Extra socializing, spending, decorating, traveling and accommodating can stir up holiday anxiety even when the holidays are something we look forward to. We love the holiday season but dread the low-level anxiety (sometimes not so low-level) that comes along with it for many of us.
In an effort to numb that anxiety, we often over do it. We get busier, drink more, spend more and do more. We over-do so we don’t have to over-feel. I get it, I’ve done it and I’m not doing it that way anymore.
We all experience the holidays and holiday anxiety differently so this isn’t an exact prescriptive. Take what works best for you and leave the rest behind. If you aren’t sure, treat these recommendations as experiments. Be curious and flexible.
I recently asked the Be More with Less Instagram community if they experienced holiday anxiety and what caused it and received hundreds of responses. More responses than from any other question I’ve every asked. Reasons for holiday anxiety included …
- Gift buying
- Gift giving
- Gift receiving (especially while paring down on stuff)
- Trying to make everyone happy
- Trying to do it all
- My expectations
- Family expectations
- Family dynamics
- Family drama
- People commenting on what I eat or drink (or don’t)
- Wanting it to be perfect
- Not enough time
- Not enough money
- Not enough energy
5 ways to relieve holiday anxiety
Choose one of these suggestions to reduce or remove holiday anxiety in an area that stresses you out.
1. Relieve holiday anxiety by rethinking how you gift
Gift exchange is one of the top sources of holiday anxiety which means … you aren’t the only one. It’s very possible you are exchanging gifts when you don’t want to with someone who also doesn’t want to. There’s only one way to know and that is having conversations with people you usually exchange gifts with and adjusting accordingly.
Decide what works best. Presence before presents and then gifts, no gifts, some gifts … you decide. Agree to a lunch, dinner or a hike together instead of gifts or exchange consumable gifts if that’s what you agree on.
If you want to gift non-thing things, here are a few things I recommend …
- Meditation: Give the gift of guided meditation with the Headspace App. You can gift anywhere from a month at a time to a lifetime subscription.
- Start a tiny book club: Invite a friend to start a tiny book club with you. Gift them a Book of the Month Club membership and you can pick from a selection of books each month to read and chat about.
- Getaway: Plan a weekend getaway (stay or experience) with Airbnb. From creative and cooking classes to outdoor adventures, gift an experience and make memories.
- One less gift: If gift giving isn’t for you this year, and you want to give your friends and family permission to opt-out, send them this certificate for one less gift.
- Donate/Volunteer: Make a donation in the name of friends and family. You may also choose to volunteer together in lieu of exchanging gifts.
2. Remove expectations about how the holidays should be.
Holiday anxiety happens when the holidays fall short of our expectations, or when we think we are falling short of the expectations of others. When it comes to the holidays falling short, start by working on staying present. Find joy every day by noticing what you are grateful for. When things go sideways or don’t turn out as you had hoped, instead of getting lost in despair, be rescued by gratitude.
Consider gentle conversations with people you love or people you haven’t seen for a while before holiday get togethers. Not to manage expectations but to encourage love and connection in better ways. Reconnecting prior to a social event, especially a potentially high-tension gathering will help to ease some of the anxiety you may be experiencing.
When it comes to the expectations of others, remind yourself that they are out of your control. You don’t get to decide or manage what other people expect, or how they feel or deal with things. That’s not part of your job description. It can’t be. You are up to you — your feelings, reactions and expectations —all up to you. Their feelings, reactions and expectations — not up to you. This should be incredibly freeing to know. If you can’t control or change it, why spend any more time feeling anxious about it?
3. Reduce your holiday anxiety by doing less.
Honor the yes AND the no. When you have trouble resisting or saying no to everything that comes your way, remember how you feel when you say yes to too much. Then think about how you feel when you say yes to the right things, to what matters most to you. When you say yes to what you care about and what you love, it feels so good. In order to do that, you have to say no to the rest.
Make a list of all of the holiday things you do. Include gifts, decorating, events, baking, holiday cards and everything in between. Consider cutting out some of the things you do because you think you are expected to do them and prioritize the things that bring real meaning and joy to you and your family.
If you think that protecting time for what matters is selfish, remember how much more giving and loving you can be when you are healthy, rested, and engaged in your favorite things. It’s from that fulfilled place that you can give and serve in ways you just can’t when you are overwhelmed and exhausted. Here are some ways you can take care of yourself during the holidays.
The most meaningful holiday seasons aren’t the ones with the most presents, the best meals, the craziest parties and the least amount of sleep. We find meaning in the holidays and all of our days when we create space to listen to our hearts, time to believe in magic, and to create the love, health and presence required to show all the way up for our lives.
Let’s give ourselves and each other permission to spend less, do less, and stress less throughout the holidays so we can enjoy the real gifts of the season.
4. Eat and drink what you want to eat and drink.
Just because your choices of food and drink make someone else uncomfortable doesn’t mean you have to change a thing. If you are not drinking and you are getting questions you don’t feel comfortable answering, here are some things to consider.
When it comes to other comments about your food choices, you are welcome to say, “Let’s change the subject,” or you can simply change the subject. You don’t have to explain yourself or your decisions about what you eat, how you eat or why you eat the food you do. If someone is genuinely curious and you feel like talking about it, that’s fine too but it’s not up to you to make everyone feel good about your choices.
5. Take really good care of yourself.
Prioritize self-care. If holiday anxiety is causing you to feel rundown or you are stressed because you anticipate feeling tired or overwhelmed, stop. Prioritize self-care and let a few things go. Here are 25 simple ways to take care during the holidays and here are 8 unconventional ways to take better care.
You can use most of these suggestions all year long. Be gentle, take care and enjoy the holidays by letting go of unnecessary stress.
P.S. 31 Days of Gifts You So Deserve (the advent calendar for your inbox) is open. Gift this to yourself and everyone you love.