How to manage festive anxiety

It’s not always a time of festive cheer (Picture: Metro.co.uk/Getty)

The festive period is not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone.

Christmas can be a very anxiety-inducing period for people. The increase in social events, meals out, money spent and the general expectation of what Christmas ‘should’ look like can become extremely overwhelming. 

A recent survey by Harvard Medical School shows that almost two-thirds (62%) of people experience increased stress levels during the holidays. The additional financial pressures of Christmas, alongside the rising costs and increase in energy bills, are also likely to compound stress levels.

And for people who already deal with anxiety, it can become unbearable – with 64% of those who already have mental illnesses stating that Christmas time makes their conditions worse, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness.

‘The festive period is often filled with expectation,’ Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘There can be a lot of pressure to have the “perfect” Christmas, which can spur on anxious feelings, particularly if someone is already vulnerable to experiencing anxiety day-to-day.’

Christmas can also be an incredibly isolating period for people who do not have family or friends to spend the holidays with, or who are navigating the loss of a loved one.

This was the case for 39-year-old Emma Roberts, who lost her mum when she was just 11 years old – due to complications after giving birth to Emma’s younger sister.

‘After my mum died, Christmas became very anxiety-provoking for me. I would absolutely dread it and feel extreme panic on Christmas Day,’ the PA, infant sleep consultant and counsellor tells Metro.co.uk.

‘It was incredibly lonely, depressing and scary. I would feel so much dread and just wanted to be on my own because being without my mum was devastating.

‘Christmas is such a happy time for some, yet a time of deep anxiety, depression and loneliness for others.’

Over the years, she undertook therapy to grieve the loss of her mum, and now Emma has her own family to share new Christmas traditions with.

‘I’ve also listened to my anxiety and know how to calm it down. My own family helps that feeling of loss and grief, and I spend time with people I love,’ she explains.

‘I often see friends over the Christmas period, and this definitely helps.

‘There is still a sense of loss, but it’s easier to manage now. I no longer hide from the anxiety – I can accept it and live alongside it rather than running away.’

Emma's tips for coping with loss anxiety during Christmas:
Spend time with people who support you, who can make you laugh and who lift your spirits.
Understand why you are anxious and seek professional help.
Write down your feelings to lighten the load.
Go for a walk or do light exercise to help you feel less anxious and more relaxed.
Ask for help, you are not a burden, and the right people will be happy to help you.

What can be done to limit the general anxiety and stress that Christmas induces? (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Trying to coordinate Christmas as a blended family can throw in extra hurdles.

When 32-year-old Miryka Yeates shared Christmas with her partner, Martin, for the first time in 2016, she was ‘full of anxiety.’

‘He has four children with his ex, and I have two children from past relationships,’ the blended family guidance coach, from Warwickshire, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘I had so many worries and stresses about making it the perfect Christmas for everyone – like “would I be able to match up everyone’s schedules?”, “what if the other parents caused problems?” and “how could we make it fair for each child?”‘

And despite getting through the holidays in 2016, when Christmas 2017 came around, Miryka began to feel ‘nervous and restless’ again.

She adds: ‘I was so overwhelmed by everything, constantly worrying about everyone else’s Christmas and forgetting my own enjoyment in it all. I felt so isolated.’

Seven years later, the stress hasn’t gone.

Miryka continues: ‘We are a blended family, so schedules and fairness are always going to be there, but we talk more about how we feel. We have a routine now, and I look after myself more, which definitely helps if the overwhelm does set in.’

Miryka's tips for coping with blended family anxiety at Christmas:
Communicate with your partner so you can comfort and support each other.
Find your triggers and dig deep to find out why they bother you.
Manage your expectations of what Christmas should look like.
Give yourself permission to say no. It’s ok to say no to things that cause your more anxiety. 
Don’t forget yourself. Self-care is a great wait to help rebalance yourself and calm your mind. 

For a lot of people experiencing anxiety over this period, there won’t necessarily be a set cause. Christmas just might not be your ‘thing.’

So what can be done to limit the general anxiety and stress that Christmas induces?

How to cope with festive anxiety

Go at your own pace

Take it one step at a time (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

‘My advice would be to take your time and do things one step at a time,’ Jay Riggs, a health and wellness expert from Zeal CBD, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Christmas can be a very busy time of year, but if you need to slow things down and just take a break from all the parties, drinking, shopping or even socialising, then don’t feel bad about taking one.’

You might also find that public spaces can become too overwhelming with all the noises, lights, smells and long queues.

This can throw you off your routine and make it more challenging for you to go about your normal day-to-day. 

Jay  says: ‘Your friends and family will understand if you just need some alone time. But make sure you don’t isolate yourself.’

Be realistic and set boundaries

‘If you struggle with certain family members, be realistic about how much time is healthy to spend with them,’ says Dr Elena. ‘Instead of staying the night, visit them for lunch.’

And give yourself permission to say ‘no’. Don’t force yourself to be in situations you don’t want to be in. 

Keep your expectations modest

‘Don’t get hung up on what the Christmas holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel,’ says Dr Sue Peacock, a leading consultant health psychologist.

‘If you’re comparing your festivities to some ideal greeting card ideal, they’ll always come up short.’

Do something different

This year, if the prospect of the usual routine fills you with Christmas dread rather than joy, why not change it up? 

‘Try something different,’ recommends Dr Sue. ‘Have Christmas dinner at a restaurant. Spend Boxing Day at the cinema or get your family to agree to donate the money to a charity instead of exchanging presents.’

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Give yourself a break

‘Commit to doing things that nourish you and provide you with a sense of wellbeing’ (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

‘Christmas and the New Year period can be a time to dwell on imperfections, mistakes and things you’re not proud of,’ warns Dr Sue.

‘So be gentle with yourself and proud of how well you have coped with the year.’

Practice self-care 

‘Commit to doing things that nourish you and provide you with a sense of wellbeing throughout the holiday period,’ says Dr Elena.

She suggests running yourself an indulgent bath, keeping up with your exercise routine, or going for nice walks.

Get help

‘If you’re struggling, support is out there for you. Speak to your GP or a private therapist,’ says Dr Elena. 

‘The sooner you get the right support, the better your chances of making a speedy recovery.’

Need support?

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

If you’re a young person, or concerned about a young person, you can also contact PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide UK. Their HOPELINK digital support platform is open 24/7, or you can call 0800 068 4141, text 07860039967 or email: [email protected] between the hours of 9am and midnight.

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