Anxiety and stress are typical during the holiday season. Research by the American Psychiatric Association found the primary worry for adults was missing family followed by gift-giving in 2021. Stress around the holidays is so common that Dr. Lisa Stubbs and Dr. David Galas of Pacific Northwest Research Institute are studying genetic determinants of stress-related difficulties like anxiety or depression (2022). The hope is to prevent mental health-related illness before symptoms occur by understanding the predispositions of one’s genetic makeup.

Fortunately, Drs. Stubbs and Galas’ research is not essential to stave off holiday stress. Below, you will find four practical solutions. First, it might be informative to decipher what factors may play into an increase in General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and other anxiety related disorders.

Increase Stress Much?

There are common areas where people fail to plan or carefully attend to in the busy season of Christmas and New Year’s Day. You might have fallen into the trap of carpe diem in the joyous season. While being present is one of the ways to manage anxiety according to John Hopkins Medicine, it would be an oversight to fail to plan. Planning does not preclude being present. Proper planning is more likely to provide adequate mental, emotional, and physical space to be present. When an individual struggles with anxiety (as with other mental health disorders), life management is one of the effective keys to balancing caring for one’s self and participating in the fun events of the season.

Here are things to avoid this season:

  • Fail to get enough sleep
  • Drink more alcohol than usual
  • Forget about exercise
  • Neglect nutrition
  • Spend beyond your budget
  • Fail to plan for stressful holiday gatherings

Why is Holiday Stress Common?

Holiday-related anxiety is common because of the pressures internally and externally to make the most of the season. While that idea in theory has a nice overture, undo stress can be a result of a perfect idea of the holidays. In addition to stretching boundaries and limitations, perfectionism and compounded expectations (our own, holiday traditions, community and extended family events) can create a superball of anxiety.

Practical Tips to Prevent Anxiety & Stress

Individuals who experience anxiety are likely to have some symptoms during the holiday season. Prevention could be summed up to planning ahead. Check out the following ideas on how you can prevent holiday anxiety.

Present Stress?

Holidays can be peaceful when we accept our limitations and preferences, communicate them clearly, and then plan for stressful situations. Some stress during the holidays is normal. Accept this and stick to your plans regarding time, money, and company.

  1. Area of Time: Plan ahead for activities, outings, gatherings, & festivities. Map, chart, or calendar all items providing whatever visual or other time management tool helps you stay organized. A visual tool is helpful for families with children as it helps to orient them on when to expect certain activities. This helps them in their own organizational skill building and also provides a sense of safety and security in knowing what to expect.
  2. Area of Finances: Budget, budget, budget, and stick to the budget. Don’t forget those random “opportunities” to spend.*
  3. Area of Giving: Give back in areas and ways where there is no direct reciprocation. Studies show there are mental health benefits to volunteer service (Nader, 2023).
  4. Area of Boundaries: Firm boundaries are essential to healthy families (King, 2016). Be honest and open about your limitations. A half-day family gathering may be great. It also may be too much and that is okay. Plan for your limits and be ready to excuse yourself before you are exhausted or overwhelmed.

Budget Stress

Budget stress can occur when plans are either not established or not adhered to. Finances are often a stressor for families more so during the holiday season (APA, 2021). McWhirter (2023) encourages families to budget and these are a *few categories to budget.

  • Gift Budget – don’t forget office gift exchanges, pooled collections for bosses, seasonal giving at church or for volunteers
  • Food Budget – don’t forget office parties, church potluck, & parties for kids
  • Travel Budget – gas, lodging expenses, airfare, baggage fees, car rentals

Possibilities to Stress Less

Anxiety is manageable, but even with proper treatment, it generally does not go away (forever). You will want to find a qualified psychotherapist who treats anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. Therapists are ethically bound from guaranteeing or promising a certain amount of sessions; however, highly focused therapy (specifically on anxiety) can successfully target and treat anxiety in approximately 12-15 sessions. Depending on your follow through with homework sessions and how much talk therapy your therapist permits, it could take longer for your treatment. Allow your therapist to guide therapy after informing them you want to focus on treating anxiety to minimize time in therapy. There is definitely value in talk therapy, but treating disorders in a structured and organized manner is different. Check in with yourself and your therapist to be sure you know what to expect and the treatment plan accommodates your preferences and needs.

When to Get Help

Treatment for anxiety includes psychotherapy from a trained professional. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent psychiatric disorders and include: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Specific Phobias, Panic Disorders, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Separation Anxiety, and school fears (Bandelow et al., 2017). Targeted treatment can provide lifelong coping skills with the support of a trained specialist.

Joyful Journeys Counseling specializes in treating anxiety-related disorders. Skilled clinicians provide in-office treatment for all age ranges, including parents and families. Contact our office for a free consultation today and get started managing stress and anxiety.


In order of appearance

American Psychiatric Association. (2021, November). Holiday stress.

Pacific Northwest Research Institute. (2022, December). The genetics behind holiday stress.

John Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). 4 mindful tips to destress this holiday season.

Nader, C. (2023, March 29). Best practices: Volunteering can provide a boost to your mental health.,often%20feel%20better%20after%20volunteering.

King, M.E. (2016). Family boundaries. In C. L. Shehan (Ed.), The Wiley Blackwell encyclopedia to family studies. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

McWhirter, K. (2023, November 22). Let it save: Your ultimate holiday budget plan. MoneyGeek.

Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 19(2), 93–107.

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