Christmas Stress Tips

Last updated March 27, 2021
Anxiety Tip

Tis the season to be stressed

Written by Donna Gray, For Neighbours - Calgary Herald
Published: Thursday, October 05, 2006
Published with permission.

As Darla Christenson wanders through Costco to satisfy her weekly grocery needs, she turns the corner to the promotional aisle just next to the books. Tucked between the leftover summer stock and sporting equipment, Christmas decorations, cards, ribbons and Yuletide lawn displays fight for attention.

She sighs and rolls her eyes in disgust.

"Ugh!" she says. "We've just gotten into fall and we're already seeing this stuff? I'm not ready to start thinking about Christmas. It's way too early and I've got enough on my plate."

Although Christenson says she's organized by nature, her anxiety level always picks up between Thanksgiving and Christmas: two-and-a-half months worth of parties, shopping, decorating, cleaning, cooking and relationships -- all crammed into an already busy routine.

"I work full time and I've got three kids, and I think that's easier to handle than getting ready for the holidays," she says. "I can't squeeze any more into my day."

Christenson isn't the only one kvetching about holiday hubbub. Alberta retailers are also gearing up for a bustling season with fewer staff, longer hours and discerning consumers. That means staff, management and owners will have to use ingenuity and Zen-inspired techniques to keep their cool amid the chaos.

Many managers need to flex their hours and manage a balance of personal and work to get through a season that lasts a lot longer than in previous years, says Dianne Johnstone of the Retail Council of Canada.

"Certainly, the stress -- the management and owners are feeling it now and they're planning ahead," Johnstone says.

"For example, The Bay/HBC is going across the country to find 15,000 employees to work during the holiday shopping season. There's also added stress of extending the hours so that they stay open longer than normal."

Although consumers come first, employees who serve them must be catered to as well, Johnstone says. That includes taking time to regroup during a shift or at the end of the day.

"Just stepping back and breathing is the best advice," she says. "Employers always need to ensure they're thinking about balance. They've accepted the reality that it will be busy and they need to adjust the levels of expectations for themselves while they meet the needs of their customers."

Many people cringe at the long list of things to do in the next 80 days, in part, due to their own expectations, says Sophia Lang, a registered psychologist in Calgary.

"For each person, the holidays mean something different," she says. "The expectations -- they've gotten out of hand. Often we need to be perfect and show those displays of wealth, perfect meals, and the perfect gifts. My advice is, avoid the magazines. They paint a picture that isn't realistic."

Some bad memories just die hard. While many strive to recreate the feelings they had when they were kids, when they finally come together as adults, the experience turns into a letdown.

"When you're in university and you come home for the holidays, you notice that you've changed, but your parents or family don't see it," she says.

"They still see you as a kid. That can add to the stress. Others find that once they're back with the same people, they get sucked into the same old behaviour patterns."

For many, not having the chance to be with family, due to circumstance, loss or strain, can also add more pressure, increase depression and withdrawal.

"The most important thing is to be thankful that you have a family to get together with," Lang says. "Not everyone does. It could vanish. Spouses die or leave. Children move away. Keep your eye on the main values and what's really important."

This time of year can be especially hard for some students living in residence from other towns or provinces. Around Thanksgiving, many first-years will begin to show signs of homesickness as well as feeling overwhelmed by the workload and scholarly expectations.

To counteract any potential problems, resident advisers such as Megan Wolfinger, a fourth-year public relations student, step in simply to reassure them or offer solutions.

"For the first little while, a lot of students notice they miss their families, so holidays hit hard," says Wolfinger, who grew up in Edson. "That's why your placement in community here in residence is important. You develop a second family a lot of the time, which helps if you feel like you're not fitting in."

Wolfinger says potluck dinners, like the one she's helping to co-ordinate for fellow students' Thanksgiving weekend, helps take the edge off the distance. Christmas break, however, gets a little trickier, since many students leave to go back home. But there are some who stay due to lack of transportation funds or the fact that going home might create more emotional turmoil.

No matter, says Wolfinger.

"Lots of them will be invited back to their roommate's family home," she says. "Others will stick around, but they won't be alone. We make sure that there are activities around for people to take advantage of. It's the support system we miss the most. If our friends can help us feel better over the holidays, living far away from those we love gets a little easier."

Tips to Survive the 80-Day Holiday Countdown

  • Simplify. Pace yourself and your expectations and say no when you have to. Lists are great, but watch that you don't become hyper-vigilant in completing them on time.
  • Keep your eye on your values and control your need to keep up with the Joneses.
  • Share the workload. Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you get help, let it happen, rather than refusing it or trying to manipulate the offer, and make sure to drop the guilt.
  • Whenever you say yes to something, remember it's a "no" to something else. Be prepared to live with that choice.
  • Be thankful, even if you think someone doesn't care or is indifferent to spending the holidays with you. They're still with you.
  • Watch for stress signs: If you feel tired, irritable, anxious, depressed, not getting enough to eat and feeling like you're running out of time, step back and re-evaluate what's important and what's worth letting go. If you notice signs in others, offer to help out, wrap gifts, clean or treat them to dinner or simply talk and reminisce.
  • Communicate. Share your feelings with someone you trust. They can give an objective opinion and help you put things into perspective.
  • Sleep. Many of us run on empty during the holidays, so catch a nap in between shopping and holiday concerts.
[NOTE: Members can read 55 Tips on how to reduce your stress and anxiety this Christmas season in the Recovery Support area of our website.]
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Tips page. Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Christmas Stress Tips.