Christmas anxiety - Why do I feel the pressure to enjoy myself?
Do you have overwhelming feelings of anxiety which build up in the run-up to Christmas and feel like you want to hibernate from November to Jan 2nd? You are not alone!
Many of us start to get anxious about the Christmas season, from feeling pressure to spending time with people to worrying about what to buy as presents and food for the big day to the overwhelming cost of the season.
Does this sound familiar?
The pressure to buy the latest gift for our children or family members can be both costly and stressful.
Accepting invites and attending all the nights/days out with friends and family can get tiring and expensive.
In some families, getting together at Christmas can be challenging - historical issues, family disputes, feeling split between relatives or even having traumatic memories about this time of year are things that many of us have to deal with, add alcohol and some unresolved arguments and you have a recipe for a stressful, anxiety causing Christmas period.
We also miss loved ones who are no longer with us, loss, and grief impact us always but can be emphasised at this time, making us feel guilty for enjoying ourselves and guilty for not. This can have an impact and make us feel even more pressure to get through it, whilst not wanting to show our emotions to others in case we "spoil" the festivities.
Feeling the pressure to enjoy yourself and make sure everyone around you does too can be overwhelming, resulting in you wishing it was over or feeling anxious and low.
How can we manage all this stress and put boundaries in place to protect ourselves and not feel so much pressure to have to mask a "happy face"?
Coping with anxiety?
1. Try to put yourself first
Tips to help you say “no”
Take your time to respond to a request, try not to answer immediately, and try to be clear in advance about what you can, cannot and do not want to do so you can be prepared.
- “Can I get back to you?”
- “I will let you know by x date when I have checked my diary”
- “That would have been a lovely idea but unfortunately I am already committed”
Giving yourself time to think is being kind to yourself and helps you not to overcommit to things.
2. Financial commitments
Often, we feel we have to spend excessive amounts of money to keep up with other people, meet children’s expectations or commit to things we cannot afford.
Try to set a realistic budget, maybe agree this with a partner or family member and help each other stick to this. Make Christmas about being with loved ones instead of spending money.
If you have a large family or friendship group, perhaps others feel this financial strain too, maybe a Secret Santa would work rather than lots of presents and expenses.
3. Family time
Don't feel compelled to spend time with family or friends that trigger you or you feel will end badly.
One of the hardest things about Christmas is the pressure to spend time with people you don’t want to be with, difficult situations such as knowing that someone may be argumentative, unpleasant, or may act inappropriately may make you feel anxious.
These can all be real anxiety triggers and some of us get worried and upset about how things may turn out, often this is based on previous bad experiences.
Families who do not often spend much time together may have a different idea of “fun” so it may help to be clear about what the expectations may be so you are forewarned and can be mindful and prepared if you need to be.
If this sounds familiar, perhaps you could set your boundaries appropriately: maybe drive so you can leave at a certain time or state in advance what you are and are not comfortable with.
4. Preparation and anxiety
The run-up to Christmas can be more stressful than the day, try to keep this in mind when planning, and keep it simple where you can. Could you spread the preparation over a longer period maybe?
Ask yourself if something is really necessary. Do you want or need it? Is this an expectation you are trying to meet?
Maybe you could ask your partner, friend or family member for help and share the responsibilities and decision-making. Take some time out to relax and recharge along the way.
Loss and bereavement are never easy, at this time of year these feelings may be enhanced, it is normal to miss and feel the loss of ones we have loved, we can experience sadness, loneliness, guilt, feelings of isolation or even dark thoughts around this period. Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Don’t feel you have to put a “brave face on” for others. Reach out to neighbours or local charities/churches/social clubs if you feel alone at this time. Be kind to yourself and do as little or as much as you need.
6. Time out
If you can take time away from work or commitments, try to have a balance of things to do, we often get swept away by the hype, whilst socialising is fun to do it can, however, be sometimes overwhelming, ask yourself what you need. if it is relaxation, calmness, and time to recharge yourself, take that too. Sometimes it can be good to be out in the countryside or a local park, walking or just being in the outdoors can help you feel more connected and mindful of your thoughts and feelings.
As the pressure to enjoy oneself is ever present, social media can be a constant source of anxiety, 'Elf on the shelf', 'Girls' Party Nights' 'Children's Christmas Parties 'My Christmas Tree' 'My Christmas Cake' etc, the pressure seems to be more intense each year.
Could a social media break help? Perhaps being in “the moment” and living life through your own lens may ease some of that pressure you may be feeling.
A one-off counselling session can help you check how you are feeling, sometimes anxiety and overwhelming feelings can creep up and before we know it, we are heading for burnout, this is common at this time of year, and it may just be the space you need to find some clarity.
Check out some great tips from Mind for this Christmas period.