Christmas may be “the most wonderful time of the year”, as in the lyrics to the song, but it can also be a recipe for stress and anxious thoughts. The pressure to make things perfect, extra cooking, eating and drinking to entertain guests, spending more, increased social commitments for work, family and friends - it can all add up and feel overwhelming. And it’s dark, cold and often unwelcoming outside.

With the downturn in the economy and rising prices, many are also experiencing some financial anxiety over Christmas. Worries about how far your budget is going to stretch over the festive period, uncertainty about your job or what the future holds, or needing to hold back on your usual festive plans to keep a ‘just in case’ fund for whatever 2023 may bring - these will all affect how stressed you feel about Christmas.

There are many reasons Christmas can be stressful, or bring up feelings of anxiety or sadness, such as memories of grief and loss. While you can’t change how the rest of the world celebrates, you can make small changes to your festive season to reduce stress and increase your sense of calm.

Tips on how to manage Christmas stress and anxiety

Accept that the festive period brings lots of emotions

If you’ve always found Christmas stressful or have found it upsetting since you experienced grief, it’s likely to be so again. Acknowledging this in advance can help you prepare and make plans to cope with how you might feel.

Understand what brings you anxiety about Christmas

Do you know what makes you stressed, unhappy or anxious about Christmas? If you aren’t sure, take some time to think back over previous years. Was it money worries, too much cooking, being exhausted, staying with relatives, the same argument with the same person or sadness about something in the past? Once you know what your triggers are, you can start thinking about how you can reduce or avoid them. Then have a more chilled out Christmas. 

Ask yourself what a ‘perfect’ Christmas looks like

Lots of the pressure of Christmas is about making it ‘perfect’ for other people, often children. However, it’s worth asking yourself what you really value about the festive period. Because everyone’s version of an ideal Christmas will look different and it’s about deciding what’s important to you as an individual and as a family. Take a step away from what advertising tells you everyone ‘ought’ to enjoy and ask yourself what you really want to get out of it all. And remember: imperfect can sometimes deliver the most genuine moments of all.

Manage expectations and reduce Christmas stress

Let your friends and relatives know that you’d like this Christmas to be a bit different. Maybe you won’t be cooking an elaborate feast, you’d like to plan in some slower moments or dedicate some time to getting outside, or maybe you’re planning to keep present-giving to a minimum. Whatever it is, letting other people know in advance means that everyone has similar expectations. You may also find that your extended family is relieved to have a more relaxed Christmas too!

Plan ahead to avoid Christmas anxiety

It can feel like there’s so much to get ready for Christmas, even once you’ve pared everything back to what’s most important. To help manage this, get your diary out and plan specific times for things like shopping, wrapping, or making food. That way, you can feel more in control of what you need to get done and also let others know when they can best help.

Keep up healthy habits

Traditionally, Christmas is a time for TV and over-indulgence. But, if the season tends to make you feel stressed, anxious or unhappy, taking a break from your healthy habits will exacerbate the problem.

These healthy habits will sustain you not just in December but throughout the year:

Take a break from Christmas stress

When we feel stressed or anxious, it is hard to remember how to relax and even harder to make ourselves do it. Make it easier for yourself by creating a list of things in advance that make you feel less stressed in one, five or ten minutes. Simple ideas are: a cup of herbal tea, texting a friend, listening to your favourite song, asking for a hug, going for a quick walk, or closing your eyes and breathing deeply. Taking a break doesn’t have to be anything fancy!

Share your concerns

Talking about any worries or unhappiness you have is the very best thing you can do for yourself. Think about at least one person you can open up to now and keep talking to them as Christmas draws closer. If you need to speak to a crisis helpline, a full list of resources can be found here:

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You’re likely to get more stressed the more concerns you have about money. When stress is long term and ongoing, it can have significant negative effects on your body; find out more about dealing with stress...