Holiday Anxiety: Why Am I Nervous When Everyone’s So Happy?

The holiday season is one that’s touted as being filled with joy and celebration, where you can gather with friends and family for ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. But it can also be a time of year when those struggling with depression and anxiety can really feel the stress and sadness that this season can cause. 

So, what is it about the holidays that brings about such a lot of nervousness and anxiety for so many people and how can you reduce it?

Signs of anxiety

Before delving into the causes of holiday anxiety, it’s worth noting that the signs of anxiety can vary from person to person. Common signs of anxiety include increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, uncontrollable feelings of worry and fear, a feeling of being on edge all the time or restless, and trouble sleeping. 

While these symptoms are common in everyday life, they’re more pronounced for someone dealing with anxiety. With the stress of the season making everyone feel more restless and unfocused, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of how you’re feeling and the intensity of your emotions, as it could be a sign that you’re struggling with something beyond what’s normal for the time of year. 

Causes of anxiety

The holidays are a major cause of anxiety in several ways:

Unrealistic expectations

The media can be overwhelming around the holidays, which can put pressure on us to do more than we’re capable of doing. 

Financial worries

It’s an expensive time of year which can lead to financial worries and stress over how to pay for everything. If you’re already struggling with debt or finances are tight, you may find yourself getting anxious about how the seasonal expenses will affect you in the future. 

People are under more pressure than ever to buy more and spend money on increasingly expensive products and this can make it a stressful period when you’re trying to meet societal pressure. 

Loneliness

This time of year can be tough for those who have lost a loved one, or who don’t have a social network around them to spend time with, making it easy to feel lonely and depressed. There’s a lot of emphasis on celebrating with others, or this season being such a romantic time for couples that it can bring people down if they feel isolated or alone. 

Social anxiety

There are also a lot of social gatherings around the festive periods, which can be hard for people who struggle with social anxiety. It can be anxiety-inducing to feel like you have to be on good form all the time and join in on group activities when you don’t feel up to it, not to mention the pressure to meet up with people you might not feel especially confident around. 

Pressure to drink

Social occasions can also increase the pressure to drink, which for some can be stressful in itself if they’ve previously struggled with addiction. “Stress is a natural part of life, and research shows that people with a history of addiction may be more vulnerable to stress. Even positive events can be stressful”, says Olivia Marcellino, VP of Research at LuxuryRehabs.com, “and following rehab, stress can make you vulnerable to relapse”. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Around this time of year, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can also be an issue. SAD occurs in the winter, and it can cause a lot of similar symptoms to depression and anxiety, such as changes in appetite, irritability, changes to sleep patterns and feeling tense and stressed. When you’re feeling anxious and worried, you’re less inclined to get outdoors, exercise or reach out to friends and family for support, which can make SAD worse. 

How to reduce anxiety

The first step to reducing holiday anxiety is to take the pressure off yourself. If you’re setting unrealistic, high expectations for yourself and those around you over this season, you’re more likely to feel let down and stressed throughout the entire period. 

Identifying your specific concerns can also help. Are you worried about spending time with certain people, saying the wrong thing, and embarrassing yourself or something else, such as finances?

Knowing what it is that’s causing your anxiety might be easier said than done, but if you can narrow down what’s making you anxious and worried, it can help you to find specific solutions that will bring your anxiety down and help you to enjoy yourself. 

Create a routine that’s centered around self-care, as this can minimize your stress and anxiety. This might be prioritizing a good sleep routine, so you’re not frazzled and tired every day, making the time to exercise or focusing on healthy, nourishing meals so you’re not fuelling your body solely on sugar and fat. This is a good time to relax and unwind, so make sure that there are pockets of time every day where you can recharge. 

Make sure you set boundaries with family and friends around this time of year. It’s easy to overschedule yourself and feel obligated to accept every invitation that comes your way. But while it might mean eliminating certain traditions, remember that this is also your time to relax and enjoy yourself, so it’s perfectly acceptable to say no to things that are going to bring you more stress than enjoyment. 

Finally, refrain from seeking relief in alcohol and drugs over the festive season. Self-medicating in this way might seem like a way to ease the anxiety and stress, and to take the edge off the pressure of the holidays, but the reality is that anxiety and drugs can make your anxiety worse and could even trigger panic attacks. Instead, find healthy ways to unwind and keep your intake of alcohol to a minimum. 

Final thoughts

Holiday anxiety is a problem that so many people face as the year comes to a close. And it’s unsurprising, given the pressure that’s placed on all of us to create a memorable and enjoyable experience for everyone around us. But it can make the holidays a miserable time of year if you’re exhausted by stress and anxiety every day, and it can take its toll on your physical and mental health. 

Spend this time of year relaxing and focusing on what’s truly important, instead of feeling like you have to do it all. Put self-care at the top of your list, focus on healthy ways to moderate your nerves, and don’t feel like you have to say yes to everything just to please others if the situation is going to have a negative impact on your mood.   

Sophie Bishop

Medical journalist | London

Sophie Bishop is a medical journalist who specializes in such topics as anxiety, sleep hygiene, depression and has been featured in many mental health publications online and in print. Connect with Sophie on Twitter: @SophBishJourno Read more