Christmas is just around the corner. Although it is widely celebrated and promoted as a time of celebration and good cheer, for many people the reality is that it’s a very difficult time of year.
This might be because it means having to spend time with family, which might be a source of distress or potential conflict or tension. For others without families or absent family members, it can be a very lonely time. Christmas may also stir feelings of sadness and grief as it can serve as a reminder of people who have passed away.
Christmas can also place huge pressure on people. From the pressure to see friends, attend office parties and squeeze-in a myriad of other end of year events. The increased demands upon individuals and families can be a major source of stress. Then there are the financial pressures of Christmas. The pressure to spend money on gifts and eating out, holidays and more. Christmas sometimes just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Anxiety is a clinical term that describes a persistent sense of heightened arousal and over-worrying of future threat (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Typically, there are more things to worry and stress about going wrong during the Christmas season. This can cause our bodies to be in a higher arousal state. If the stressor or the worries are not resolved, our bodies stay in a heightened arousal state which can then cause anxiety. Good news – if the anxiety is caused by Christmas, it is likely that it will naturally alleviate after the Christmas season. But if you want to feel less stressed, worried, or anxious, consider the below coping strategies, like it’s your own Santa’s little helper in reducing anxiety this Christmas season.
Christmas Coping Strategies
Set your own realistic expectations. How Christmas should look is a stereotype reinforced by movies, stories, or even others around us. This does not reflect the many variations of how people celebrate Christmas. For example, Australians celebrate Christmas in summer compared to winter Christmas often portrayed in movies set on the other side of the world where there’s snow. Keeping in mind that your Christmas can look different to other Christmas stereotypes will lead to setting realistic expectations of Christmas. This can be helpful to minimize unwanted disappointment, stress, and worry, which will also help to reduce likelihood of anxiety.
Set boundaries. It can be helpful to follow up setting realistic expectations with setting boundaries. Due to the idealistic expectations of Christmas, many people tend to go overboard. For example, people tend to cook more lavish foods, overexert themselves with social events, or spend more money on gifts. Interestingly, research on gift-giving indicated that gift-givers can become anxious as they are highly motivated to receive desired reactions from the gift recipient which they often do not believe will be achieved (Wooten, 2000). Having realistic expectations will assist with realistic boundary-setting when performing these Christmas duties.
As stress and worries increase, self-care also needs to increase! Self-care is effective relative to the amount of stress and worries you are experiencing. The typical amount of self-care you normally engage in will not be as helpful during the Christmas season, as it is likely that you will be experiencing more stress and worries than usual. Being intentional in practising self-care by setting aside more time to engage in it will help to prevent the build-up of stress and worries.
Identify known triggers and make a plan. The many facets that make up the stereotypical and idealistic Christmas may be factors that trigger increased stress, worry, or anxiety. For example, many people have complex family dynamics so they choose to celebrate Christmas with their friends. Reflecting on known triggers during the Christmas period, such as complex family dynamics, will provide you insight on how you could problem-solve or minimize the concerns of the trigger.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
Wooten, D.B. (2000). Qualitative steps toward an expanded model of anxiety in gift-giving, Journal of Consumer Research, 27(1), 84–95. https://doi.org/10.1086/314310