“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” – Anaïs Nin 

It’s the most “wonderful” time of the year, but is it really?

The outward appearance of festive seasons is that they’re joyous, relaxing and wonderful! But so many of us approach them with mixed feelings of anxiety and all-out nostalgia.

The quote from Anaïs Nin is a worthwhile reminder as we approach the holiday season, a time filled with expectations and perceived ideas of just how perfect everything should be. Some of us may very well imagine joyful celebrations surrounded by loving family members and friends, exchanging gifts as we eat, drink and be merry – with not a care in the world. But reality seldom measures up to this picture-perfect ideal.

First off – remember that if this resonates with you, you’re not alone!

The pressure of getting it just right (and comparing it to others) is a contributing cause of stress. But, this is a pressure set by our expectations; changing the way we enter the festive season can go a long way to alleviate our negative emotions. 

Many other elements contribute to this stressful time: all the planning involved, finding gifts that will feel sentimental but not break the bank, and getting along with people who rub us up the wrong way. If we add financial constraints and exhaustion from increased demands on our time, both in planning and socialising, overeating, increased alcohol consumption and lack of exercise, it’s easy to see how maintaining an overall sense of well being is tricky.  

Here’s the good news – despite this being such a stressful time, there are also undeniable benefits! 

There is often a tendency to isolate ourselves during times of anxiety or low morale. This makes us feel worse as we focus more on our issues of concern during our solitude. Despite how difficult it can be, one of the best things we can do at this time is to surround ourselves with friends and family who love and encourage us.

This surprising paradox is backed up statistically as these examples show:

  • The number of Google searches for “sad words” such as “stress”, “anxiety”, “depression”, and “fatigue” are at a minimum on Christmas day. 
  • A study of hospital visits for mental health issues revealed an annual drop over the festive season and a sharp rise again each January.

Essentially, if we allow the festive season to be about festive stuff and not about people, we’ll easily fall into a state of stress. But, if we adjust our expectations and focus on gratitude and presence (rather than presents!), this really will be the most wonderful time of the year!

Let’s embrace each other and change our mindset to reduce seasonal stress and make it a reality to thrive in a space of genuine wellbeing.