The holiday or Christmas period is often presented as a joyous occasion, filled with family, presents, and relaxation. But underneath this expectation lies a lot of holiday stress.
For businesses, the period of rest comes at a huge cost as they get ready to weather the two to four weeks of nonproductivity. For others, the huge responsibility of buying meaningful gifts, cooking, and traveling can put a huge strain on the yearly budget. For those who’ve experienced loss in their family or friend circle or who are alone during the break, the heavy focus on spending time with those we love can produce feelings of depression, stress, and anxiety.
This may not be the case for everyone, but most of us, on some level, feel a certain anxiety approaching the holiday season. So, how do you look out for yourself during all the holiday stress?
In this blog, we cover a range of associated holiday stresses, from spending to coping with loneliness and depression.
Research outlined in the Social Sciences & Humanities Open journal indicates that income inequality is linked with status consumption, status anxiety, and other harmful effects which result in cycles of unsustainable consumption. The research, whilst not primarily focused on the holidays, shows that individuals often feel a need to improve their social standing through consumption, leading some to go all out with lavish decorations, meals, and other displays that prove that they can conform to the ‘holiday expectations.’
Gift-giving also creates its own sense of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, which leads to further stress. This stress is linked more generally with financial anxiety or ‘money anxiety disorder’. Those with low self-esteem or image issues may feel a sense of inadequacy, using gift-giving as a way of ‘making up’ for their supposed defects. Overspending, in turn, triggers anxiety around money and financial security. We can often feel trapped in a cycle between our own financial situation and the consumer stress of constantly being under pressure to buy and make someone else’s Christmas special.
The healthy way to approach this stress is through communication. If you’re planning on giving gifts to those around you, speak to them about setting some expectations. You might suggest that having a figure in mind could help both parties.
You might also consider asking what the other person really wants. During the holiday season, we’re geared to see giving and financial spending as evidence of affection. But most people (as long as they’re not young children) will probably say they don’t want a lot. The most considerate gifts are those that mean a lot or may even involve spending more personal time with the other person.
Engaging in retail therapy can become a habit during the holiday season when the normal ‘rules’ of spending are bent or broken. Understanding where to draw the line can be hard, especially when we can justify retail therapy by spending on others. However, retail therapy isn’t recommended if you have problems with compulsive spending. If you are experiencing issues controlling your spending, contact the Beyond Blue helpline at (03) 9810 6100 for support.
While many of us look forward to spending time with friends and family over the break, others see the time as a reminder of their own isolation. Often referred to as the ‘holiday blues’ or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), those who typically struggle the most are often either outside of the country, away from family, or estranged from their families due to circumstances outside of their control.
The holiday period is particularly hard for those with prior existing health problems. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people with a pre-existing mental illness report that the holidays made their condition worse. The holidays may trigger feelings of worry or anxiety, irritable moods, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and tiredness.
If you know anyone feeling cut off during the holidays, it’s important to try to reach out and offer support. Approach the situation carefully, being mindful that they may not want to talk about their holiday plans. Instead, try to focus on how they’re feeling and let them tell you what’s bothering them.
For some people, when the holidays are associated with death or painful memories, aversion to the holidays may run deeper. The specific music played, the decorations, cards, and email reminders — in fact, the whole holiday ‘package’ may bring back very real, very painful memories.
The important thing to do is give yourself space to process this grief. The holidays can feel like a fresh insertion into a closed wound, especially when we’re told we should be celebrating and sharing our time with loved ones. Maybe the holiday becomes a new tradition, a way of honouring the memory of those who have passed or of setting new traditions in the place of existing traumatic events.
It’s ok also not to feel festive at all. Understanding people’s aversion to the holidays and respecting their space is important. Take the time to check on others and connect with them as normal, avoiding any pressure to be cheerful or ‘Christmas-y’.
The holidays, at their heart, seem like a lovely idea that can’t hurt anyone. But the truth of the matter is that, for a lot of people, the financial burden and anxiety around buying for others can lead to feelings of inadequacy. The drive to be cheerful and conform to the Christmas or holiday spirit can also be overbearing for those not in the right headspace.
So, even if the holidays are something you look forward to, make sure to be considerate to those around you. The holidays come with a lot of pressure to perform certain rituals, for businesses closing down in the year and trying to please clients to parents on a budget trying to give their children a holiday to remember.
The important thing is finding the space and getting the support needed when the holiday stress becomes just a little too much. And that takes a certain amount of understanding, which learning more about mental health can provide.