The 7 Most Common Causes of Stress at Christmas Time
Although the Christmas season is often associated with joy, celebration, and family togetherness, it’s also a reality that many people experience high amounts of stress, anxiety, and sadness during this time. Why is this? The most common causes of stress at Christmas are multiple and vary in each person.
The nostalgia generated by the festivities, as well as the decrease in rest and multiple activities, have a great influence on this problem. However, it’s essential to identify the trigger, since it’s necessary to implement strategies to deal with it before it generates health complications.
The 7 most common causes of stress at Christmas
The causes of stress at Christmas vary according to the context in which the person is. The truth of the matter is that these dates tend to increase tension, anxiety, and other unpleasant emotions.
This is pointed out in a study published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, which concludes that during the Christmas vacations there’s an increase in dysphoric moods – i.e., with a tendency to depression, irritability, and anxiety.
Studies also suggest that at this time of year there is an increase in cases of heart attacks, which is linked – among other things – to emotional stress. Thus, it’s an issue that should not go unnoticed and should be identified in order to find the most effective solutions. Let’s take a closer look at its main causes.
1. Unrealistic expectations about the holidays
Most people have a traditional representation of Christmas that is exaggeratedly optimistic. It’s usually associated with a cozy, cheerful home, inhabited by a happy family, coming together to share gifts and a great dinner prepared to perfection.
However, life is often so complex and messy that it often does not fit this conventional representation. Still, many expect their experience to conform to it. Then, when unrealistic expectations fail to materialize, emotions of disappointment and frustration are experienced.
Moreover, with the rise of social media, this becomes more apparent, especially when others post their “perfect Christmas.” In a way, this creates additional pressure and an obligation to hold a celebration that conforms to social conventions.
In this case, we need to be aware that the way we spend Christmas does not have to conform to social representations. It’s fine to adjust Christmas routines and traditions to reflect new and different circumstances.
For example, if family visits generate discomfort due to increased obligations, health problems, conflicts between members, or any other reason, it is fine to cancel them and celebrate the festivities with a closer circle and without so much of a show.
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2. Organizing the festivities
Behind the big family celebrations, there’s always someone who has to do all the preliminary work of organizing, decorating, shopping, cooking, etcetera. Usually, it’s the mothers of the family who end up experiencing the most stress.
In addition, school closings and the arrival of family visits to the home often add to the demands. So, instead of enjoying themselves, these people end up very overwhelmed and stressed.
In these cases, the following is recommended:
- Plan ahead for holiday parties and family visits.
- Divide tasks and ask for the collaboration of all members.
- Leave some time each day for a relaxing activity.
- Avoid including too many visits and social events in your agenda.
3. Family tensions
In almost all families there are conflicts that usually intensify at Christmas time due to the increase in family meetings and coexistence.
It’s common to find oneself with the obligation to spend time with a relative with whom one doesn’t have a good relationship. It’s also common to have ideological clashes between members due to generational, geographic, or personal differences.
In fact, even if there’s no obvious source of disagreement or conflict, a prolonged period in close quarters with a large part of the family can still be stressful. To cope, it’s best to maintain realistic expectations.
If relatives tend to fight throughout the year, chances are they will also fight on Christmas Day. So, one solution is to split the celebrations to keep the “warring parties” separate. For example, visit one group of relatives on Christmas Eve and another at Christmas.
Another recommendation is to avoid controversial topics during the gathering. Instead, they can engage in playful activities – such as family board games – to avoid resorting to uncomfortable conversations.
Finally, avoid excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages. Reduced inhibitions could contribute to unnecessary arguments.
4. The most common causes of stress at Christmas time: Being away from home
Many people find themselves alone at Christmas and the reasons may be a relocation to a city far from their relatives, a marital breakup, or a family estrangement.
In these cases, the emphasis on family, togetherness, and good times during the Christmas holidays can make those who are isolated feel very lonely and depressed.
If this is your case, we recommend keeping in touch with your loved ones through video calls or messages. Also, try to make plans for Christmas Day; if you have no one to share the day with, consider volunteering for a charity.
If you live abroad, another option is to organize a get-together with people you know who are in the same situation or attend community celebrations such as Christmas Carols in common places.
5. Financial problems
Spending on gifts, food, and decorations can also make Christmas a stressful season, especially for those who are experiencing financial problems or unemployment.
If so, remember what we said about the expectations of the season; these are not always going to adapt to reality and that’s not a bad thing. Christmas is just another date in the calendar and it’s okay if there are no conditions to have a dream celebration at this moment.
With this clear, we invite you to give yourself the opportunity to experience Christmas in your own way by adapting it to your personal needs and possibilities. You can put the following into practice:
- Set a budget and stick to it to avoid overspending.
- Consider a simpler, more budget-friendly version of the celebration.
- Keep in mind that you don’t have to spend money to give a gift, you can also give your time and presence to others or give a gift you have made yourself (such as a Christmas-themed card or craft).
6. Separations, divorces, or recent losses
The absences of loved ones are one of the most common causes of stress at Christmas time. The holidays can be very difficult for a family that has recently experienced a separation, divorce, moving, or the death of a loved one.
Going through the grieving process makes the holidays deepen emotional wounds. Therefore, it’s important to recognize that unhappy feelings are normal and that it’s okay to feel sad or lonely.
It’s okay to express feelings and keep in mind that even though it is a festive season, you don’t have to be happy all the time.
Of course, if this is the case, it’s wise to avoid isolation. Sharing with other loved ones and participating in various activities can prevent a feeling of loneliness. So can participating in community or charity events.
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7. The most common causes of stress at Christmas time: Unhealthy eating habits
Eating habits during Christmas also have an impact on the onset of stress. In fact, it’s not uncommon for some people to take refuge in high-calorie foods and alcohol to try to calm their stress and anxiety.
And although momentarily these foods reduce the feeling of stress, later on, there is a rebound effect and negative emotions tend to intensify.
In fact, alcohol consumption can cross the line from “pleasant” to “unpleasant” to give way to hangovers, dehydration, and a feeling of emotional discomfort.
In general, it’s best to be more conscious of the things you consume at this time of year. A healthy diet free of excesses is key to maintaining overall wellness.
It is possible to cope with stress at Christmas
Although there are several common causes of stress at Christmas time, this doesn’t mean that you have to have a bad time during this time. On the contrary, there are many possibilities to create pleasant and unforgettable moments regardless of the circumstances.
The starting point is to recognize that “Christmas magic” is not a given or automatic, nor is there a one-size-fits-all formula for everyone. Everything requires time, self-knowledge, effort, and investment. Ignoring this reality will only make it more stressful in the long run.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Sansone RA, Sansone LA. The christmas effect on psychopathology. Innov Clin Neurosci. 2011 Dec;8(12):10-3. PMID: 22247812; PMCID: PMC3257984.
- Kloner R. The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon. Circulation [Internet]. 2004 [consultado 8 dic 2022]; 110:3744–3745. Disponible en: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/01.CIR.0000151786.03797.18
- Barker P. The gift of less Christmas stress. Vet Record [Internet]. 2019 [consultado 8 dic 2022]; 185(23): 736-737. Disponible en: https://bvajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1136/vr.l6952
- Reichenberger J, Schnepper R, Arend AK, Blechert J. Emotional eating in healthy individuals and patients with an eating disorder: evidence from psychometric, experimental and naturalistic studies. Proc Nutr Soc. 2020 Aug;79(3):290-299. doi: 10.1017/S0029665120007004. Epub 2020 May 13. PMID: 32398186; PMCID: PMC7663318.