For many of us, the festive period brings all sorts of difficult feelings, including stress, anxiety, relationship fears and memories of past losses. If this is the case, then ‘Christmas Anxiety’ can make this painful period even longer and harder to endure. It might be tempting to ‘put on a happy face’ and mask how we are feeling inside. And in some situations, that might simply be what’s required in order to cope or to avoid awkward questions. But that can in turn make us feel worse, as it encourages us to suppress difficult feelings, which can leave them to fester and spiral. I spoke to Popsugar all about Christmas anxiety. Click here to read the full article, or read on to learn what I had to say.
Christmas anxiety and financial pressures
There’s a universal sense right now that many of us are struggling financially with the increased cost of living. The Christmas period can bring with it an added layer of financial pressure. Increased demands on us to socialise, to buy gifts, and to host our friends and family.
Make a budget for the festive season, and challenge yourself to stick to it. You might need to find creative ways to make your pennies stretch, but it will be better for your own wellbeing if you’re not stressed out about making ends meet or taking on extra debt.
Learn how to say ’no’. This can be hard for all of us, particularly those of us with people-pleasing tendencies. But imagine how liberating it would be to avoid spending money on unnecessary gifts or social events that you really don’t want to attend.
Suggest alternatives. Sometimes the festive pressure on spending comes from group events or gift-giving where the budget is simply out of our reach. Find the courage to suggest an alternative venue or price limit. Be honest about your motivation. Other people may well thank you for it.
Christmas anxiety and Bereavement
Christmas can be full of emotional triggers if we have lost someone who we love. We might still be grieving a past loss, or we might be processing new grief from someone who has died this year. If it’s the latter, the ‘first Christmas’ can be extremely exhausting to navigate after we have lost a loved one.
Remember that there is no set framework for grief. You feel however you feel, and the depth of your emotions might change each day. Accept that Christmas might be a difficult time and allow yourself to experience your sadness, frustration or anger.
Lean on your support network. Your friends and family might be incredibly supportive. But sometimes people don’t quite know how to help us to navigate our grief. Ask for help if you need it. You might want practical support, or you might want company, or you might want peace and quiet. Voice what you need.
Think about your traditions and rituals. You might want to continue all the same traditions exactly as they were. Or you might want to introduce something new, as part of your own mourning process.
Christmas anxiety and Cultural differences
Everyone has different expectations and traditions at Christmas time. If your cultural or family background means that you don’t feel that you fit into the traditional mould of Christmas celebrations, that might leave you feeling uncomfortable or out of place.
Consider whether you want to mark the festive season. It might not feel appropriate for you to take on the stereotypical traditions of excess and decorations and gift-giving. But in any case, you might find that the festive season and the leadup to the New Year offers you an opportunity to reflect and spend time with your loved ones. Alternatively, remember that there shouldn't be a pressure or social expectation to mark the festive season.
Christmas anxiety and Loneliness
Christmas can be a difficult time if we are feeling lonely. And remember, loneliness isn’t about being surrounded by people. We can feel lonely even when we are in a crowded room. Loneliness comes when we feel isolated and disconnected. I've commented here for the Irish Examiner on how to cope with family tensions at Christmas, as this can really contribute towards a sense of isolation. I've commented here for Stylist about the idea of 'oversharing' at Christmas, and what it might mean. Popular culture suggests to us that everyone around us is happily spending time with their loved ones. So if we are already feeling lonely, then the onset of the festive season can heighten these feelings.
If you’d like to spend Christmas with people, but you don’t have anyone to spend it with, consider reaching out to one of the many voluntary organisations that support people at Christmas. This will give you an opportunity to be around other people and connect, while giving back to the community.
Remember that there is no requirement to celebrate or to mark the festive season. If you’re feeling lonely, and the idea of a Christmas dinner-for-one doesn’t appeal, then you can do something else. You are allowed to choose exactly how you spend the day.
Consider what might ease your loneliness. Perhaps you’d like to make contact with a friend or relative, but you’re feeling frightened or worried about doing so. Reflect on what’s holding you back, and think about how you might be able to challenge yourself to reach out.
Christmas anxiety and Sadness, or worry about the state of the world
When we turn on the news, or talk about current affairs, we can be overwhelmed with sadness or worry about the state of the world. And it can be hard to reconcile these feelings with our desire to be joyful, relaxed and carefree at Christmas. We might find ourselves tinged with anger or anxiety or guilt at the thought of celebrating while life is so hard and full of conflict for so many people.
Remind yourself that it’s common to feel guilty or uncomfortable about being joyful when other people are living in conflict or fear.
Resist the urge to fall down a rabbit warren of worry about things that you can’t control. You might notice certain activities trigger an escalation of your sadness, for example watching the news or scrolling on social media. Think about what boundaries you need to have in place so that you can look after your own emotional wellbeing.
Channel your strong emotions. If you’re feeling sad or worried, think about what you can do or what you can control. When we experience existential fears about the state of the world it can feel overwhelming because it’s so far out of our control. But you might find small, practical ways that you can support your local community, or communities further afield, and make a tangible difference.
Understanding other people if they're not feeling very festive
If you’re tempted to criticise or judge someone who isn’t feeling christmassy, try to put yourselves in their shoes. We never know what someone else is carrying around. Maybe the idea of Christmas fills them with dread or worry or anxiety, and perhaps it triggers reminders of things that they would rather forget. Resist the urge to turn it into a joke and call them a Scrooge. If it feels appropriate, show your compassion and curiosity. Offer them a listening ear.
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I love working with people to help them to understand themselves.