If you have a browse through the Festive section of my blog you’ll see posts on our home all decorated for the holidays, the playlist I listen to throughout the festive period and our favourite Christmas-time traditions. But often, as we all know, social media on the whole can often be one big highlight reel.
Don’t get me wrong – from the middle of November to the middle of December, I absolutely love decorating our home, wearing Christmas jumpers, going to the Christmas markets, listening to Christmas music, writing out Christmas cards and hunting down the perfect gifts for James. But somehow, come the 15th of December, the Christmas anxiety hits and hits hard, and I start to feel overwhelmed, guilty and like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Not to mention just downright poor on top of it all.
I’ve spoken about my anxiety issues in the past here, and I’m happy to report that I’ve almost completely overcome them. The only time I really struggle with it now is around Christmas. In fact, most people, even those who don’t suffer from anxiety, put a lot of pressure on themselves to give their loved one the best possible Christmases they can, and end up completely drowning in stress and debt as a result.
While I still have the odd bout of Christmas anxiety now and then leading up to the big day, I’ve found that on the whole, it isn’t as overwhelming and has significantly diminished this year because I’ve been trying to manage it using a few easy techniques.
(1) Set a Budget and Stick To It
Raise your hand if you’re guilty of overspending on your loved ones and leave yourself with close to nothing to get through the month. Probably the worst pressure is feeling like your gift needs to match the value of what the person you’re buying for will be spending on you. But please know that not everyone’s financial situation is the same at a given period of time. If you can’t match it one year, match it the next year or don’t – nobody’s judging. But overspending and / or going into dept to provide presents for your loved ones only prolongs the Christmas anxiety well after Christmas because you’ll be worrying about paying off your debts. Instead, just buy one present you think they’ll love and maybe focus on the other one or two being handmade gifts.
(2) Do The Things You Enjoy
Make sure that after you’ve created your Christmas budget and accomodated all your usual bills, you’ve left room for yourself to do little things you enjoy. It may be buying a new Christmas jumper, getting a festive manicure, treating yourself to a box of your favourite chocolates, going on a winter date night or buying that dress you’ve been eyeing for a while. Depriving yourself of little joys in order to spend on other people will just make you resent Christmas instead of enjoy and look forward to it. I use the Monzo bank app (a total game-changer when it comes to managing money – this is NOT an ad!) to stay on top of my finances as it lets me divide up my money into different ‘pots’ so various things are budgeted for. It also sends me notifications when I’m coming close to hitting the top of my budget per pot, so I stay on track.
(3) Do a Secret Santa and Divide Up Responsibilities with Family
My friend does this brilliant money-saving hack with her family and she swears it has reduced her Christmas anxiety significantly. Since they are lots of children in her family, all the adults buy one gift each per child (within a budget) and for each other, they do a Secret Santa and draw names out of a hat and only buy one gift for the adult whose name they end up with, so in total, they only end up buying two presents instead of the 20+ they’d usually have to. They also draw names out of a hat for who will cook and host the Christmas dinner that year and who will stay to help clean up, so the responsibility doesn’t fall on the same person each year. So clever!
(4) Focus on the Bits You Actually Enjoy
This is probably the most valuable tip I have to share with you and has made such a difference to my mindset. Everyone – yes, even the most die-hard Christmas fan (there’s one in every family!) – doesn’t love every single aspect of Christmas. Some people aren’t close with their families and find gathering under one roof with them on the day a lot of pressure, some resent having to be the one cooking the meal every year, some don’t like receiving socks every year and some simply hate having to eat red cabbage out of politeness. But if you focus on the small bits you actually do like, it’ll help you get through it and give you something to look forward to. My favourite bits would have to be opening presents (obviously), getting tipsy on Snowballs, playing games after the meal (particularly with my sister in law – she’s a game legend) and my absolute favourite – devouring the cheese board.
(5) Take One for the Team
Consider the parts you don’t enjoy, but everyone else does, as taking one for the team. For example, if you’re not a fan of the food at Christmas dinner but the rest of the family loves it, it’ll be so much less drama to just get through it without a fuss so you can get to the bit you enjoy later (example, dessert, games or the cheese board). You don’t have to spend every day of your life eating it, just a day or two at the end of each year. Which isn’t a lot to ask for really, if you think about it. And who knows? Other members of your family may actually detest the bits of Christmas that you love, but could be taking one for the team, just like you.
