The holiday season is a wonderful time of the year. Family, friends, good food, traveling, presents, parties, and the list goes on. Sometimes, however, the very things that make the holiday season special can cause added anxiety and stress. If you already deal with anxiety, the holiday season can ramp up those issues and leave you feeling less than jolly.
What Contributes to Holiday Anxiety
This is different for each person, but there are some common factors that many struggle with during this season:
- Unrealistic expectations. Wanting that picture-perfect Christmas experience sets the bar really high and can leave you anxious if you fall short (and let’s face it, nothing is ever as perfect as we imagine it will be).
- Changes in routine. School gets out and the kids are home, all the parties, holiday gatherings, and even changes in our diet can leave us feeling out of sorts.
- Less sunlight. Anyone else get hit hard by the changing season and it getting dark at 5:30pm? There’s actually a name for it: SAD (seasonal affective disorder); the colder temperatures and shorter days can lead to depression and anxiety.
- FAMILY. Really, this could be a book. Either you adore your family but can’t spend enough time with them due to distance or other factors, or there is tension with family and spending time with them causes anxiety. Then there are family members that are no longer with you and the feelings of loss and sadness are front and center.
- Financial stress. This can be the season of buy, buy, buy. It seems every store is having huge sales and the feeling is that you need to buy everyone a gift and buy, buy, buy. If you are on a budget or even conscious of your funds then this season can cause huge amounts of anxiety and lead to tension with your partner as well.
Fear not; there are some simple ways to manage these common factors once you are aware of them. Once you know what your triggers are, you can make a plan to work around them and enjoy your holiday season.
This is something I struggle with personally — I want a Pinterest-perfect Christmas and I want every.single.thing. to be special and memory-worthy. I also want to NOT have a breakdown, so this year I decided to give myself some grace and simplify our Christmas AND my expectations. Each person in my family picked ONE thing they really wanted to do this month and we voted on ONE family activity (we picked seeing Christmas lights, making Christmas cookies, LOTS of crafting, and hosting a family Christmas party). I also got super honest with myself about what I could accomplish as far as decorating/crafting/etc. I’ve let some things go and kept it simple this year.
We are already seeing the benefits of this — we’re spending more quality family time together, we feel relaxed, and we are enjoying these activities to the fullest. You can start by cutting out one or two activities this year and see how it goes for your family.
2. Stick to your normal routine as much as possible.
When the kids are out of school and we have to travel to see family, our routine goes right out the window. BUT that leads to some craziness. I’m talking Wild Wild West craziness. In an effort to combat these changes, we try to stick to our normal routine as much as possible and be flexible when we can’t. We try to keep bedtimes the same because sleep is life. Without sleep, my children and I become little zombies with attitude and nobody needs that.
I make a concerted effort to keep our diet the same, allowing for the occasional treats at parties and family gatherings. This is right up there with getting enough sleep because I have a tendency to think that food needs to be over the top and scream HOLIDAY during this season, but it also screams “Intestinal Distress, Mood Swings, and Irritability.”
3. Let there be light.
Days are shorter, so make the most of the daytime hours. I wake up and open ALL the windows in our house to let as much natural light in as possible. Unless it’s below 40F degrees and/or raining, we go outside every day. My kids can run around like maniacs and get some much-needed energy out and we all get some good sunlight. We make sure to bundle up with multiple layers and apply a thin coat of Vaseline to our cheeks (to prevent chapped skin) and go for walks, run around a playground, or do some simple quick crafts on the porch.
If you’re in an office setting, try taking breaks outside (just bundle up). There are also special lamps that are made for people with SAD that offer help as well — just consult your doctor before purchasing one!
Everyone’s family situation is unique, just like everyone’s anxiety issues. I don’t want to tell you how to deal with your family, so I’ll tell you how I deal with mine and maybe it can spark some ideas for you. We all have family members (or maybe even whole SIDES of family) who make us anxious. Whether it’s negative tension or something as simple as being TOO into the holidays, we all have them. When I’m around family and feeling particularly anxious, I take breaks. I step outside and get some fresh air and adjust my perspective. I go to the bathroom and splash my face with cool water and take some deep breaths (there are TONS of free deep breathing apps that can help you focus). I also remind myself that I don’t frequently see these family members and I can deal with an uncomfortable situation for one day — that really helps to remind myself that it’s temporary.
I have some family we can’t see until after the holidays and it’s hard not to be able to share Christmas with them when we want. I keep reminding myself that we DO get to see each other and focus less on the ‘when’ and more on enjoying the time we get to see them.
If you have family members who have passed away, it hurts during this time of year. I keep my focus on the times I did have with them; it’s helpful to look at pictures of them and talk about them with my daughter who didn’t get to meet them. When I do feel that sadness, I let myself feel it instead of ignoring it, but I make myself move on and not get ‘stuck’ in those feelings.
5. Budget? What’s that?
This is an issue I’ve struggled with and have made huge strides to combat. My husband and I make our family Christmas budget really early during the year — June/July early. We also make a list of every single person we will need to buy for. Why? Well, when the end of season sales start, I begin looking for inexpensive gifts and storing them in a designated spot. There’s nothing like buying presents early and then forgetting where you stored them, so make sure you pick one spot and stick with it.
I also adjust my gift-giving attitude. I no longer have to have every gift be huge and expensive. I can’t tell you how much stress this has lifted off my shoulders and my husband’s. We go into the Christmas season feeling prepared and determined. We leave the Christmas season feeling joyful that we didn’t overspend and are financially comfortable. This has been my favorite change I’ve made. I would get so stressed out over gifts and how to pay for them, but now I’m way more relaxed. I get lots of ideas from the YouTube channel Do It On A Dime. She is passionate about saving money and making inexpensive items feel luxe and creative. I also do many DIY gifts and gift baskets.
The fact is Mamas, we often bear the brunt of the holiday stress. My husband is a great helper, but I do the shopping, the decorating, and the mental planning. It gets overwhelming. Give yourself some grace this holiday season. You deserve it. You’re a great mom whether you buy all your cookies from the store bakery or make them yourself. You’re a great mom whether you decorate your entire house or only put up a few items. You are a great mom FULL. STOP. Be kind to yourself this season and give yourself grace.