10 tips for managing anxiety over Christmas
Christmas can generate a tidal wave of pressure, as many of us scramble for weeks to ensure a ‘perfect’ celebration. But the reality is that, for many, during the winter season and at Christmas in particular, anxiety is an unwelcome extra guest at the festivities.
As a therapist, here are my 10 top tips for making this period a little (or a lot) easier on yourself:
10 tips for managing anxiety over Christmas
1. Acknowledge the presence of anxiety
So it sounds a little obvious, but anxiety doesn’t disappear just because it’s Christmas. Anxiety is an additional stress that you are dealing with, on top of all the other accompanying stressors around the winter period. Be kind to yourself and give yourself credit for doing your best.
2. Recognise unrealistic expectations you are holding around Christmas
The holiday season often comes with a set of expectations, both internal and external. The pressure to have a ‘perfect’ Christmas and even the pressure to create magic for other people can feel like a burden.
It is helpful to remember that the majority of those cosy images of Christmassy bliss have been carefully arranged and photographed, to create the right mix of emotions in order to make you feel the urge to buy something, or in the case of social media, to give an impression of perfection and ease that doesn’t exist in reality.
Whilst it is nice to be inspired by Christmassy content, striving for unattainable Christmas perfection is utterly draining. Therefore, it’s better all-around to set some realistic expectations for yourself and others which are reachable, rather than stress-inducing.
3. Decide what are your ‘love to haves’ and ‘nice to haves’
Focus on specific things which truly matter to you and your loved ones and distinguish between your ‘love to haves’ and the ‘nice to haves’. This empowers you to choose to follow through on the things which light you up and remind yourself of what really matters the most.
Now that you’ve written your lists:
Cross out any items on your list which are not attainable or within your control - for example, “No arguments or tension between family members” is not within your control, and the relentless pressure to prevent others from arguing is likely going to have a negative impact on you.
Highlight the items on your list that are actually attainable and within your control - for example, “I’d love to take a few breaths and step away if I’m feeling drawn into an argument.” Or “I’d love to see a Christmas show with the kids.”
Create flexibility around how things can happen.
For example, “I’d love to see the Christmas lights switch on in town, but if it doesn’t work out as planned, we can drive around and look at the Christmas lights around the neighbourhood.”
Or “I’d love to go to the theatre, but a local performance at a Christmas market, or a cinema trip to see a Christmassy film would do too.”
4. Plan for some decompression time before and after overwhelming activities and tasks
You are a person, not a Christmas-generating machine. Allow yourself some time to build up to and recover after busy events by taking 10 minutes for meditation or breathing exercises to settle your nervous system.
Understand that it's OK to prioritise self-care over elaborate festivities. This is especially true if you have existing mental health concerns, as you may need extra time to tend to your needs. Doing so will help you to build up confidence in looking forward to similar activities in the future.
5. Socialise for your well-being
Often, during the Christmas season, there are plenty of social events, such as office parties or family reunions. However, as we all know, not all social occasions are restful, or restorative.
If you are likely to overstretch yourself this time of year, reach out to those people who are restful to be around and lift your spirits, regardless of whether there is a special Christmas event attached to it.
Recharge your social batteries in a way that suits you, and check in with yourself whether you need more, or better quality, social time.
6. Write down your worries, even the ridiculous ones
If you are prone to worrying, write down the specific worries you are having. Seeing them in black and white in front of you will help you to get distance from them, and likely some perspective too.
Experiment with CBT techniques:
- Rate each of your worries out of 10, based on how likely you think the scenario is likely to happen. 10/10 is extremely likely, 1/10 is extremely unlikely.
- Circle the areas where you think catastrophising may be sneaking in.
- Now choose a worry that's taking up a lot of mental energy and expand upon it. Journal about it, what resources you have to cope with the situation, and what choices you have.
If journaling is not your thing, then talking worries through with a friend can provide an external, objective viewpoint and help you see the situation more realistically, as well as explore options for tackling the problem.
7. Focus on ‘really small’ solutions
We often try to grapple with the huge, overwhelming, complex problems, “How do I remove anxiety over the Christmas period?” which are typically outside our immediate control and are too large to solve in one go.
Instead, focus on specific situations and how you might manage them. Asking yourself “What could I do now to make (situation) easier later?” will make a much bigger difference to your confidence in adapting to future challenges.
For example, “How could I re-centre myself again if I’m at the Christmas market and I start feeling a bit overwhelmed?”
Brainstorm possible suggestions:
- Breathing techniques which can be done anywhere.
- Stepping away for five minutes for a break.
- Moving into a less noisy area of the market.
- Allowing and accepting the feeling of overwhelm.
- Reminding myself “This is a stretch for me, but I have got this.”
- Compassionately deciding if it's too much of a stretch, and whether to leave the market, and be kind to myself regardless of which I choose.
- Saying to myself “I will stay for 10 more minutes, then see how I am.”
8. Back to basics
The same rules apply year-round; healthy food, sleep and exercise will help your anxiety levels, and it’s important to keep those things going over the winter.
9. Adopt some new beliefs that support you, and are flexible
Beliefs are not objective truths. They are the sayings and phrases which you assume to be true, about yourself, about Christmas and about life in general. The good thing is that you can change your beliefs over time, and you can let go of old beliefs which are holding you back.
Instead of “I must make the most of every moment” think, “There are highs and lows to everything, including Christmas.”
If you’re unsure whether to change a belief, ask the question, “Is this belief helping me, or constraining me?”
10. Set realistic expectations of your schedule, with your mental health in mind
Along with the tinsel and festivities, your well-being deserves a place in your schedule.
Whilst it is good to stretch yourself at the edges of your comfort zone, try to set realistic expectations for yourself which also take into account your mental health needs.
In practice this looks like planning in self-care before or after overwhelming activities, saying no to something which you feel you ‘ought to’ enjoy but actually don’t enjoy, and communicating openly with others when you are struggling.
This might be difficult for you if you struggle to believe that you deserve to feel comfortable and be accommodated. It might also be the case that those around you are less compassionate or accommodating towards you expressing these needs.
If this is describing you, then working with a competent and compassionate therapist can help you to believe that your needs are valid, and learn to treat yourself with the compassion that you deserve.
A therapist's closing thoughts
As we approach the holiday season, I sincerely hope that these practical tips on managing anxiety over Christmas have offered you a sense of comfort and empowerment. Navigating the festive period can be challenging, but by acknowledging anxiety, focusing on small solutions, and embracing realistic expectations, I trust that you'll create moments of ease and joy.
Remember, taking care of yourself is not a luxury but a necessity, and I hope these strategies serve as a source of support as you prioritise your mental well-being during this time.
If you would benefit from therapy for anxiety during this time, you can book a free 30-minute consultation call with me to talk about your specific needs.