(6) Be Open and Honest About Change
If there are certain bits about Christmas that you find too stressful or just can’t wrap your head around, maybe start a family Whatsapp group a month or so in advance and be open and honest about the fact that you’d like to do things differently this year. Just make sure you have a good solution to offer up in exchange. Similarly, if you’ve just started celebrating Christmas with your partner’s family but would like to spend more time with just yur partner around the holidays, be honest about how you feel and try and schedule in a date night for the two of you before the main Christmas days so its a win/win for you both. Chances are, everyone will want you to enjoy Christmas and won’t mind making a couple of little tweaks here or there to accomodate you if you’re nice and diplomatic about it.
(7) Put Your Own Stamp On Christmas
Find your ‘Christmas thing’ and use it to really get involved with the day. Contributing and keeping busy will help drown out some of the negative thoughts and Christmas anxiety. So whether you have an affinity to cocktail-making and become the official bartender of the day or you’re great at throwing together a legendary cheese board or if you can put together the a good holiday playlist and become the Christmas Day DJ, making sure you’re contributing on the day and not just sitting around making small talk or waiting for the meal will make you feel better. I’m contributing to dessert by making Nigella’s wicked Salted Caramel and Brandy ice cream this year.
(8) Learn to Say No
Don’t even get me started on all of the forced socializing around this time of year. Christmas party after Christmas party with multiple groups of friends, acquaintances and colleagues gets so expensive! But the poeple I sympathize with most this time of year are those who have children. Not only because the pressure to provide their little ones with fun, memorable, perfect Christmasses with gifts that’ll light them up with joy, but the constant stream of school plays, dances, nativities, bake sales and the like that they often need to put together pricey costumes and provide presents for. It is a LOT to deal with for anyone. Nobody would hold a grudge if you only attended two Christmas events instead of five at work or if your child only participated in the bigger events at school instead of the smaller, less necessary ones. Putting boundaries in place and saying no is a small price to pay for the sake of your bank balance and your mental health. Have a chat with your family and work out what the most important events are to them and only attend those.
(9) Take Time Off Work
People who work in full-time jobs usually get a few days off around Christmas. However, when you work freelance, the lines are a bit blurry. We don’t always have an ‘off’ switch since we work from home and our personal and professional lives tend to bleed into one another a lot of the time. Resolve here and now to take a few days off and put on your Out Of Office on around Christmas. Even if you don’t spend it doing Christmassy things like wrapping presents or last-minute shopping, think of it as some much needed mental-health days. Take a short trip somewhere scenic and relatively local, visit people you don’t normally get to spend time with, book yourself into a spa or spend a whole weekend in your pajamas watching Netflix. The holiday season is stressful, so by giving yourself a few days off, you’ll have something to look forward to every year and help keep the Christmas anxiety at bay.
(10) Take a Break from Social Media
They say the best times with friends and family are the ones when you’re enjoying yourself so much, you forget to bring out your phone or check social media. But this is easier said than done, especially when we need our phones to play the Christmas playlist off of, take photos of the family doing funny things, play the Heads Up game and glance at in any awkward moments (we all have at least one every Christmas, am I right?!) But social media can induce feelings of FOMO and feeling like you’re not good enough. You don’t need that kind of negative energy adding to or causing any Christmas anxiety, so the simplest thing to do would be take a total break from it. However, if you’re addicted to it like I am and just can’t switch off, limit your social time by keeping your phone in your handbag or coat pocket and only checking it once or twice a day.
(11) Take Periodic Breaks During The Day
If you feel your Christmas anxiety start to play up in the day (or even if you don’t), taking periodic ten minute breaks every 2-3hrs will make so much of a difference. Use the time to do something you enjoy, take the dog for a quick walk around the block or shut the door behind you for a little alone-time and use the time post to Instagram (if you haven’t gone off social media), read a couple of pages of a book or magazine or do some meditating using the Calm or Headspace apps.
(12) Take A Break One Year
If you feel like you have to celebrate Christmas the same way every year, it’ll start to feel less like something you look forward to and more like a chore. Instead, decide to go on holiday one year instead, or spend it volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or simply with a different bunch of people (like perhaps friends instead of family). The year after, you’ll come back feeling a lot more refreshed and ready to go back to old traditions and how you usually celebrate. Coming back after a break is also a great time to implement any changes you’d like to the way you celebrate Christmas the following year.
Do you feel Christmas anxiety? How do you stay on top of / manage it? Share your tips with us in the comments below – you never know who you’d be helping. See you at the next post and have a very merry, stress-free Christmas!