Great Expectations: Does Christmas make you anxious?

When we’re children, Christmas can evoke truly magical feelings of happiness and excitement about that special visit from Santa Claus. However, as adults, Christmas can get very complicated and trigger feelings of anxiety and stress.

The perils of expectations
One of the biggest roots of stress at Christmas is feeling the need to live up to certain expectations. From the picture-perfect family bliss we see projected in Christmas commercials, to hearing odes of festive cheer every time we walk into a shop, many of us have an unrealistic idea of what Christmas should look like.
We think that everyone is meant to be happy and generous at Christmas. That families should be getting along with each other. That everyone will receive the gifts of their dreams and that planning a decadent Christmas lunch for 20 people is a joyful experience. With these high expectations we place on ourselves, it’s no wonder we can end up feeling anxious, stressed and burnt out as the festive season wraps.

Financial pressure
Christmas is an expensive time of year and the financial pressures can place a burden on you and your family. Some general tips to help ease this pressure include:
+ Don’t do all your shopping at once. Try to begin your shopping a few months before Christmas so that you can space out your expenses.
+ Budget for Christmas by setting aside money throughout the year.
+ Set a gift limit. Some families agree on a maximum value that any gift can cost, while others have a Secret Santa to help prevent expenses from skyrocketing.
+ If you are experiencing financial hardship, consult a financial counsellor for expert advice and guidance.

Time pressure
Organising Christmas with your family can be an exhausting experience, which can leave you feeling so tired and overwhelmed that you’re unable to enjoy the day. To help manage this, consider:
+ Delegating your family’s Christmas lunch or hosting a buffet-style spread. Arrange for each family member to bring a plate of food or coordinate one of the courses.
+ Book a restaurant for a change. Many dining venues are open for Christmas and this can be a relaxing way to spend the day without the pressure of cooking and hosting.
+ Shop online. This eliminates the stress of negotiating the Christmas crowds, and can also help keep your spending under control.
+ Use relaxation techniques in the lead up to Christmas to help manage rising levels of stress and anxiety

Social isolation
While some people feel anxious about their festive family get togethers, others struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation at Christmas. We’ve suggested some ways to help overcome these feelings in a previous blog post.

Family tension
No family is perfect, and most families have some degree of tension. The key is to have realistic expectations when it comes to Christmas with your family. Just because it’s Christmas, this won’t mean that existing issues in your family dynamic will magically disappear – so don’t set yourself up for disappointment.
+ Split up family gatherings to separate any simmering tensions. For example, you might have dinner with your in-laws on Christmas Eve, and lunch with your side of the family on Christmas Day.
+ Don’t oversupply alcoholic beverages if this tends to bring out high emotions at your family get togethers.
+ Break up the day and ease tension with light-hearted games and activities – from a round of cards to a game of backyard cricket.
+ Take time out if you need it. Excuse yourself from the table and take a walk outside or listen to some relaxing music.
+ If the family dynamic has become toxic and causes you stress that you feel unable to manage, consider spending some of your Christmas in the company of friends.