Christmas is supposed to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, isn’t it? But for many people, coping at Christmas can lead to anxiety raising its head. Personal circumstances, our age, and whether we spend time with family and friends during the holiday will all affect our ability to cope with the extra pressure.
Some of us may find this time of year with all our expectations of perfection, both challenging and stressful. According to a YouGov survey in 2019, around 25% of us said that our mental health was worse during the festive season, while 40% said they felt stressed.
So, what factors make coping at Christmas difficult and what can we do to look after our mental health and well-being at this time of year?
Many people feel overwhelmed at Christmas. It may be that a mental health problem makes it difficult to enjoy the Christmas festivities. You may be on your own and feel left out because everyone else is with family and friends while you are isolated. You may be a full-time carer to whom Christmas Day is just another day of the week, caring for a loved one. The ‘perfect’ Christmas is as individual as you are. What sounds like a brilliant celebration to one person may result in anxiety-inducing dread to someone else. When opposing views of an enjoyable Christmas happen within a relationship or family, it can lead to arguments and conflict.
Coping at Christmas – Reasons why Christmas is stressful
Coping at Christmas can be especially hard when going through bereavement. Any type of loss is challenging, whether the death of a loved one, a pet companion, or a relationship break-up such as separation, divorce or an estrangement from family.
You may be anxious at Christmas because you feel obliged to see family members who make you feel uncomfortable or bring back difficult childhood experiences. There may be people present who cannot relate to your mental or physical health difficulties, or those who tease you about something which you find really hurtful. You may have experienced a recent trauma and the onslaught of family, friends, and social events on your senses will be overwhelming, mentally, emotionally and physically.
In difficult relationships, whether that is with a partner or another family member, the pressure to get along with one another at this time of year can result in Christmas anxiety, and the inability to be yourself. Old feuds can rise to the surface, resulting in conflict and negative fall-out on the rest of the gathering.
Coping at Christmas is difficult if either you or someone close to you is in hospital or quarantine during the festive period, so you are unable to have the Christmas you want. People may be housebound or unable to travel to family or social events. This can cause loneliness and feelings of isolation which many of us experienced during the lockdown Christmas of 2020.
The cost of living crisis has meant skyrocketing bills. Many people are worried about making ends meet on a day-to-day basis, so the added pressure of buying adequate gifts for family and friends can lead to Christmas anxiety. Not being able to afford the Christmas celebration you want is difficult to accept and can lead to borrowing money you can’t afford to pay back. According to a YouGov survey in October, 60% of us said that we would cut back on our celebrations this year because of the impact of rising prices.
Attending parties can be expensive too! Bringing a bottle, a plate of food, or a gift (or sometimes all three!) puts extra strain on a tight budget.
We all feel that we should be out celebrating with work colleagues, friends, neighbours, and family, but the pressure to attend events can bring on anxiety attacks, especially for those who already experience social anxiety. Individuals may experience social stigma to refusing invitations, being called a ‘spoilsport’ or ‘party pooper’.
The extra pressure we feel at Christmas to make sure our experience is perfect, juggling money and relationship worries, meeting the expectations of others, and dealing with the resulting anxiety, make coping at Christmas a real challenge. However, there are certain strategies you can employ to cut down on the Christmas anxiety and stress.
Coping at Christmas
It is never too early to start planning for next Christmas. Make a list of who you will buy for and what they might like. Listen carefully when you are out with friends and family for mentions of things they need. A tip for future years is to buy gifts throughout the year and put them into a drawer or present box, so you don’t have to shop ‘for Christmas’ at all! If you do need to shop for Christmas, make sure you shop early to avoid delivery problems (and postal strikes!)
Try not to add even more stress by spending more than you can afford. Make a budget and stick to it. Shop offers, sales, BOGOFFs and make good use of those hard-earned loyalty points.
Don’t expect ‘perfect’
As we said earlier, Christmas is as individual as you are, so let go of others’ expectations. Living up to someone else’s idea of a perfect Christmas is an impossible task. Focus on what is really important and what you can realistically achieve.
It is okay to prioritise what is best for you. You need to take care of yourself, so you are not too stressed out to enjoy the festivities. It is important for your mental and physical wellbeing to make sure you have some breathing space and time to let go of your stresses and worries. Talk to someone about how you are feeling, what you think you need for coping at Christmas and how they can help you.
Ask for help
If you live in Hull or the East Riding and you are finding coping at Christmas difficult or feel overwhelmed by expectations and financial worries, our experienced therapists at Space2BHeard can help you. You can read more about Space2BHeard and our vision, goals and commitment to the local Hull community on our about us page.
Our Let’s Talk service provides counselling to people suffering from depression or anxiety caused by stress, bereavement, relationship issues and eating disorders. All of these issues can cause or be brought on by Christmas anxiety. If you are in crisis, click the button on our homepage for a list of phone numbers you can call for immediate help.
It is widely recognised that one in six people struggle with their mental health within the workplace. If you manage a team and feel some members may find coping at Christmas a challenge, or you may be worried they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with the extra pressure, Space2BHeard has a number of options for workforce wellbeing available to local organisations and employers in Hull or the East Riding.