How to Manage Holiday Stress and Anxiety
The holiday season is a time of joy and togetherness, and for teachers especially, it should be a time for rest, to slow down, and to recharge. However, it can also be a significant source of stress and anxiety for many individuals. The pressure to meet expectations, financial strain, and the whirlwind of social commitments can take a toll on mental health.
Stressors that surface during the holidays can trigger depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. In fact the Nation Alliance on Mental Health reports that “64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse” (2014).
Thankfully, there are several ways to help manage holiday stress and anxiety. By understanding anxiety triggers, you can take steps to reduce anxiety, make time for your mental health, and focus on your physical wellbeing. When you prioritize self care inside and out, you’ll be able to slow down, enjoy the holidays, and take the well-deserved break you need and have earned.
Understanding Holiday Anxiety Triggers
As you’re gearing up for a break from the classroom, it’s important to identify some sneaky causes of holiday stress and anxiety so that you’re not caught off guard when the final December school bell rings:
Expectations: The ideal holiday with halls decked to the nines, massive meals, and lavish gifts is unrealistic. Nonetheless, the guilt associated with feeling less than perfect can weigh heavily on many who may feel even their best efforts don’t measure up.
Family Dynamics: Family gatherings can be joyous, but they can also stir up familial tensions. For some families this may be the only time they gather all year, so unresolved issues may come to a head.
Loneliness: The holidays can intensify feelings of isolation, especially if you’ve experienced loss or are far from loved ones. Seeing others celebrate can be a stark reminder of loneliness and exacerbate seasonal depression and holiday blues (NAMI, 2014).
Budget Constraints: Financial strain is a common trigger for anxiety. The pressure to provide friends and family with everything on their wishlist can be overwhelming. Working overtime or even taking out a holiday loan may seem inevitable to provide the best for loved ones.
Social Overload: The packed social calendar can be overwhelming, especially if you’re an introvert, dealing with social anxiety, or simply burned out from work. Not to mention that public spaces and shopping centers see the most traffic of any time of the year.
Holiday Stress Management Techniques
Set Realistic Expectations
It’s important to remember that perfection is overrated and unrealistic. There’s no such thing as a flawless, picture-perfect holiday, where everything runs like clockwork, and everyone is ecstatically happy. Life isn’t a Hallmark movie, and that’s perfectly okay.
It’s the imperfections that make holidays unique and even memorable. Embrace the little mishaps, cherish the family quirks, and focus on the joy of being together with loved ones, imperfections and all.
Setting a holiday budget doesn’t mean you’re a Grinch; it means you’re being financially savvy. Take some time to sit down, figure out how much you can comfortably spend without breaking the bank, and then stick to it. It might mean getting creative with thoughtful, budget-friendly gifts or finding ways to DIY decorations.
Being smart about your finances can help you worry less during the holiday season, but you’ll also be in a better spot after the celebrations are over. By sticking to a budget, you can avoid swimming in debt or paying off a loan well into the next year.
Between shopping, decorating, cooking, and attending events, it can feel like there are a million things to do. The first thing you should do is take a deep breath and make a game plan. Prioritize your to-do list and tackle things one step at a time.
Remember, the holiday season is all about joy and togetherness, and you’re more likely to savor those moments when you’re not frazzled by a jam-packed schedule.
Avoiding social overload is all about knowing your limits and choosing quality over quantity. It’s perfectly okay to decline a few invitations or take short breaks during gatherings if you need some “you” time.
Prioritize the events that matter most to you and your loved ones. It’s not about how many parties you hit; it’s about being present and enjoying the moments you share with the people who mean the most to you.
With all the family get-togethers, obligations, and endless to-do lists, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But remember, it’s perfectly fine to say no sometimes. You don’t have to overcommit and spread yourself too thin.
Setting boundaries might mean politely declining a few invitations, limiting the number of guests you can accommodate, or designating certain hours for quiet time (Quirk, 2021). Your well-being matters, and by defining your boundaries, you’re making sure you have the energy and enthusiasm to enjoy the festivities, rather than feeling drained or stressed out.
Focus on Physical Health
All of these coping strategies are easier when you’re healthy, feeling good, and well rested, so remember to also stay on top of your physical health.
Prioritize Sleep: In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s tempting to burn the candle at both ends, but don’t sacrifice your sleep. Adequate rest is the cornerstone of good health, and it keeps your energy levels up, your mood balanced, and your immune system strong (NIH, 2021).
Stay Active: Yes, the days may be shorter, and the weather colder, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon your exercise routine. Whether it’s a brisk winter walk, a dance session to your favorite holiday tunes, or a cozy yoga session at home, staying active will not only help you maintain your physical health but also boost your mood.
Mindful Eating: The holiday table is often a sight to behold, with an array of mouthwatering dishes. Practice mindful eating by savoring each bite and paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Enjoy those indulgent treats, but do so in moderation.
Stay Hydrated: With all the rich foods and warm beverages, it’s easy to forget about water. But staying hydrated is vital for digestion and overall well-being. So, keep sipping on that H2O in between sips of hot cocoa.
Limit Alcohol and Caffeine: Caffeine may give you the burst of energy to get holiday shopping done in record time, and a glass of red wine by the fire gives all the holiday feels. But excessive consumption of both can exacerbate anxiety and impact sleep (Mock, 2020). Remember moderation in all things.
Amid the festivities and gatherings, it’s crucial to remember the importance of focusing on both physical and mental health. While indulging in delicious holiday treats, it’s equally essential to maintain a balance with nutritious foods and staying active.
Simultaneously, taking moments for self-care, relaxation, and stress management can work wonders for mental well-being during this often chaotic season. By prioritizing both physical and mental health, you can truly savor the joy of the holidays, enjoy time spent with loved ones, and recharge to be your very best come the new year.
- Martin, Sharon, DSW, LCSW, “Healthy Holiday Boundaries,” Psychology Today, December 16, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conquering-codependency/202112/healthy-holiday-boundaries
- Mock, Jillian. “How Caffeine and Alcohol Can Make Your Mental Health Worse,” DiscoverMagazine.com, July 28, 2023. https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/how-caffeine-and-alcohol-can-make-your-mental-health-worse
National Alliance onMental Illness. “Mental Health and the Holiday Blues.” NAMI.org, November 19, 2014. https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues
- National Institutes of Health. “Good Sleep for Good Health.” NIH News in Health, April 2021, https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2021/04/good-sleep-good-health