anxiety and the holidays

Anxiety and the Holidays: Tips to Help You Cope

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While many people consider the holiday season to be festive and fun, others dread this time of year because it can create additional stress and anxiety.  For many, anxiety and the holidays go hand in hand.

Anxiety and the Holidays

The holiday season between Thanksgiving and the New Year is marked by increased celebration, gift-giving, and social events for many individuals. And while these activities are often enjoyable for most people, they induce increased anxiety, stress, and depression for others. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that almost half of all women (44%) and one-third of all men (31%) feel increased stress during the holiday season. In addition, rates for mental illnesses, such as generalized anxiety disorder or depression, are even higher. Multiple factors may contribute to these feelings during this time of year, such as:

  • Worrying about the additional expenses that often accompany the holiday season. Additional financial pressures often come from purchasing gifts, travel expenses, fees at holiday events, and other costs associated with celebrating. 
  • Being busier than usual. This season comes with many obligations. It takes time to purchase gifts, do holiday baking, plan events, and travel. And these responsibilities are in addition to the stressors in normal daily life. 
  • Feelings of grief or loneliness are common for many people during the holidays, especially if they have recently lost family members, gone through a divorce, or cannot celebrate with loved ones. Those with social anxiety may also feel lonely since this condition can often result in the avoidance of all holiday social gatherings, reducing the likelihood that they will spend time with family and friends.
  • The colder weather and shorter days during the holiday season can often contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. While it’s normal to feel a little down during this time due to less exposure to sunlight, these feelings are more severe for certain individuals who may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder

These factors can limit or prevent many people from enjoying the holidays. 

Tips for Coping with Anxiety During the Holidays

There are many ways to reduce stress and anxiety during the holiday season. The following tips may be helpful. 

  • Simplify what you can: Much of the increased stress and anxiety during the holidays comes from feelings that you must spend a ton of money on gifts and prepare large meals that take a lot of preparation time. There are things you can do to simplify the holiday celebrations. For example, you can create a holiday gift rather than purchase. This can reduce feelings of financial pressure. It is also helpful to host potlucks rather than cooking a huge meal or attending expensive events. This reduces the amount of work that goes into any single social event.
  • Honor your feelings: It is ok to have feelings of grief or loneliness. Many people feel this way during the holidays but don’t speak with others about it. Reaching out to a mental health professional, friends, or family members to talk or finding appropriate support groups can help you cope. These feelings are a part of life. But rather than letting them continue to make you feel stressed, finding healthy ways to express these emotions can make the holiday season much more enjoyable.
  • Focus on your health: The hectic holiday season can affect one’s physical and mental health. So make time to prioritize your health, even if it means limiting what you accomplish during the holidays. It’s ok to say no to some events or even identify specific days for holiday shopping or baking so that you free up time for self-care.
  • Create plans: Feelings of anxiety during the holidays often come from feeling that you don’t have enough time, energy, or money to do what you think needs to be done. However, much of this anxiety can be reduced by planning. You can create a schedule that balances your time between holiday-specific tasks, your normal obligations, and downtime for you to attend to your own needs. This type of schedule can ensure you have the energy needed to still accomplish what you have planned for each day. Additionally, creating a budget can help you understand how to best spend your money without additional financial stress.

Feelings of anxiety and depression during the holidays are elevated for many people, but knowing there are skills you can use to decrease stress can be helpful. Finding a mental health professional that can work with you during this time of the year can be the first step in making the holidays enjoyable for you once again.    

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