Coping With Holiday Anxiety

Reviewed by Phillip Waite, Ph.D.

A woman looking out a window coping with anxiety

The holidays are a celebration: a time for happiness and wonder. Sadly, they sometimes bring their own troubles along for the ride. For some, what should be a wonderful time of year can instead be fraught with anxiety and worry.

There are many causes of holiday anxiety, but here are some of the biggest ones, along with tips on coping.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition where people suffer from depression during the winter. While SAD is not fully understood, it is likely brought on by the decrease in light levels over the winter months.

Sufferers experience symptoms such as poor mood, irritability, a lack of enjoyment in everyday activities and sleeping for longer than usual. As well as being generally unpleasant, this can contribute to anxiety.

Because SAD is linked to a lack of sunlight, simply getting outside during the day more can potentially help. There is also some evidence to support Light Therapy, using a special lamp designed for the purpose.

If you persistently suffer from depression and anxiety in the winter, it may be worth talking to your doctor who could advise you further on ways to help.

Social Anxiety

The holidays are a social time. Not only are there gatherings with friends and family, but shopping and other festive errands can put you into contact with others more often than you would like.

Even if you can avoid these, people often feel more outgoing this time of year, and increased social contact is likely even during your normal day.

With all of that going on, it’s possible to feel overwhelmed.

A good way to reduce social overload is to pick less active times of day to shop, make fewer trips and buy more each time.

While it can be difficult to get out of holiday social events entirely, and you may not want to, limiting the number of occasions you attend can help enormously.

Remember to put your needs first.

Financial Stress

For many, the Christmas period is fraught with expenses. As well as the social pressure to spend, there is aggressive marketing to contend with.

Everyone understands the desire to experience what the season has to offer,and to please loved ones with thoughtful gifts, but it cannot be overstated that you should only spend what you can afford.

Overspending will always cause more problems than it solves, both mental-health related and otherwise. Restricting yourself to a budget is the only way to avoid worse problems down the line.

No one will think less of you for only giving what you can, especially not those who matter most.

Existential Dread

Another year is drawing to a close. Time – or rather, the lack thereof – is a great cause for stress and worry. Of all the topics discussed in this article, it is perhaps the hardest to deal with.

Existential dread can be made worse by any other kind of anxiety, and the best way to manage it is to work on the other causes. Generally improving your outlook can help it take a back seat in your mind.


The holidays can be a team effort, with everyone working together with their nearest and dearest to have a good time. It is easy to build up the image of an amazing Christmas in your head; so easy that many people set unrealistic expectations for themselves, then feel miserable when they fail to make them reality.

It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect festive season; so long as everyone is happy, then everything is fine. There is always next year.

You do not have to find the perfect gift, the best turkey, or the greatest set of decorations. Those are nice, but what really counts is the celebration itself.


For some, the festive season is not so festive. Perhaps you don’t live near family, and all your friends are back home, visiting theirs.

It’s possible to feel trapped in an empty bubble, riding the sea of everyone else’s holiday cheer. While everyone else is experiencing the joy of the holidays, you are left behind, watching.

Don’t be afraid to reach out – your friends are your friends for a reason. Catch up over the internet, or arrange a group meetup if everyone is simply busy, rather than away.

If all else fails, make some new friends! People are often at their friendliest at this time of year.


The lead-up to Christmas can be exhausting. Everyone wants the best season they can possibly have, and many people run themselves ragged trying to fit in all the preparation.

It can be very easy to overtax yourself, leaving no energy to actually enjoy what you’ve set up. Not only can this lead to an anticlimax, but the fatigue increases anxiety, contributing to an already potentially stressful situation.

Remember to pace yourself. While pushing yourself to get everything done offers an illusion of utility, it is not always the smart move.

While the holidays should be the highlight of the year, they are not always so. Reducing the stress they cause is the best way to enjoy the festivities this year – even if that means they are smaller.

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