The dark side of Christmas: Anxiety and Irritability caused by stress
December 18, 2020
- Social expectations and an increase in spending can trigger higher levels of stress.
- We can minimise the impact of stress by placing fewer demands on ourselves, managing expectations, avoiding excesses, and planning our purchases and social activities.
Social expectations and how we adapt our interactions with others around COVID-19 restrictions, together with an increase in our spending, can all trigger high levels of stress during the holiday season. This can have an impact on both our physical and mental health, causing anxiety, irritability and sleep deprivation, which can also affect our ability to concentrate.
The 2019 Cigna 360 Well-being Survey found that 84% of those surveyed said they are stressed, and 17% said personal finance was a top stress trigger. Since spending and other elements associated with stress heighten during the holiday season, the risk of stress becoming unmanageable during this time increases exponentially.
Christmas is a time full of expectations: buy presents, eat well, have fun and enjoy our interactions with others. We check-in on social media and see everyone else appearing to have a perfect time and this only creates extra pressure to conform, and even outperform. In addition to higher levels of stress, many of us experience negative moods or emotional states. It’s what is known as "white depression", a mood imbalance in which symptoms are identified with stress, sadness, nostalgia, lack of appetite, sleep deprivation and anxiety.
With all this in mind, the key to coping with Christmas stress is to prioritise, set feasible objectives, adapt to different scenarios and recognise the factors we can control, and the factors we can’t.
There are a number of steps we can take to help minimise the impact of stress on our health and well-being during the holiday season:
- Avoid alcoholic drinks. Not only do alcoholic drinks have a negative impact on our physical health, but they also exert a depressing effect on the central nervous system, progressively inhibiting brain functions.
- Go for a walk. Spending time doing any type of exercise is a good option to help us relax and enjoy our free time during the holiday season. Walking for just one hour can lift our mood by increasing serotonin production in the brain.
- Respect resting hours. Social interactions can reduce the number of rest hours we have. This can cause a punctual decrease in our ability to concentrate and in turn increase levels of anxiety. It’s essential to ensure we rest sufficiently, and well.
- Plan purchases. Since finances are one of the main causes of stress, a good idea is to plan in advance what presents we are going to give, decide what our budget is and where we are going to buy them.
- Maintain healthy habits. The healthy routines in our usual daily lives, such as eating a balanced diet or exercising, are often disrupted by other commitments over the holiday season. To avoid this stress trigger, try to maintain, as far as possible, a balance between social commitments and healthy routines. Good planning can help you achieve this.
- Make a positive year balance. Telling ourselves we haven’t fulfilled all the goals we set 12 months ago only adds to our stress. Those thoughts often end up generating disappointment and negativity. In this case, try to be objective and keep in mind that it isn’t always possible to fulfil our goals within a set timeframe – there are many external factors beyond our control.