Tame holiday stress and anxiety

There’s no doubt that for many Christmas and the arrival of New Year are moments of love, joy and happiness. But for others, the festive holiday is a period of stress and anxiety. We’ve spoken before about how there is always an emotional and mental intensity that comes with Christmas, allied with expectation about how one is supposed to behave, do and feel during the holidays. Frankly, Christmas and all its trimmings can be utterly exhausting, both mentally and physically. It’s little wonder then that for some Christmas is a time of real challenge.

The festive holidays, despite the promise of twinkling lights and more mince pies than are strictly necessary, are a time compounded with expectation – both at home and in your workplace. A US study in 2015 revealed that nearly 50% of workers dreaded the office party. We’ve all been there. While at home, according to some studies, there are at least six causes of Christmas holiday stress and anxiety. These include:

  • The absence of a loved one
  • Family misunderstandings (don’t mention Brexit during Christmas lunch!)
  • Economic stress
  • Physical exhaustion from trying to create the ‘perfect Christmas’
  • Loneliness
  • Mid-winter Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Combine all of that with New Year celebrations, where another year has gone and you’re forced to confront yourself with thoughts like ‘what have I done this year?’ and ‘where am I going?’

Not exactly a great festive holiday tradition, is it?

But that’s ok. If you are feeling anxious about impending celebrations, whether it’s due to one or many of the stress-inducing causes mentioned above, that’s ok. There is no need to blame yourself for how you feel. Because what you’re feeling is natural. We are hardwired to feel anxious some of the time, we are also hardwired to feel happy some of the time, because our experience of the world moment-by-moment is determined by the nervous system. Our system has two primary operating modes: joy and worry, or as William Blake said woe:

“Joy and woe are woven fine,

A clothing for the soul divine,

Under every grief and pine,

Runs a joy with silken twine.

It is right it should be so,

We were made for joy and woe,

And when this we rightly know,

Through the world we safely go”.

William Blake. Auguries of Innocence

Understanding Holiday Anxiety

So it’s ok to feel the way you feel. Learning to understand, accept and be with your Christmas apprehension and anxiety is the first step to taming it. And that’s exactly what Blake is telling us;  when we understand how we feel and then respond to it appropriately, then ‘through the world we safely go’. So how do we do that?

The first thing to do is give time to yourself. During the festive season, make sure you plan moments where you can disconnect and reconnect, so that you can take stock of where you are and what you’re doing. Our special, guided meditation below allows you that moment, listen now:  

Creating moments of stillness and relaxation will also help you to develop a sense of space and perspective for yourself, so that you can see beyond expectation away from what you think you should be doing, to what you actually can do at Christmas. This will help you to reset and energise, giving you time and space to evolve effective ways to respond to how you are feeling. It is then, according to experts, that you will be able to plan your way safely through Christmas and be able to manage those negative feelings and thoughts by planning to make happy work.

How to Manage Stress at Christmas
  • Make decision in advance, so you know how and with whom your holidays will be spent. Uncertainty and putting off decision-making can add enormous stress.
  • Shop early and allow time to wrap and post packages to avoid the shopping crush.
  • Ask for help from your family and children. Despite it being 2017, women tend to take on the brunt of preparation, when a team effort can be more fun.
  • Don’t buy things you can’t afford. Shame prevents people from being open about gift-giving when they can’t afford it. Instead of struggling to buy a gift, let your loved ones know how much you care and would like to, but can’t afford it. That intimate moment will relieve your stress and nourish you both.
  • Don’t allow perfectionism to wear you down. Remember it’s being together and goodwill that matters.
  • Make time to rest and rejuvenate, even amidst the pressure of getting things done. This will give you more energy.
  • Spend time alone to reflect and grieve, if necessary. Pushing down feelings leads to depression. Let yourself feel, then do something nice for yourself and socialise.
  • Don’t isolate. Reach out to others who also may be lonely. If you don’t have someone to be with, volunteer to help those in need. It can be very uplifting and gratifying.

We wish you all the best in your quest to tame holiday stress and anxiety. If you’d like to read more about getting greater joy from the holidays, take a look at our Christmas articles.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Written by: Mick Timpson

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