Holiday Anxiety: 5 reasons you might NOT look forward to the festive season


Here’s my post from many years back on holiday anxiety— because it’s important to say that understandably, it’s a very stressful time for many people. Approach the holidays with caution and be kind to yourself!

Last Christmas was a peculiar affair for me.

For the first time in years, I didn’t head interstate. With some trepidation, I asked my family for the year off to catch my breath and de-stress. They gave me the okay without hesitation or fuss. Lovely.

I would relish catching up on some rest. I was looking forward to this strange Christmas and on balance. In the end, it was fine. But, not as easy as I’d expected.

I planned to drive my family to the airport, then on to the office. See the few of my counselling clients who themselves had yet to quit for the year and wind up the afternoon righteously with some last-minute admin.

Then I’d chill out as I pleased, all smiles…

As I drove away from the airport, my bursting into tears took me completely by surprise. However, the pangs of guilt on Christmas morning did not.

Just as strange as my quiet morning was Christmas afternoon at the movies. It was fun to hang out with my teenage nephew and I laughed loads with him at the Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy film–but surely this couldn’t be Christmas day.

It was totally different to past years but pleasant–even if it hadn’t been so pleasant planning with my ex-brother-in-law, in order to see my nephew.

Relatively speaking, the entire experience was low stress, but it highlighted some reasons Christmas can be so damn painful for so many people.

holiday anxiety

Christmas holiday truths I’ve learned from being a counsellor

Aside from any personal experience, in my counselling work, I am well acquainted with the challenges and stress that holiday anxiety brings.

Some people have high hopes and will indeed have a lovely time. Others expect to, and will enjoy some of it. But for many, Christmas will bring pain or disappointment.

It’s an impossible to set up for many reasons–here are the main ones.

‘Tis the season to be jolly (regardless of how you really feel)

For a start, you are supposed to be joyous and you only get one chance a year to get it right–to live up to the celebrations, the tradition, the image of ‘happy families’.

Whether it comes from old childhood wishes, the hype in the media and retail spaces, or endless Christmas lunches, drinks and festivities, we’re primed with expectation.

It’s an awful lot of pressure.

No matter how tight your budget is, gifts are a must. No matter how stressful things have been, you must get into the spirit of the holidays. No matter the arguments about where and with whom to spend Christmas day, you forge on.

Yet the holidays don’t diminish stress or debt. More likely, they exacerbate them.

Christmas doesn’t cure illness or mend broken hearts. It doesn’t solve conflict and is often a source of holiday anxiety.

Whatever your struggles may be, at Christmas you expect or are expected to be jolly.

It can be tough.

When your regular schedule grinds to a halt stress can escalate

You lament your “daily grind” but the predictability of your usual routine supports you. This is especially true in the lead up to the holidays when you’re insanely busy.

Then, suddenly, everything stops. Routine collapses.

No work. No Friday night drinks with the usual crowd. Maybe no classes, personal training or counselling.

At a potentially challenging time, it can be tough without the usual distractions to keep you busy. And tougher when your usual support team is unavailable–off facing their own family.

You may experience a kind of busyness hangover–part exhaustion, part agitation.

You may have felt alone, with too much time and space to think and worry. Perhaps there are issues that have until now only niggled at you. When holidays kick in and the fog of the rat race clears, these can loom large and be unsettling.

Family is family, and it’s not always love, fun and games.

Those old dynamics are always there, whether out in the open or bubbling underneath. At any moment, a simmer can build or someone can blow.

Who skimped or splurged on gifts? Who’s being passive aggressive? Who’s not helping? Who’s getting louder and ruder with every passing hour?

Unresolved issues and old rivalries too easily erupt on this annual, consumption-fuelled, family-focused festival. Instead of the celebrations being a joyful time, they can be strained or even a complete disaster.

You might be relieved when it’s all over.

holiday anxiety

Feelings of loss and longing can arise

Birthdays, anniversaries and other special days often trigger grief–loss of a loved one, longing for the past or for the life we hoped to have.

Christmas does the same on an enormous scale.

Perhaps your loss is experienced by waking on Christmas morning knowing your children are with your ex. Maybe it’s remembering Christmas as it was before a loved one died. Or maybe it’s because of being away or alone when you would rather not be.

Little is more painful than feeling alone or bereaved when you ‘should’ be celebrating with loved ones.

Holidays mark the passing of time

Annual events confront you with passaging time.

Each Christmas has you think of past Christmases. Often you see people you haven’t seen for an entire year.

You’re a year older, the littles are bigger and the oldies aren’t getting any younger either.

With that sense of another year having passed, you can’t help but reflect–a good thing perhaps, a confronting thing, likely.

It might or might not be as big as being confronted with your own mortality–but certainly you can take a serious look at yourself and your life. Is this where you wanted to be by now? Are things the way you want them to be and how do you hope they’ll be next Christmas?

If the holidays make you reflective and heavy-hearted, you are not alone!

Bah humbug… not

Despite appearances, I’m not anti Christmas. I’m not advocating a ban.

I simply suggest an acknowledgement of how the festive season can contribute to holiday anxiety. Beware of your expectations.

The usual holiday tips apply, with a couple of extras:

  1. Try for moderation in all that you consume.
  2. Get into nature as often as you can.
  3. Make time to be active and to rest.
  4. Take time out from family where applicable.
  5. Have briefings and debriefings with someone who won’t judge you for a lack of Christmas spirit.

I won’t say happy holidays–instead, be kind to yourself. I’m all for peace and goodwill!

How will you meet the challenges of holiday anxiety?