways to Channel Your Secret Edge
- Golden, R.N., B.N. Gaynes, R.D. Ekstrom, et al. “The Efficacy of Light Therapy in the Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Review and Meta-analysis of the Evidence.” Am J Psychiatry 162 (2005): 656-662.