The most wonderful time of the year — or the most stressful? For some, it’s the season to be jolly; for others, not so much. And for most of us, it’s a bit of both. If you feel like the holidays aren’t as merry and bright as carols might have you believe, you’re not alone.
According to a study done by the American Psychological Association, more people (38%) are inclined to feel that their stress increases, rather than decreases (8%), around the holidays and in a poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association in 2021, when adults were asked “how would you describe your emotions towards the upcoming holiday season?” about a fifth of respondents wrote in stress, anxiety, sadness, or depression.
There are plenty of reasons the holidays can bring on stress and anxiety. In this post, we’ll explore a few of those reasons and dig into a few ways you might be able to cope.
For many people, the holidays are…a lot. A lot of food, a lot of family, a lot of things to do, and a lot of work. It makes total sense that stress and anxiety can skyrocket during this time.
In addition to typical stressors like work and family, there are gifts, travel, shopping, cooking, decorating, and any number of other things to do around the holiday. Not to mention the additional cost that comes along with all of these extra things.
During the holiday season, people report worrying most about time, money, and the commercialism of the holidays. Most Americans are most stressed about work and money year-round, and while time might creep into the top spot over the holidays, the work pressure is still present, but sometimes in different ways.
Instead of stressing about meetings or seeing your boss, you might stress about being contacted when you’re on vacation or taking time off, or feel anxious about the state of your inbox once you get back.
Holiday travel, daytime dinners, or dependents home from school or childcare can disrupt your typical day-to-day, which can be stressful even if things seem to be running smoothly. All of this disruption can make it even harder to maintain healthy habits.
Food around the house might mean constant snacking, and not all of the healthy variety. Parties or gatherings might mean late nights or overindulging in alcohol. Travel can cause exhaustion or jetlag and if you’re visiting relatives or need to make space for visiting relatives in your own home, you might not be sleeping as well as usual.
Self-care practices like exercising, personal time, or normal activities might be canceled or rescheduled to make way for festivities. That’s not always a bad thing, but if your version of self-care is daily yoga, a walk in the park, or quiet time crafting or doing other activities, it might feel a bit draining to have everything replaced by holiday to-dos.
Post-holiday blues occur when something we’ve been looking forward to or something we’ve enjoyed (or built up in our heads that we should enjoy) is over and the mundanity of everyday life sets in, leaving us feeling a bit bummed out.
Even if we find the holidays stressful, the all-encompassing nature of the holiday season suddenly disappearing when the holidays are over can leave us feeling empty or listless. The anticipation of the crash after the holidays can add to the stress of being in the holiday season itself.
Holiday stress and anxiety can have many of the same side effects as year-round stress and anxiety, like disruptions to sleep, aches and pains, and gastrointestinal problems.
Stress or anxiety that spikes during the holidays is normal, but it’s different from clinical anxiety or depression in that it is tied to a specific time and would be expected to wane when the holidays end. If you deal with a mental health condition year-round, take extra care during the holidays to keep from adding to your mental health burden.
Whether you’re experiencing holiday-specific stress and anxiety or clinical anxiety, your feelings and experience should be taken seriously, so be sure to find support rather than brushing it to the side.
Just as there’s not one way to celebrate the holiday season, there’s not one way to take care of your mental health. Eating healthy, being active, getting enough sleep, and positive thinking can all help us to mitigate the effects of stress and anxiety on our bodies, but there is no one right way to complete any of these things, so take what works for you, leave what doesn’t, and customize as you see fit!
Preventive self-care means engaging in self-care activities or making a plan to practice self-care before stress and anxiety take over. When we practice preventive self-care, we're better equipped to cope with the effects of stress and anxiety when they strike.
Because so much is going on during the holidays, we often lose sight of our basic necessities. Ensuring that we're taking care of ourselves ahead of time and paying attention to what our bodies are telling us may help us reduce or even eliminate the effects of stress and anxiety during the holidays.
Before the holidays begin or before you go to a potentially stressful event, think about your potential stressors. Are you going to encounter toxic family or friends, will you struggle to be around alcohol or food, or will you have to cope with social anxiety or grief? Awareness of our triggers can help us prepare ahead of time with the best coping mechanisms for us or help us seek support from friends, family, or therapists who can support us.
If it helps, you can make a list of potential triggers, a list of people or activities who can lean on for support, a calendar so you can plan and prioritize which events you'll attend and which you might decline, or schedule for when you'll do extra holiday tasks or activities like cooking, shopping, for decorating — and be sure to schedule time for self-care in there as well.
During the holidays, there's a lot of pressure to be happy all the time. It's in movies, songs, and it's just the general Vibe at most Gatherings or events. People assume that family gatherings are joyous occasion for everyone, but that's rarely the case. People assume that giving and receiving presents is a completely positive situation, but because of finances or any number of past issues, this isn't true for everyone.
The high expectations for happiness around the holidays can rarely be matched by the reality of our day today. Trying too hard to be happy often has the opposite effect. First validate the fact that you can't be happy all the time. acknowledge when you're feeling other emotions such as guilt, loneliness, anger, jealousy, and more. Avoid using unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol, as these can often intensify the feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Whenever you can, find folks who make you feel good or support you when you're not feeling your best and spend time with them. Even if it happens after the holidays, it's nice to be able to look forward to that support system and returning to a sense of normalcy.
Personal boundaries can be thought of like rules you set to manage stress, anxiety, other emotions, and/or your physical space. Just because things are happening during the holidays, like parties or travel, or people expect things of you, like gifts or conversations, doesn’t mean you have to say yes to every single thing.
You don't need to be completely overwhelmed or suffering in order to work with a therapist. Even if you're simply coping with some additional holiday stress, a therapist can help you set healthy boundaries and develop effective coping mechanisms.
If you been feeling Anxious, overly stressed, or depressed for two or more weeks and you're not currently working the therapist, talk to your doctor About your mental health or consider starting work with the therapist.
If you already see a therapist, try your best to keep your appointments during the holiday season, even when things get overwhelming or busy. Of all the routines to stick to, the ones that support your mental health are the most important.
If you haven't started working with the therapist yet, adding that to your plate during the holidays might seem like a burden. Maybe you’ve seen a therapist in the past and have been thinking about starting again, or maybe you’ve never seen a therapist and this is your first time — either way, we’re here for you. Here’s how to create your plan to start therapy in the new year.
It's not easy to look after your mental health during the holidays. Expectations and responsibilities are high and the constant pressure to be happy or do all the things can be draining. Financial strain and responsibilities can add to our stress, as can The expectations and needs of friends and family.
When things get overwhelming, it can help to focus on the little things that keep us grounded and supported. Getting some fresh air, setting and maintaining boundaries, taking a break from television and screens, moving our bodies, and being grateful for things that truly make us happy, can all help us combat the effects of stress and anxiety .And if you're ready to take the next step end work with a therapist who can support your mental health alongside you, we're here to help.
Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.