Holiday Stress  

holiday stress

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Holiday stress refers to a mental state of heightened psychological strain 1 Andrews L. W. (2002). Handling holiday stress. Diabetes self-management19(6), 24–31. and emotional distress that individuals experience during the holiday season. This period, typically commencing with festive celebrations and familial gatherings spanning from late November through early January, can evoke a range of mental health issues associated with depression, holiday blues, social anxiety, and substance use.

Signs To Recognize Holiday Stress

The common signs 2 Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2011). The christmas effect on psychopathology. Innovations in clinical neuroscience8(12), 10–13. of holiday stress include:

  • Dreading the very anticipation or thought of the approaching holidays.
  • Irritability, increased impatience, and frustration.
  • Issues of sleeplessness or poor sleeping patterns.
  • Feeling swamped by holiday demands related to shopping, organizing celebrations, finances, etc.
  • Acute pain symptoms like headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, etc.
  • Drastic appetite and weight changes.
  • Anxiety, such as social anxiety and financial anxiety.
  • Unrealistic standards and extreme tendencies to make the holidays perfect.
  • Frequent mood swings and a lax in decision-making skills.
  • Procrastination and delaying in holiday-related tasks.
  • Weakened immune system and susceptibility to illness.
  • Negative and skeptical feelings throughout the holiday season.

Read More About Anxiety Here

Facts About Holiday Stress
Facts About Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress In Films

Dealing with holiday stress has been a recurring theme 3 de Bloom, J., Radstaak, M., & Geurts, S. (2014). Vacation effects on behaviour, cognition and emotions of compulsive and non-compulsive workers: do obsessive workers go ‘cold turkey’?. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress30(3), 232–243. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2600 in numerous films. In the classic comedy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold navigates the chaotic challenges of hosting a perfect family Christmas. Similarly, Home Alone (1990) shows the stress of holiday travel and anticipation of a lonely holiday.

The Grinch (2000) portrays the effect of isolation, loneliness, and holiday blues in mental health contexts. Nearly all adaptations of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol show the pressure of social expectations surrounding celebrations and the long-term impact of unresolved grief and trauma on the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge.

What Causes Holiday Stress?

Stress and the holidays have had a long association. In fact, studies 4 Baier M. (1987). The “holiday blues” as a stress reaction. Perspectives in psychiatric care24(2), 64–68. attribute the main causes of holiday stress to:

  • Social expectations of relentlessly participating in a happy family gathering.
  • Financial strain of gifts, travelling and other expenses for celebrations.
  • Time constraints, including trying to balance daily duties with holiday preparations.
  • Family dynamics, particularly the danger of conflicts and interpersonal distance.
  • Perfectionism, over-commitment, and the unrealistic pursuit of incredible holiday expectations.
  • Fear of social isolation and loneliness during festivities.
  • Disruption in schedule and routine that create stress.
  • Drawing comparisons over the holidays, like looking at Christmas Day through the eyes of others who appear to have everything perfect in their lives.
  • Cultural or religious obligations to observe certain customs within one’s culture or religion.
  • Bittersweet reflections on the year, particularly evaluating personal achievements and disappointments over the year gone by.

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Mental Health Issues, Stress, And The Holidays

Stress and the holidays are intricately related, because of which the holiday season can greatly affect mental health 5 Todd, M. (2005). ‘Tis the season: holiday stress and anger, pt. II. Tennessee Medicine: Journal of the Tennessee Medical Association, 98(1), 31. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15696817/ . A range of factors can trigger several psychological conditions like seasonal depressive disorder, financial stress, and social anxiety.

Moreover, society’s focus on perfect celebrations may set unrealistic standards that make people feel incapable of living up to such standards. This, in turn, may result in mental health issues like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, body image issues 6 Abdulan, I. M., Popescu, G., Maștaleru, A., Oancea, A., Costache, A. D., Cojocaru, D. C., Cumpăt, C. M., Ciuntu, B. M., Rusu, B., & Leon, M. M. (2023). Winter Holidays and Their Impact on Eating Behavior-A Systematic Review. Nutrients15(19), 4201. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15194201 , low self-esteem, and substance use through activities like relentless drinking, etc.

Many people may also relate the holidays to personal losses or past traumatic experiences, which can make them feel more isolated and helpless. Termed as Christmas PTSD 7 van der Kolk B. (2000). Posttraumatic stress disorder and the nature of trauma. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience2(1), 7–22. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2000.2.1/bvdkolk , these experiences may include painful flashbacks and an internalization of negative feelings.

Along the same lines, people dealing with grief and toxic relationships/family dynamics may find it difficult to adjust to the cheerful season 8 Nawijn, J., Marchand, M. A., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2010). Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday. Applied research in quality of life5(1), 35–47. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9 . This is also the case for people with neuro-developmental disorders like autism, Asperger’s syndrome, etc. whose disruption in their daily schedules may worsen their mental health symptoms.

