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Why 'Christmas creep' causes financial stress and anxiety

Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year, but it has its stresses. Retailers are bringing out gifts and decorations earlier than ever and for some people, it's a reminder of how expensive - and stressful - the festive season can be.

What is Christmas creep?

Shops are bringing out their Christmas stock earlier and earlier every year. Halloween is barely over before wreaths, trees and gifts appear on the shelves - and we are bombarded with Wham and Slade Christmas songs. Although many of us love the festive season, this so-called 'Christmas creep' can lead to anxiety and financial stress.

Counselling Directory member Rachel Matthews, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, says she saw a Christmas advert on TV in early October which sparked anxiety about the approaching season.

"Rather than feeling super excited, a nervousness crept in," she says. "The pressure for everything to be perfect is huge. Everybody needs to be happy with the gifts they are given. Money needs to stretch."

Christmas is always expensive, but there is even more financial pressure with the rising cost of living. Many families have less money to spend, so going to the shops and seeing the Christmas lines out on display can trigger stress and guilt.

In addition, the creep of the holidays can trigger feelings of inadequacy. People may worry about preparing for Christmas and feel like they're already behind. The festive period and the emphasis on family time can already be a difficult time for people who have lost loved ones. A 2019 survey found two in five people felt stressed during the Christmas season, while about one in four has struggled with anxiety or depression1.

"We need to accept, without guilt, that Christmas can be a challenging time," says Matthews. "Being honest with ourselves is the first step, and accepting the reality of the situation rather than adding additional pressure to it."

How to avoid stress and anxiety over Christmas

Shops will never stop putting their festive lines out early, but there are steps you can take to gain control and feel more resilient to the pressures of Christmas creep.

Limit your Christmas shopping time

If Christmas shopping is overwhelming for you, then limit the time you spend doing it. "Set yourself boundaries of both time and money and do your shopping in bite-sized chunks," Matthews suggests. "This can help manage the stress by still allowing yourself time to shop and recover."

Set a budget

Anxiety is often linked to feeling out of control, but creating a budget can help you feel more in control and less stressed. Write down what you need to buy and how much you want to spend on each item, including presents, decorations and food. Factor in your outgoings for that month, including heating and energy bills. Keep the list somewhere safe so you can tick off purchases and stick to your budget.

Make lists

Writing lists will help you understand who you want to buy for and what. Although it can be difficult to know what to buy people for Christmas, if you go shopping with no specifics, you can quickly end up overspending because the panic sets in.

Make compromises

If money is tight this year, speak to family and friends about ways to cut back. "Which elements of the day are non-negotiables and how can you compromise on others? For example, do you definitely need crackers on the table?" says the counsellor.

If you're hosting Christmas dinner with friends and family, you could ask people to each bring a dish or drinks so the cost of the meal is spread out.

Be honest

It's important to share with others how you are feeling. You won't be alone in feeling overwhelmed, so by talking to someone else you can offload and normalise some of the things that you feel. If you're struggling with your mental health, it may be helpful to speak to your doctor for advice. You can self-refer for counselling on the NHS.

Limit social media

Social media encourages us to compare our lives to other people's. People don't tend to post the negative bits online, so we rarely get a realistic snapshot of their lives - but it can still have a negative impact on our mental health. If you're worried that you haven't got the budget you had last year, it can help to limit the time you spend on social media over Christmas.

Make time for yourself

It's easy to get wrapped up in presents, food and trying to please everyone at Christmas. Trying to remember the things that make you happy - going for crisp winter walks, spending time with friends or family or relaxing - can help keep things in perspective.

Further reading

  1. YouGov: How does Christmas impact people's mental health?
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