Christmas Anxiety: a guide to enjoying the holiday season

Christmas can be a very difficult time for many people suffering from anxiety.

All the marketing for Christmas and the holiday season repeatedly tell us this is meant to be a fun and joyous time of the year, however, for the majority of people struggling with anxiety, it can exasperate feelings and instead be a time of immense stress and anxiety instead.  

Christmas anxiety can manifest in many forms

We are often faced with additional social and financial pressures at this time of year, while trying our best to portray we are having the most fabulous time, on top of trying to find the perfect gift for our loved ones.

Social gatherings may also feel unavoidable at this time of year.

Perhaps you have struggled with family conflict in previous years and feel obligated to spend the festive period with family. Difficult relationships with loved ones can cause added stress and pressure.

You may also be reminded back to Christmases past and be saddened knowing a loved one is absent from the celebrations.

And this is all on top of the usual stresses of everyday life……

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So while Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for some, others dread it.

Therefore, I want to share some practical tips on how to ensure you have a more relaxed and enjoyable Christmas and holiday season.

Social Anxiety During The Holiday Season

Many people suffer from social anxiety, and feel anxious about social gatherings and being around other people. This is likely exasperated during the holiday season when there may be pressure to attend such events.

Christmas Anxiety

Back when I used to struggle myself with anxiety, I would dread all the work parties and client events that I knew I was expected to attend. I felt anxious walking into a room, struggled to make small talk and felt that I had nothing interesting to say …. it all felt so overwhelming.

When we struggle with anxiety and particularly social anxiety, we can feel pressure to attend the various social engagements and commitments, but it is important to remind ourselves that we do have a choice and we can say no. We must prioritise our own wellbeing first.

You may wish to download the Circle of Control and Influence Worksheet, which is available here and helps identify what you have control and influence over. There are full instructions on the worksheet.

Circle of control and influence

To be clear, I am not suggesting you should avoid every event as you would not be giving yourself the opportunity to prove you can cope with your anxiety, but if you are meant to be attending your 3rd night out in a row, and it feels all too overwhelming, accept how you feel and look after your own wellbeing first.

Setting boundaries and saying no when needed is not a sign of weakness, it can instead be a powerful act of self-care.

Financial Anxiety During the Holiday Season

The additional financial implications of Christmas can cause a great deal of anxiety too.

There may be presents to buy for family and friends, secret Santa gifts and Christmas stockings, new outfits needed for different events, meals out with social groups or clubs, work parties, taxis home, not to mention the cost of buying all the food and drink for dinner on Christmas Day. The list goes on and on …..

Finding the right present for everyone used to be a huge strain on me when I was struggling with anxiety because I felt I would be judged by the gifts I gave. This resulted in me wasting a lot of time and money when it was so unnecessary, as the only person judging me was me.

Christmas Anxiety

Often the best gifts of all are the ones with the thought behind them, so offer to have someone round for their favourite dinner instead. Or share a great memory and give them a framed picture of the two of you having fun together.

What can you offer someone that is valuable to them, whilst cost-effective for you?

If you still want to buy gifts, have a budget and stick to it, to alleviate any financial stress.

Overindulging Can Lead to Additional  Anxiety

It may be the season to be jolly, but know your limits. Christmas can be a time of overindulgence, however this often leads us to feeling more anxious and disappointed with ourselves if we overdo it too much.

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Try to limit the amount of Christmas treats and alcohol you consume to within what you are comfortable with.

The temptation to overindulge increases because there is not only more food on the table on Christmas day, but we often spend the next few days celebrating with friends and eating the leftovers and the gifts we have been brought!

Whilst it may seem great at the time, if it eventually upsets us, then we need to consider if it is worth it.

Alcohol may give an initial buzz and increase courage, however it ultimately acts as a depressant and also heightens feelings of anxiety; so for some, there is a vicious circle, where you drink because of anxiety, but the drink is making the anxiety so much worse.

Furthermore, the more we drink, the less we feel in control, and this may have an impact on what we eat, how we react with others or feel about ourselves.

Also, too many Christmas treats can have a negative impact on our mood, causing blood sugar levels to rapidly rise and fall which is a known trigger for anxiety.

Keeping hydrated with non-alcoholic drinks is important, as is ensuring that you have a good night’s sleep, as wellbeing and sleep are so interrelated.

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Christmas Time Can Be Sad and Lonely

Christmas can be lonely and isolating when it appears everyone else is having a great time with their family and friends, and it is all too easy to think we are the only ones struggling with being alone.

Maybe you don’t have any close relationship with family, or your friends are all busy with their own thing, or they live too far away.

With the cost of living crisis, it may not be an option to travel to see friends and family this year, and you are forced to stay home alone instead.

