Anxiety during the Holidays

holiday stress and anxiety

For many of us, the winter holidays lead to stress and anxiety.  Below are 6 holiday triggers for anxiety and concrete ways to manage it.  At Waypoint Counselling Network, we believe that talking frankly about stress and anxiety is the first step to a experiencing a better holiday season.     

Holiday Anxiety Trigger 1: Expectations

Christmas movies, music, and social media are a set up! For many of us, they lead to feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. We typically compare our own situation to that of others.  And let’s fact it – what we see and hear doesn’t match our own reality.  This results in feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, anger, anxiety and depression during the holiday season. 

A key to combat these feelings of holiday anxiety is to recognize that you are not alone.  It has been found that over 80% of people report feeling stressed at some point during the holidays, and 43% report feeling sad or lonely.  So those images of blissful people decorating trees and enjoying good times with others simply does not reflect reality for most people.  Remember – most of what people post on social media is only the positive spin on their lives. They leave out posting the bad stuff!  And don’t expect to feel the same as a child opening presents on Christmas day.  Set realistic expectations for this time of year.  Don’t get sucked in to believing that everyone, except you, is having a great time. It simply isn’t true. 

Holiday Anxiety Trigger 2: Holiday travel

Travelling any time of year leads to anxiety and stress.  The key is to plan and set realistic expectations.  Review and confirm the details of your travel plans.  Allow yourself extra time for every step such as checking in for a flight or driving to a destination.  If possible, plan to travel at lower-demand dates and times.  Is it really the end of the world to arrive a day earlier or leave a day later to avoid the crowds and the stress?  If it means a less stressful experience, you and your loved ones will notice the difference!

And no matter how much planning goes into travelling, delays and stress can come up.  So, have a backup plan to deal with delays and frustration.  Having a good pod cast downloaded to listen to or a good book to read makes a difference.  It can divert your attention during long waits.  And remember – if something happens you have no control over – then you have no control over it.  Take a deep breath and read that book!   

Holiday Anxiety Trigger 3: Finances

“Buy that perfect gift” is a phrase found everywhere during the holidays.  Merchants rely on buyers to feel compelled to “shop until they drop”.  But it is a very destructive pattern to maintain year after year.  Spending hours looking for gifts either online or walking through crowded malls uses up our energy reserves and depletes our bank accounts.

If possible, change expectations in gift giving. Consider having a conversation with friends and family ahead of time.  For example, can the number of gifts involved be decreased? One example is choosing a name from a hat rather than buying for everyone in the family.  Can a maximum dollar figure be set or perhaps a type of gift such as “books and magazines only”? 

If setting these limits isn’t possible for your situation, then set a budget per gift early in the season and track your spending.  Remember – the dollar figure you spend is not a reflection of how much you love or care. 

Holiday Anxiety Trigger #4: Family relationships

This is the trickiest area to manage. However, there are ways to decrease this area of stress.  

Minimize the time you spend in a stressful family situation if possible.  If you are attending an event, consider arriving later or leaving earlier to decrease the time you devote to the situation.  If you are hosting and there is one person that causes stress for everyone, consider not inviting that person.  This can be a risk and necessitates talking with other family members first.  And of course, this isn’t possible in all situations.  But if “Edward, the second-cousin once removed” is a jerk – then maybe he doesn’t need to be included!  And everyone might thank you!

Try and smooth the waters before the holidays if possible.  If there is existing tension between you and another family member, perhaps see if a phone call or coffee can be arranged to smooth things over so the holiday event is not consumed by it. 

Holiday Anxiety Trigger #5: Social Situations

For those of us who do not feel comfortable in social situations, going to holiday parties can be tortuous! Remember it is OK to say simply say no.  You don’t have to have a detailed reason. A good response is simply “Sorry, I can’t make it this year”. 

For those events you can’t get out of, here are some suggestions:

Avoid alcohol.  It doesn’t help. 

Bring a friend or find someone at the party you enjoy talking with.  You don’t need to be a great conversationalist.  Most of us in fact dread these situations – you are not alone. 

Again, limit the time you have to be there. Arrive later or leave early. With so many holiday events, lots of people do this!

Holiday Anxiety Trigger #6: Physical and Mental Exhaustion

It is especially important to take care of yourself at this time of year. Schedule in time for yourself! Go for a walk on a sunny day instead of shopping. Keep hydrated with water or tea instead of alcohol. Get rest by declining some of those invitations. And seek help when you need it.

At Waypoint Counselling Network, we know this is a crazy time of year. Sometimes it can be very helpful to speak to a counsellor about anxiety or stress you are feeling. It can even be by the phone or secure video chat in the comfort of your own home! We have skilled counsellors in Greater Vancouver, the Lower Mainland and the Greater Victoria area. Many are Registered Clinical Counsellors or are Canadian Certified Counsellors. You can check out our team here or you can contact us to be matched to a suitable counsellor for you needs.

We at Waypoint wish you a healthy and restful holiday season. Take care of yourself and reach out to talk with someone if you feel the need.