The holidays are coming. This unprecedented year is finally winding down. It’s not unusual for people to feel some stress this time of year – even without a pandemic. But for some people the anxiety is just beginning to ramp up. The holiday season has the potential to bring additional stress and anxiety related to everything from family dynamics to budgeting.
Stress is a physical or emotional response to the uncertainty or potential hazards we associate with certain challenges or situations. Generally described as a feeling of apprehension or dread, anxiety is an internal reaction to the stress, even after the stress has passed. It’s normal to get stressed about the holidays with all the planning, shopping and gatherings.
While there aren’t many studies that address holiday anxiety, a Healthline survey done the week before Thanksgiving 2015 found that 62% of Americans think of the holidays as being stressful.
There are many factors that can add to holiday stress and anxiety. This year, with so many out of work and struggling financially, the pressure is even worse. Some people feel pressure to do more, buy more, when it’s just not possible. Feeling anxiety around producing the one special gift that will exceed expectations is just one of the reasons people spend more than they planned. The images on television and sometimes social media of that perfect family get-together with amazing gifts just leads us to believe that we need to strive to provide the same experience.
Go into the holidays with the knowledge that not everything is going to go as you planned. Especially this year with the coronavirus disruption. Some celebrations may be smaller or cancelled. Some family members may choose not to travel due to safety concerns. Accept that the unexpected may happen and try to be flexible as things change.
Additional causes of tension:
- Excessive commitments. It’s easy to get over-extended with all the holiday gatherings. The pressure to make an appearance, contribute to or provide a gift can make someone feel stretched.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) This is a type of depression related to the change of seasons. The shorter days and cooler weather saps energy and can make some people feel anxious or depressed.
- Family gatherings. It’s unfortunate, but true. Some families don’t relate well to each other. The thought of answering uncomfortable questions or difficult conversations is enough to make anyone feel tense.
- Lifestyle. If you’re trying to stick to a healthy diet and exercise, the thought of getting off track during the holidays is worrisome.
- Social anxiety. Parties where you only know one or two people generally cause anxiety.
If you can learn to identify what is causing stress, you can also set up strategies to help you cope. By taking steps to reduce the strain that holiday activities put on your budget and mood, you can focus on spending time enjoying the season. Here are some suggestions to help prevent stress and anxiety.
- Be sure to take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and fresh air. A simple walk around the block can help clear your head and help you overcome stress. Stay away from alcohol as it tends to increase anxiety levels.
- Make one financial decision at a time during the holidays. Set up how much you will spend on each gift then stick to that plan. Find alternatives to purchasing gifts; many people are just as happy with a hand crafted or baked gift.
- Manage your time to keep from being overwhelmed. Instead of trying to do everything and be at every function, focus on those few tasks and events that mean the most to you.
- If you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, getting into the sunlight or using a lamp that produces light similar to the sun will help.
- Don’t be afraid to turn down invitations if it just doesn’t fit into your schedule. Find a friend who can go with you to those engagements you can’t get out of.
One way to ease holiday anxiety is to make this time of year about doing things you love. While not all activities are available due to the pandemic, find those things that make you smile. Cooking, a socially distanced meet-up for coffee or even enjoying a good book during time off could serve as a release from the stress. This is also a good time of year to do some volunteer work. It will lift your spirits to help others in need.
With a little advance planning and managing expectations, you can make this holiday season less stressful and more fun. If you feel like the anxiety and stress is getting to be too much, please don’t be afraid to ask for help.