Christmas Anxiety

Perhaps you find yourself alone following a separation with your partner, and your children are now having to juggle which parent they see during the holiday season. Suddenly their absence seems all the bigger at Christmas time.

It is especially hard if you have lost a loved one. Christmas time is often when we think of absent friends and family, therefore a loss can leave a huge hole in your heart at the festive table.

If you find yourself alone this Christmas, consider volunteering your time to help others. It is a great way to surround yourself with like-minded people while giving back to the community.

Do you have an elderly neighbour near you, or is there a soup kitchen where you can offer to feed those less fortunate?

Volunteering is a great way of feeling part of something, and research shows that it is equally rewarding for those giving, as it is for those receiving.

Christmas Anxiety

What Does Your Ideal Christmas Looks Like?

Try to let go of the thoughts of making Christmas perfect. We often take what we see on social media at face value, but perfection creates a lot of anxiety and causes disappointment if we don't live up to the standards and expectations we set for ourselves.

We are fed a constant stream of images on social media of everyone else appearing to be having a wonderful time, and when we compare our own lives to the images that others share, we may feel that we are missing out. This can have an impact on our self-esteem and worthiness, making us feel even worse.

Many of us feel the pressure to create what we believe the perfect Christmas should look like, and this often creates additional anxiety and disappointment when our experiences don’t match up with our high expectations.

Maybe we actually crave a quiet Christmas season with our friends instead of family members, or just our immediate family, but we feel pressure to please everyone.

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Take some time to think about what you really want, not what is expected of you. Maybe you would rather go out for Christmas lunch with a couple of close friends?

If you’re feeling bombarded with what everyone else is doing on social media, consider taking a break from technology.

How Can You Support Friends And Family If They Are Struggling With Their Mental Health?

If you’re worried about the mental health of someone else, you might be scared of saying the wrong thing or say nothing, and avoid talking to them about it all together, however just starting a conversation and asking how someone is feeling and managing can really help them to open up.

Listen and remain non judgemental, and ask them how you can help them.

Don’t pressure them to join in if they really don't want to. If they are visiting you over Christmas, you may wish to let them know if you have a calm place where they can go if they are finding Christmas to be too exhausting and overwhelming. Or maybe offer to go for a walk or a drive with you so they have an opportunity to relax and talk about how they are feeling.

It is all too easy to isolate yourself and hide away when you are feeling anxious, but connecting with others is very important. Anything you can do to help others participate and increase their confidence will help.

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 Take Time Out For Yourself

It is important to take a break from the pressures of the festive season by finding time to do something that makes you feel happy, such as reading a book, going for a run, taking a bath, playing board games or watching a film.

Have a list of some of your favourite activities and schedule time for them, otherwise, time will pass by and you won't fit them in.

These activities can help to distract from any anxious or worrying thoughts. Taking time out to relax can help you sleep better and feel fully rested. 

I do my best to schedule some “me” time into every day as this gives my mind a break from being over-stimulated. It also helps me sleep better at night. This practice is particularly valuable over the hectic Christmas period.

As a general rule, if I think I don’t have enough time to relax for 20 minutes every day, this is when I need it the most and it is time to reprioritise my schedule.

Being creative can also help us get into a flow state. Did you used to love writing, or drawing or painting? When you are in the flow of something, those intrusive thoughts shrink away and the nervous system calms down. You get a great sense of achievement which boosts those feel good feelings.

Having a support network around you, even if it is at the end of a phone, is important for your mental wellbeing. Try not to bottle up your feelings, or feel pressured to make it seem like you are having a wonderful festive season. Instead, confide in someone you trust and tell them how you really feel, or write your thoughts in a journal.

It can be very cathartic when we write something down on paper, and it softens the negative self talk we may be experiencing

If You Need Further Support

If you need further support with your Mental Health, a trained Anxiety Specialist can prescribe a personalised plan to understand the root cause of burnout, stress and anxiety, as well as help develop healthy coping strategies that are focused around your individual needs.

Taking care of your mental health is an essential part of your overall well-being. Left unresolved, mental ill health can spiral out of control and have a significant impact on relationships, work, school and family life.

So if you want to take the next steps to have a happier life, click the link below and book a free no obligation consultation call.

Speak to an anxiety specialist

Other Resources You May Be Interested In:

Read What Causes Anxiety? 

Read What Are The Different Types of Anxiety?

Read How to Overcome Anxiety

Read Why Do I Feel Anxious After Drinking Alcohol

Read What Is Sleep Anxiety?

Download Circle of Control and Influence worksheet

Book a free discovery call

Published 7th December 2021

Last updated 30th November 2023