The Mighty Logo

How Planning Everything Actually Helps My Anxiety Around the Holidays

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

The first time I experienced holiday anxiety was around age 9.

Remember the live-action version of “The Grinch,” with Jim Carrey? I recently tried to rewatch it in a fit of nostalgia, and literally couldn’t get through it. But when I was 9, that movie spoke to me. Cindy Lou Who’s song “Where Are You Christmas?” resonated with the sort of empty feeling I had when making my Christmas list that year. What did I want? I was starting to outgrow the kids’ toys, but I wasn’t to the age where I thought clothes were a proper Christmas gift yet.

I struggled, staring at an empty page for several nights, trying to get something written down. I think I wrote things like “world peace” alongside “a basket for my bike.” I am trying to see that as cute and not horribly cringy.

Once I found out my parents were really Santa, making my list got even harder. What did I feel comfortable asking my parents for? I could ask a magical being for anything, even world peace, but I thought asking my parents for that might just make them feel bad.

For a few years there, Christmas felt different, and because the best part of the holiday season is all the traditions, that felt very strange and uncomfortable. But eventually, I got used to the idea of my parents as Santa, became an “elf” who got to eat the cookies and keep my younger siblings believing in the magic and grew into a teenage identity full of new interests, meaning new gift ideas.

Holiday Anxiety: Round Two

For a few years, I had a new Christmas “normal,” but recently, the holidays have started shifting again. I’ve started to notice that the anxious flutter in my stomach when I think of Christmas and gifts and carols and family parties has transformed from nervous excitement to just plain nervousness. My husband and I have six Christmas parties to attend, and until recently five of those six took place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Now we only have four to squeeze into a 48-hour period.

What a relief.

We also have approximately 25 people to buy presents for now. In previous years, my siblings and I would draw names out of a hat so we only had to buy one present for one person, and we all went in together to get something for my parents. That was it.

Now, I have to find 25 gifts for 25 people, all while making sure one of the other 23 people isn’t buying the same thing for each person. To be honest, a huge part of me loves it. I ascribe to Leslie Knope’s view of gift-giving: “Giving Christmas gifts is like a sport to me, finding or making that perfect something.” But it’s also just one more major change that affects my time, my money and my emotional stress because I really want to get everyone something they absolutely love.

I’m just as uncomfortable with this holiday anxiety as I was when I was 9. I’ve always loved the simple things about the holidays: rolling out Christmas cookies, listening to my favorite Christmas CDs, driving around in the evenings leading up to Christmas to look at everyone’s lights. But in the last few years, it’s been harder and harder to focus on those things because I’m so busy planning logistics and budgets and trying not to step on anyone’s toes.

Planning My Way Out of Holiday Anxiety

At first, I thought the solution was to simply avoid the planning. Just … not plan things, then I can’t be anxious about the planning, right?


Unfortunately, no, that didn’t work for me at all. So, I swung the other way. I found a way to plan everything, from gift-giving to which traditions I focused on. And even though it might sound like that would make things worse (I kinda thought it would) it actually helped so much.

I think part of being an adult means that some holiday magic just has to fade away. But it doesn’t all have to fade away. In the last year or two, I’ve actually found an amazing balance between adult planning mode and childlike wonder mode.

I actually enjoy the holidays again. If you want to enjoy them too, I’m happy to share my planning resources. More information is available at my website, Healing Unscripted.

A version of this article was previously published on the author’s blog.

If you experience anxiety around the holidays, check out these relatable memes.

Photo by Ivan Akimenko on Unsplash

Originally published: November 6, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home