Tips on Overcoming Holiday Stress and Gift Receiving Anxiety

If I am, to be honest, holidays have always caused me great anxiety with Christmas being the biggest trigger. Until the age of 18, Christmas was horrible for me, not because I didn’t get gifts, oh quite the contrary, I would get so much stuff that it was sickening, LITERALLY!!! Like all kids, my cousin and I would wake up early on Christmas morning to see if we’d been good enough to make it onto Santa’s list of homes to visit. I would walk into our living room, look at all the toys and become violently ill including the eruption of all stomach contents. There were many Christmases that my mom and I spent in the Emergency Room. After a few years of this, my mom adopted a different approach to the distribution of my gifts, she would give me very few gifts on Christmas morning. To minimize my trauma response to all the gifts, my mom started to divide my gifts the entire week of Christmas, spoiler alert, it did not work. I often think back to my days spent laid out with a fever, stomach issues, and unwell as hell on Christmas and I wonder how my mama felt and how I impacted her holiday. I wonder did she resent having a child who couldn’t handle Christmas morning. What kind of kid doesn’t want a room full of toys? I imagine that in frustration, my mom wondered if she would ever be able to enjoy Christmas with me and then I had a kid.

My first memory of a truly enjoyable Christmas was when my daughter was a year old. We spread her stuff out just like mama used to lay my things, across the couches. I can still see her in that little red and white dress with her gold necklace on. While I don’t remember what she got that year, I do remember it being the best Christmas of my life. Seeing her walk into the same room that was once so traumatizing for me and be excited by all that was waiting for her helped me find a love for Christmas. Because I had a child, Christmas was no longer about me, the attention shifted from me to my daughter and that worked for me. I may have gotten a card with a few dollars in it but there was no excess of gifts waiting for me and I stopped getting sick that same year. We figured out that all of the stuff that came with Christmas, my mom going above and beyond to make it magical for me, the toys and extras, was too overwhelming for me to enjoy; it had to stop. 

My daughter is now grown, my youngest is 19 and Christmas has taken on many forms throughout the years but the one thing that has remained the same is I don’t get ill anymore. The first time that my Christmas anxiety hinted at returning was when my then two-year-old granddaughter showed signs of being overwhelmed when we took her to a toy store during the holiday rush, I panicked. I know what it feels like to be affected so deeply by excess that your body responds forcefully, I don’t want that curse for her. Fortunately, that was a one-time occurrence, I made some adjustments to make sure she doesn’t encounter those challenging feelings and Christmas was saved. As we are going into another year of gift-giving and merriment, I am in a reflective space, wondering what it was about being on the receiving end of gifts that caused and still causes me so much anxiety.

I could go on and on, recounting the tales of my life with holiday anxiety but the purpose of this post as with all of my posts is to teach you the lessons that life has taught me. One thing that my Yuletide days of old have taught me is to embrace the moments during the holiday season that spark my joy and build a foundation upon them. For me, the holidays can’t be linked to things, I need to have and be apart of experiences, memory-making moments. Yes, I give gifts, I am not good with receiving but I am an excellent, somewhat obsessive gift giver. I don’t just buy a person a gift, the gift has to have a meaning. When I give someone a present, I am more invested in what they are going to feel when they open the box. I want them to remember the feeling long after the gift has been used. I have found that if I can be in the background snapping pictures, sharing jokes, and orchestrating an atmosphere that fills the souls of all in attendance, I am fulfilled, calm, and happy, giving to others is my gift in so many ways

If you are like me and you struggle during this season, implementing ways that keep you present, at ease, and full of joy are extremely important. You can’t approach this season with the same methods that others use. Making your participation level compatible with your emotional capabilities is the only way you are going to get through these times with minimized potential for being triggered. You have to accept who you are, stop comparing yourself to others, and plan events that include your enjoyment as a priority. If you struggle with getting gifts from others but you don’t want to rob your loved ones of the joy of giving to you. I have found that if I have a say in what gifts I am given, I am less prone to being overwhelmed. When I know that my birthday or holidays are coming, I will send my family and friends screenshots of items that I like. Until I get to the root of my gift getting anxiety in coaching(and therapy), I am not a person that handles being surprised well. So, if those that love me and want to buy me present have a list of items that I have curated to pick from, everyone is happy. We all have a story and it’s the elements of our stories that make us who we are. I carry no shame about who I am nor how I function in this world. It just so happens that Christmas, for whatever undiscovered reason, causes me anxiety. Fortunately, I am emotionally intelligent enough to be able to create holiday occasions that my family, myself included, can enjoy. After all, the purpose of holiday season is for us all to have and make lasting memories.

all pics courtesy of


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