5 psychologist-approved ways to reduce your festive anxiety

While stereotypically, the festive season is a time of joy, it can actually be pretty stressful. We asked an expert how to minimise anxiety at this time of year so you can feel the holiday spirit.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” so the iconic Christmas carol goes, that is unless you have a family like the Griswold’s and then, well, you may feel like more singing whatever the Grinch’s favourite holiday tune is.

Whether it is the stress and worry created by a Griswold-esque family dynamic brought together for the silly season, or from one of the other multitudes of things that we face at this time of the year, if you’re feeling not quite yourself, you might just be experiencing the very un-festive, festive anxiety.

According to Clinical Psychologist Dr Linda Davey, festive anxiety is actually pretty common.

“It’s not surprising that psychologists are traditionally very busy leading up to Christmas, particularly this year with borders closed and not being able to plan and people are also worried about separation from loved ones,” she tells Body+Soul.

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The causes of festive anxiety range but can generally be categorised into five groups Dr Davey. She also offers solutions for each one.

1. Financial anxiety

Financial pressures over the festive season can be a major issue for many of us. Whether it is the cost of presents, other expenses such as food, social events, or the holidays that follow Christmas, costs can add up quickly.

Data by finder.com.au shows that Aussies spend $1,325 on average each for Christmas, and 22 percent of Victorian families have struggled with their mortgage payments at least once during the festive season.

This year, with the added pressure of COVID where redundancies, job losses or reduced income have increased, this pressure is no doubt being felt even more.

The solution: Budget so that you are spending within your means. Utilising systems like Kris Kringle, so you are not buying presents for the entire family, can help. Remember the old adage ‘it’s the thought that counts’ when choosing gifts. Often a simple gift or a handmade item can bring joy.

2. Unrealistic expectations for the perfect Christmas

Whether we have an idea in our mind similar to Clark Griswold’s Christmas light display, or a hopeful anticipation of family togetherness like the McCallisters reuniting after leaving their son at home, our expectations of the festive season can often be unrealistic, which in turn sees us disappointed when they don’t come to fruition.

The solution: As the Griswold’s definitely proved, despite the best efforts to create the most perfect Christmas, it often doesn’t turn out that way and instead sees a literal explosion of sh*t. So, to avoid such an extreme outcome (or aeroplanes trying to land on your overly Christmas lit roof), set realistic expectations. Remind yourself that you don’t need to put on the ‘perfect Christmas event’.

3. Grief and loss

Whether it is the first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, or perhaps just a sense of missing them moreover this time, the festive season can be difficult for many who have lost someone close and bring up feelings of grief.

The solution: If it’s the first Christmas without a loved one, it can be extremely emotional and stressful. Find ways to include the memory of the person in the day. Also, acknowledge your feelings and reach out to family and friends for extra support.

4. Family dynamics and separation

Yes, yes, the Griswold’s again but this family shows us that we definitely don’t choose our family. And whether it is a crazy cousin like Eddy, in-laws we just can’t quite connect with, family estrangement or separated and divorced families, often the festive season can become a source, or at least a time for conflict because family get-togethers over this time are often when these issues arise.

The solution: If you are seeing family members with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye, try to set aside your differences for the day and don’t bring up topics of contention. Remind yourself it’s only for one day, that you can’t change another person, and that everyone’s well being is affected if things go pear-shaped.

5. Loneliness and isolation

For many people, and for a variety of reasons, Christmas can be a time without others, reinforcing their sense of loneliness and isolation.

The solution: If you are feeling lonely or isolated whether it be from enforced COVID border restrictions or for other reasons, reaching out to others can help.

For those on their own, phone or zoom a friend, or a faraway family member, visit a neighbour or volunteer on Christmas Day. Community events like Christmas get-togethers or community carols can also be a great way to improve your outlook and create a sense of connection and community.

Finally, if you are feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, seek the help of a health professional like a counsellor or your GP.

Another thing to note:

While the world’s healthy habits may not often be synonymous with the silly season, they are imperative to our physical and mental health.

Limiting alcohol intake, avoiding the urge to overeat, as well as maintaining your exercise routine, finding time for yourself to take a breather and making sure you get enough sleep can all make a big difference.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.