Christmas anxiety and what you can do about it

Whilst Christmas is a time for celebration, for many of us it can induce anxiety and raise expectation and cause feelings of worry, panic, and sadness. If you’re worried or concerned about the festive period and feel your anxiety increasing, keep reading for some practical and helpful coping strategies to help you enjoy Christmas that little bit more.

The problem with comparisons

We’re often told what Christmas is all about. This is problematic because it makes us draw a comparison between our reality and what we think others are experiencing.

If you suffer with anxiety, Christmas can be challenging. The festive period is busy and it can feel like there’s very little downtime to rest and relax.

It’s important we take time out to reflect on what works best for us and to find some calm amongst the hustle and bustle. Remember that there is no right way to experience Christmas, and that the enjoyment you get out of the festive season should be entirely personal to you.

Reasons you might feel anxious at Christmas

  • Higher expectation
  • Everyone else looks like they’re happy all the time
  • More food
  • An increased presence of alcohol
  • Loneliness
  • More time spent with family
  • Challenging conversations
  • Financial worries

Are my feelings normal?

Sometimes we look around and feel like everyone else is having a great time apart from us. It’s important not to disregard or suppress our feelings, especially if we’re finding it hard to cope.

Feelings of anxiety and stress around Christmas are more common than you might think.

1. Make time for self-care

Whilst Christmas is traditionally a time for giving, it’s important we take some time out for ourselves to practice self-care. After all, when we feel good in ourselves, we feel more able to give to others.

Christmas is a busy time for everyone, and the seemingly endless string of parties, family gatherings, and meet-ups with friends can feel draining. Self-care is important because it allows us to rest and recharge when our mental and physical energy is running low.

What self-care looks like for you all depends on what you find relaxing and what you enjoy doing. See below for some common self-care strategies and techniques:

  • Taking a long bath
  • Taking a nap
  • Long walks on your own
  • Hobbies
  • Exercising
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Cooking
  • Having a lie in
  • Saying no to the party and staying in with your favourite TV show

2. Lower your expectations

Expectations around Christmas are often fuelled by societal norms and media portrayals of the festive season.

The pressure to create a perfect holiday experience that resembles the traditional image of Christmas with elaborate decorations, gift-giving, and family gatherings can create unrealistic standards that we inevitably fall short of.

Adjusting expectations involves setting realistic goals for activities, gift-giving, and social interactions. This gives us more time to focus on the meaningful aspects of the season, whatever these may be for us. Simplifying traditions, setting boundaries on commitments, and accepting that not everything will go as planned can also help lower anxiety levels.

3. Spend within your means

Many of us worry about getting into debt and overspending at Christmas.

Spending beyond our means and splashing out on things that aren’t necessary can be a real source of anxiety during the run up to Christmas Day.

To avoid overspending and the anxiety that comes with it, focus on celebrating Christmas within your means and spending time with others in ways that doesn’t place a financial strain on you or your family.

Secret Santa

Setting a budget for Secret Santa is a great way to do gift giving with your friends and family.

You all draw a name and buy one gift for that person. The anticipation is great and the budget constraint means nobody has to spend outside of their means.

Knowing that it’s okay to say “no”

If you aren’t financially comfortable with something, it’s okay to say no. Christmas can get expensive, and it’s important to prioritise the things that matter most to you.

If you’re feeling anxious about the financial implications of attending a certain event, knowing it’s okay to say no can really help avoid feeling guilty about spending too much money over the festive season.

Focus on what matters to you

Some people like to save throughout the year to treat themselves at Christmas. Others find joy in donating to a selection of charities over the festive period.

Putting money aside throughout the year can help lessen the sudden financial hit that Christmas can represent. It also means we can focus our spending on the things that matter most to us, like our friends, family, children, and loved ones.

4. Have an escape plan

If you’re anxious about attending an event or seeing family, always have an escape plan. This means that if you feel overwhelmed or anxious, you know there is a way out of the event or gathering.

This might look like:

  • Setting a time to leave and sticking to it
  • Driving yourself (if possible) so you aren’t reliant on others to get you home
  • Arriving early so you can enjoy yourself and leave at an appropriate time for you
  • Keeping a family member or friend informed if things get too much
  • Planning something for yourself after the event

5. Talk about how you’re feeling

Communication is a powerful tool for managing anxiety, especially when emotions are running high during the Christmas season.

Sharing your feelings with trusted friends and family members can give you the emotional support and understanding you need to really enjoy yourself without feeling worried or overwhelmed.

It’s important to remember that there is no “perfect” way to enjoy Christmas and that communicating your honest feelings doesn’t mean you’re being miserable or dragging the mood down. Everyone experiences Christmas differently.

Discussing your concerns or worries means you are no longer carrying them alone. Open and honest conversations about your mental health and emotions can lead to practical solutions, support, and a more emotionally balanced and enjoyable holiday experience.

6. Plan ahead

For anyone with anxiety, planning and knowing exactly what you’re up to each day can help minimise the potential for worry and overthinking. If you know what’s coming, you can prepare and make sure you have a plan in place to manage the situation in a way that’s comfortable for you.

Whether it's planning the logistics of a family gathering, budgeting for gifts, or scheduling breaks for self-care, having a well-thought-out plan can reduce the presence of stressors and surprises. To help you plan, consider making a holiday schedule that includes involvement in Christmas activities and downtime to recharge.

7. Preserve your routine

Christmas brings with it a set of traditions and routines that can make big changes to your day-to-day routine, especially on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Routine is important if you suffer with anxiety as it provides stability and a sense of normalcy when things get busy and unpredictable.

Having a predictable and structured routine around sleep, exercise, eating, and self-care can help reduce stress and make you feel more energised when it comes to spending quality time with others.

Take a look below to see what can trigger or put stress on your routine at Christmas:

  • Changes to the food on offer and traditional mealtimes
  • More social gatherings and events
  • Alcohol being more readily available and accessible
  • Long periods off work
  • Changes to our financial situation due to the pressure to spend
  • Travel arrangements can throw your sleep schedule out
  • Attending religious services

Seasonal affective disorder and Christmas

There is a specific subtype of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that causes symptoms of depression to appear or worsen as the seasons change.

If you’re finding the hustle and bustle of the festive season challenging and think your low mood may be a result of SAD, you aren’t alone. This type of depression affects around 2 million people in the UK alone, with the overwhelming majority seeing their symptoms arise in the winter.

One of the triggers for SAD is reduced daylight hours during the winter. A lack of natural sunlight can contribute to feelings of fatigue, low energy, and a decline in mood which can all make engaging with festive activities challenging.

If think you may be experiencing symptoms of SAD, click here for expert information and coping strategies.

Last updated Thursday 30 November 2023

First published on Tuesday 28 November 2023