Reasons Behind Holiday Stress During And After The Holidays
Reasons Behind Holiday Stress During And After The Holidays

Mental Health Tips For The Holidays

Consider the following 9 Barker P. (2019). The gift of less Christmas stress. The Veterinary record185(23), 736–737. https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.l6952 mental health tips for the holidays for dealing with holiday stress:

  • Set realistic expectations and accept the shortcomings and flaws in planning holidays.
  • Take into account the tiny instances of joy and happiness of the holidays inherent in spending time with loved ones, Christmas traditions, holiday baking rituals, etc.
  • Prioritize self-care, dedicating time for relaxation and personal well-being amid festive activities.
  • Establish boundaries with people and things that drain you emotionally. Learn to say “no” to avoid over-committing.
  • Limit or moderate alcohol intake to mindfully take charge of your festivities and social interactions.
  • Budget wisely to alleviate procrastination, last minute shopping, and financial stress.
  • Maintain routines and stick to the holiday plan to reduce chaotic disruptions.
  • Avoid comparisons and practice gratitude, focusing on positive aspects and appreciating small joys.
  • Promote holiday stress management through adequate physical activity, mindfulness and relaxation techniques, meditation, etc.
  • Seek support from friends or family, if you are experiencing emotional distress.
  • Consult mental health professionals, if holiday stress becomes overwhelming.

Read More About Stress Management Here

Takeaway

Dealing with holiday stress is essential for a joyful and meaningful celebration. Embracing holiday stress tips like setting realistic expectations, prioritizing self-care, and fostering positive connections can help individuals navigate the festive season with better holiday stress management—allowing for a more relaxed and enjoyable holiday experience. Remembering the true spirit of the holidays and embracing simplicity can contribute to a more fulfilling and stress-free celebration. 

At A Glance

  1. Holiday stress refers to a mental state of heightened psychological strain during the holiday season.
  2. Research claims that holiday stress hits its peak during the cold festive season, spanning from late November through early January.
  3. The common signs of holiday stress include fatigue, irritability, a dread for the holidays, self-imposed isolation, etc.
  4. Holiday stress can trigger several mental health issues related to seasonal depression, Christmas PTSD, anxiety, financial stress, body image issues, etc.
  5. Common holiday stress tips include minimizing holiday planning and budget, drawing social boundaries, self-care, and reveling in the joy of the festive season.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Why Can’t I Relax On Holiday?

Difficulty relaxing on holiday may be attributed to expectations, over-planning, or an inability to disconnect from daily stressors.

2. Why Is Anxiety Worse On Holiday?

Holiday anxiety may intensify due to unfamiliar environments, disrupted routines, and social pressure to enjoy the fullest within limited time.

3. What Is The Most Stressful Holiday?

The most stressful holiday varies individually, but major celebrations like Christmas can bring heightened expectations, family dynamics, and financial pressures.

4. Why Do I Feel Lazy On Holidays?

Feeling lazy on holidays can result from a desire for rest, a break from routine, or a need for mental and physical recuperation.

References:

  • 1
    Andrews L. W. (2002). Handling holiday stress. Diabetes self-management19(6), 24–31.
  • 2
    Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2011). The christmas effect on psychopathology. Innovations in clinical neuroscience8(12), 10–13.
  • 3
    de Bloom, J., Radstaak, M., & Geurts, S. (2014). Vacation effects on behaviour, cognition and emotions of compulsive and non-compulsive workers: do obsessive workers go ‘cold turkey’?. Stress and health : journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress30(3), 232–243. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2600
  • 4
    Baier M. (1987). The “holiday blues” as a stress reaction. Perspectives in psychiatric care24(2), 64–68.
  • 5
    Todd, M. (2005). ‘Tis the season: holiday stress and anger, pt. II. Tennessee Medicine: Journal of the Tennessee Medical Association, 98(1), 31. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15696817/
  • 6
    Abdulan, I. M., Popescu, G., Maștaleru, A., Oancea, A., Costache, A. D., Cojocaru, D. C., Cumpăt, C. M., Ciuntu, B. M., Rusu, B., & Leon, M. M. (2023). Winter Holidays and Their Impact on Eating Behavior-A Systematic Review. Nutrients15(19), 4201. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15194201
  • 7
    van der Kolk B. (2000). Posttraumatic stress disorder and the nature of trauma. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience2(1), 7–22. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2000.2.1/bvdkolk
  • 8
    Nawijn, J., Marchand, M. A., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2010). Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday. Applied research in quality of life5(1), 35–47. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9
  • 9
    Barker P. (2019). The gift of less Christmas stress. The Veterinary record185(23), 736–737. https://doi.org/10.1136/vr.l6952
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