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When holidays bring dread, fear and worry and how to cope with expectations

For some, the holidays are filled with many emotions other than the joy peace and love they promote.   Perhaps the thought of bringing a partner home for the traditional family meal is triggering some anxiety. Or, you may be dreading going home because your family seems to go back to the same dynamics as when you were a child even though you are all full grown adults now. Maybe you are stressed about how to create a Christmas because you are already overextended in your finances and there is so much expectation from your children or your spouse around gifts. Coping with these feelings in advance of the actual holiday can go a long way towards reducing your anxiety and stress.

Let’s talk about finances and expectations around gift giving and receiving. For shop owners and retailers, Christmas is their busiest and generally most profitable time of the year. They rely on advertisements designed to trigger people on an emotional level – showing scenes of happiness and joy from loved ones opening gifts. These ads and the sales that go with them are often so compelling that purchases are made on impulse and with little or no thought to whether you can actually afford them. Later, the guilt, remorse and stress of how to pay for the gifts begin to eat away at you. The love and happiness the gift represents is replaced or diminished by these negative emotions instead.

There are a few simple and effective ways to manage gift giving and other holiday expectations so you stay within your budget. First, create ten minutes to be by yourself. Take a couple of deep slow breaths to settle you in. Now, put your hand on your heart and ask how your heart how it would like this year’s holiday to feel and be. Write down whatever comes to you. Next, put both hands on your gut and ask your gut what makes sense for you for this holiday. Write this down as well. Now, go back to placing your hand on your heart and review what you wrote down. How does your heart feel about what your gut says and vice versa? When you’ve come to an agreement and alignment of your heart and gut about how this year’s holiday season should be, then it is time to bring your head into the conversation. Your head holds the logic and problem solving ability. Your head also holds onto expectations and past memories so don’t be surprised if your head tries to argue against what you’re aligned heart and gut want for this holiday. Tell your head what your heart and gut have agreed to for this holiday and ask yourself how to create that feeling and experience.

The how to’s of creating the right holiday for you start with choosing how you will be and feel during the season. You get to choose feeling stressed or calm, being joyous or frustrated. By beginning with the end in mind, you can create an activity and financial plan that supports what you want to create for the holidays this year. If there are zero dollars in your budget for gifts, then talk with your partner and family in advance and manage their expectations and your own. Zero dollars does not mean zero gifts. It means getting creative in what a gift might be. The key is to proactively manage expectations – yours and theirs. If you are an impulse shopper, stay away from the shops by finding other activities to occupy your time. If there is a particular friend who ‘always leads you astray’, explain to him or her in advance how you want to feel this holiday and ask them to help you achieve it by not tempting you to exceed your budget. Or, if that doesn’t work, decline going out with them and opt for doing something with others who are willing to respect your desires.

If the suggestions above seem overwhelming or impossible to implement, a psychologist can help you create and implement solutions that are customized to your situation. Your general practitioner can refer you to a psychologist by first creating a mental health care plan for you to manage your holiday stress and anxiety. When you have a mental health care plan, Medicare covers a good portion of your psychologist visit costs. You only pay the remaining gap. The Centre for Human Potential can provide you with further information.