Christmas is often depicted as a time for families to come together, bond, relax, and share special moments with loved ones and friends over great food and conversation.
However, this imagined utopia can quickly disintegrate into a very real and painful dystopia, rife with family conflict, money worries, and food and eating anxieties that rob us of the very joy and relaxation we not only craved but desperately needed during this holiday season.
Here are some tips to help us all cope with Christmas anxiety (or whichever holiday you’re celebrating) and prepare for the family and friends get-togethers, holiday spending, and extravagant eating that routinely accompanies this festive season.
If the old saying that familiarity breeds contempt is correct, it’s no surprise that many expectantly happy holiday celebrations with our loved ones leave many of us gulping down wine like water. In other families, familiar annoyances and past dramas give way to truly disastrous pasts that intensify our feelings of anxiety, nervousness, and frustration as we barely manage to handle holiday stress.
Social anxiety and depression associated with the holidays make Christmas one of the peak days for cardiac events, excessive use of alcohol, and overeating. All of these issues can compound an already stressful time. These are some steps you can take to cope with Christmas anxiety so the season remains as peaceful as possible:
Set boundaries and realistic expectations
Know that it’s okay to remove yourself from stressful situations, or say no or “I don’t want to talk about that” to incessant family members who might not understand that a boundary means “stop right there.” However, it’s also good to remember that if you have a family, like so many families, that isn’t used to practicing proper boundaries, some discussion beforehand or repeated boundary exposure may need to be applied.
Practice appreciation and gratitude
Gratitude is great for your health and is a wonderful way to reframe the way you think about yourself, your family, and the world. Practicing appreciation takes time. But setting an intention to be grateful or starting a gratitude journal are just a couple of ways that you can build this mental health muscle to help ease you through stressful holiday events.
Recognize that to err is human and no family event is going to be perfect. However, accepting your own and others’ flaws (for now) can go a long way in getting through the season without too much anxiety. Be sure to cut yourself some slack and try to find the humor in the acceptance of being too tired to workout, gaining holiday weight, or struggling with feelings of being overwhelmed.
The economic pressures you might feel from spending copious amounts of money on travel or gifts may manifest in unhealthy behaviors like eating too many sugary comfort foods or relying on alcohol or drugs to help cope with Christmas anxiety.
Spending too much money or overextending yourself financially can put a damper on your cash flow as well as develop into a terrible sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, ruining all the merry-making that abounds during the season.
Consider these tips to help manage the stress that comes with holiday spending:
If you know you are near your spending maximum, skip the after-Christmas trip to the outlet mall “just to look.” Maybe go for a hike instead. Going out in nature helps you commune with your surroundings, boosts your happiness levels, and offers a great way to socialize with others who may have decided to join you. (It’s even a thing now called forest bathing.) It can also be exceptionally beautiful, and best of all, free!
Plan to reward yourself (but later)
Sure, there are all sorts of major deals and discounts being advertised during the Christmas season. But those items are still available (and sometimes at greater discounted prices way after Christmas is over). To help you cope with sticking with a budget or not spending more during the season, make a promise to reward yourself with something cherished or special when your money flows more freely and budgets are not as tight.
Strive to let go of what others might think
While spending money is often fun, sometimes spending money during the holidays is based more on competition with siblings or the proverbial “Jones.”
Social media is teaching all of us that there are public faces and private situations. Don’t let what you might erroneously think about another’s finances or your fears about what others think of your finances, goad you into greater financial stress. Maybe your dedication to stop overspending would be a welcome relief to those around you who might also want to ease up on spending.
While many experts might focus on advice to prevent overeating during the season, like looking at your food and appreciating it with your eyes as an extra layer of satiation, being judged for your food choices (or judging others for theirs) is another stressor during the holiday season that makes coping with Christmas anxiety difficult.
Food shaming is a complex phenomenon that occurs at work and in families which can make you feel flawed or wrong for your choices. It subjects you or others to unasked-for negative—albeit well-meaning—attention about something that is usually no one else’s business. Here are tips to help you side-step the anxiety that comes with this practice:
Ignore them and indulge
One of the things that makes Christmas time special is the food! Why miss out on one of the few times of the year where you can taste old family recipes or extremely rich desserts? Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle should include some moderate indulgences and there’s no better time than Christmas!
Change the subject to something positive
If someone has decided to take issue with something on your plate, have some alternative subjects on hand that show your brilliance, determination, or focus in other areas of your life. You might also decide to simply be honest about how food shaming makes you feel and clearly let them know it’s time to talk about something more uplifting and positive.
Keep your opinions to yourself
If you find you’re just itching to preach to others about adopting a healthier lifestyle, remember that food shaming is actually hurtful and insulting to the person being judged. Instead of sharing a verbal concern, consider making one or two wholesome holiday recipes like a healthy hot chocolate, festive coconut energy balls, or a delightful apple crumble that shows, rather than tells, your loved ones that healthy eating is possible, achievable and tasty. (Though if everyone is already on board with trying healthy alternatives, you can try some of these vegan Christmas dinner recipes.)
Get-togethers with family, spending money, and intrinsic feelings of shame surrounding food choices can impair the merriment of the Christmas season. Using all or some of the tips above can help take the edge off holiday stress and help you deal with feelings of anxiousness that occur during this special time.