When we think about winter holidays, we think of laughter, gift giving and cheer, right? The winter holiday season can contain all of those things but time and again Americans say it’s also a stressful time as well. Even if you’re not dreading this time of year, your habits and behavior might indicate a higher stress level than other times of the year. Today we’re looking at holiday stress and anxiety with a few suggestions to decrease the anxiety you may feel.
The most common reason for stress around the holidays are the financial expectations. Chances are you feel some pressure to ‘make the holidays memorable’. That could mean giving expensive gifts, throwing a great event or paying for travel. Gifts, parties and travel can be great, but they are also expensive. Being realistic about how much you can afford goes a long way to alleviating financial stress. You might not be able to make everyone’s holiday wishes come true, but being honest about your limits can be a lot less stressful than paying off high holiday bills for months afterward.
Relationship stress during the holiday season is very common as well. Many of our usual schedules are disrupted in December and January. Maybe the kids are home from school and you’re juggling work and parenthood in a way you don’t have to at other times of the year. Perhaps your partner or family members feel responsible for ‘making the holidays great’ and are also stressed. If you notice that the holiday season is also a time of arguments, pay attention to that.
If you take time off during the holiday season, make sure you take some time for yourself, and engage in activities that relieve stress. Getting some exercise, catching up with friends or making time for solitary hobbies aren’t what we think of as ‘holiday activities’ but they are just as important this time of year as they are in any other month. Many of us like to watch TV, eat comfort food and have an extra drink or two, but those habits aren’t likely to relieve stress in the long run. Eating or drinking more might lead to anxiety about not living up to your dietary goals or a commitment to drink a little less.
It may be that you had some bad experiences around the holidays in the past that lead to seasonal anxiety. It’s easy to think that past trauma is behind you and can’t affect the future, but people tend to have very long memories when it comes to trauma. For example, if you split up with a spouse around the holidays years ago, the stress of that breakup may linger for years to come. You may find that certain days, activities or even songs can lead to sudden anxiety.
The first step to handling seasonal anxiety is recognizing that it’s there. Noticing that you’re stressed out during the holidays (even if it’s only some of the time) is a clue that this time of year isn’t all fun for you. Once you’ve acknowledged that the holidays can be stressful, you can choose how to approach them.
Talking to friends and family about how you celebrate can help. Maybe you’d be more comfortable with a ‘one gift’ rule, or only giving gifts to immediate family.
Talking to a partner or spouse about the holidays ahead of time can help air some of the stresses. Maybe certain events are more stressful than others…say, a company party or large gathering. Recognizing stressful situations before they arise can be useful. Maybe your partner can help you plan for a stressful day ahead of time.
If you’ve experienced past trauma or loss around the holidays, that might be something to work through with a Vermont therapist. Friends and family might be able to hear you out on why the holidays aren’t always enjoyable, but there may be more there than a family member can help with. If speaking with a therapist during or after the holidays could be helpful, get in touch with us. We’re ready to discuss how talk therapy works and if it might be a good fit for you this time of year.