Saying that the holiday season can be challenging is an understatement. Christmas anxiety is a real problem that many Australians struggle with each year.
It isn’t hard to see why. It’s one of the toughest times of the year, and for good reason. The holidays are full of demands – from preparing large meals for the whole family to shopping for that perfect gift, Christmas can be hectic.
It can also be an emotional time too, especially for those who have lost loved ones, whilst the financial aspect can be stressful, and that’s before difficult relationships are added to the mix.
Social media and the retail industry don’t help. Whether it’s pictures of the supposed perfect Christmas posted online, or retailers advertising all things Christmas midway through the year, it all adds to the pressure.
It’s no surprise that many of us suffer from Christmas anxiety: a feeling of dread as the big day edges nearer and nearer.
It’s important that you take control of your mental health this holiday season, and keeping watch for the signs of holiday anxiety is the first step.
The next is making sure you take action to prevent or ease your anxieties, making sure you remember to enjoy the festivities and not get overwhelmed by them.
The signs of Christmas anxiety
It can be easy to brush aside negative feelings during the holiday season, especially when your efforts are for your loved ones. No excuses, right?
Wrong. You need to take notice of negative feelings, especially ones of anxiety which have the potential to get worse the longer they’re ignored.
The symptoms of holiday anxiety can be extensive and varied, but here are some of the main signs you should watch out for, both in yourself and loved ones.
Everyone worries, especially during the holiday season when your to-do list seems never ending and you’re trying to put together the perfect Christmas.
However, if your worries don’t go away, if they appear for no reason or they make it hard to cope with day-to-day life, you may have anxiety.
Your body can have a strong reaction to anxiety, from feeling nervous or tense, to have a sense of impending panic or doom.
This is often accompanied by an increased heart rate, rapid breathing – which is often difficult to get under control – sweating and trembling.
If you find yourself avoiding spending time with your friends and family or wanting to escape their company, you might be experiencing holiday anxiety.
Social withdrawal usually involves finding excuses to avoid common social situations and turning down invites to things you normally enjoy, like having dinner with your family.
Check your weight
It can be a surprise that anxiety can impact your weight, but when you consider the impact it can have on sleeping, eating and exercising, it makes sense.
Everyone gains a few pounds over the festive period, and there’s no shame in that. However, you need to think about the reasons for any weight gain you’ve experienced. Anything outside of the normal fluctuations we all experience before the festive period can be a sign of a deeper issue.
Anxiety involves feelings of worry or nervousness. These can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, something that can also work in the opposite direction.
Many people find their anxiety worsens as a result of poor sleep. Watch your sleep patterns, and make sure you’re getting enough. Take note if they change – too much sleep can be as bad as too little.
How to ease your holiday anxiety
If you think you have Christmas anxiety, or you think there’s a good chance that you’ll develop it, there are a number of steps you can take to ease or prevent it.
Making sure you take steps to confront anxiety is important. The more you ignore the symptoms and fail to take action, the worse your holiday anxiety can get.
Take notice of your feelings
It’s easy to brush aside your feelings, especially when you’re busy. There’s a stigma that Christmas is meant to be stressful, and you just need to deal with it. That’s not the case. The real concern is that people feel like they’re supposed to feel happy, and that if they don’t replicate the ideal Christmas, they’re not doing it right. This can leave us avoiding our feelings.
Take notice of your feelings. Christmas can be an unhappy time for many, especially if it brings back sad memories or if you’ve recently lost a loved one. Keep an eye out for emotional triggers and remember, it’s OK to say you’re not OK, even at Christmas.
Don’t be afraid to seek help
Don’t be worried about seeking help or discussing your concerns with a friend, family member or a professional – they can make a big difference.
Try reaching out to someone you trust and express your concerns. They might be able to come up with a solution and, if they can’t, even just getting things off your chest may help.
If you feel like you need professional support, then reach out to a psychologist. Psychologists are trained to listen and provide methods to deal with your issues.
Christmas brings out the perfectionist in all of us. Everyone has an idea of how the perfect Christmas should look, but try to be realistic. Remember that most of our ideas of what Christmas should look like come from movies, social media and other things that perpetuate the idea of the perfect Christmas.
In reality, things will go wrong. You might burn some food on the big day, relatives might have to pull out at the last minute or it might pour down with rain, ruining plans for a BBQ.
Be realistic and manage your expectations. This will lower feelings of disappointment if anything goes wrong and keep what’s actually important at the front of your mind.
Stick to a budget
This is one of the more practical measures you can take to ease holiday anxiety, but overspending has become a huge part of the festive season.
Financial stress is a key factor in poor mental health, so take some time to put together a budget. Even a rough figure can help you stop overspending and stretching your bank account.
Remember, Christmas isn’t about spending. It’s about spending time with loved ones and taking time to be thankful for everything you have.
Don’t overstretch yourself
Everyone dreams of having a perfect Christmas, which often involves spending every moment possible with family and friends, eating lots of good food and drinking delicious drinks.
That’s all well and good, but remember to set yourself some expectations. Christmas requires a lot of effort and resources, be it visiting multiple family members or having lunch at one place and dinner at the next, it can be taxing. After all, unrealistic expectations are one of the leading causes of Christmas anxiety.
Remember to take some time to yourself, and don’t be afraid to let people down if you don’t feel up to doing something. Overstretching yourself can be detrimental to your mental health, and setting your expectations early can help prevent that.
If you want to feel in tip top shape over the festive season, try to limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Still enjoy yourself, but keep in mind the link between alcohol and poor mental health.
Alcohol might help you relax or have a good time, but it’s also a depressant that can cause anxiety and leave you feeling worse for wear. If you’re going to drink, do it in moderation.
Be there for your loved ones
If you’re lucky enough to not be hosting this year’s festivities, make sure you’re looking out for your friends and family members who are hosting.
Check in whenever you can, and offer to help out any way you can – be it cooking food to bring along, or helping to wash the dishes afterwards.
By helping out, you can spread the stress and challenges across multiple people, making sure everyone gets a chance to enjoy the day.
Want to show someone how much you appreciate someone hosting you this Christmas? Why not buy them a simple, thoughtful gift to say thanks.
For urgent support
If there’s an immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please call 000.
If you need someone to talk with now, call:
- Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or chat online at beyondblue.org.au
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
Need to talk to someone about your Christmas anxiety?
If you feel the anxiety ramping up in the leadup to the holiday season, talk to one of the Access Psych team,. We provide psychology, counselling, and therapy services in Australia, with 80+ practitioners throughout the country.
Alternatively, if you have any questions about Access Psych and what else we can do for you, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.
The information provided in this document is general in nature and is intended to be used for information purposes only. While we have tried to ensure the accuracy of the information published, no guarantee can be given that the information is free from error or omission or that it is accurate, current or complete.
The information published is not, and should not be relied on as, health or treatment advice. The diagnosis and treatment of any mental illness requires the attention of a physician or other properly qualified mental health professional. If you are seeking diagnosis or treatment of any other mental illness, you should consult a physician or mental health professional. You should not delay in seeking, or disregard, professional health advice because of something you have read in this document.