As Christmas looms closer, Americans are feeling the crunch. A consumer survey from health marketplace Sesame revealed that 70% of Americans are feeling more financial stress this holiday season compared to 2020. Three-in-five Americans also said that their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays, with 60% reporting increased anxiety and 52% reporting increased depression.
“As has been the theme for the last couple of years, we’re all trying to navigate a world with a ton of unknowns, which is incredibly anxiety-provoking,” says Dr. Allison Edwards, MD, Sesame’s Medical Director. “It’s human nature to want to be able to plan and predict the future, but it seems everything we once could rely on has been turned on its head!”
Top Holiday Stressors in 2021
The survey identified a laundry list of top stressors, which many of us can relate to. Amongst the top holiday stressors this year included:
- Shopping for gifts (26%)
- Managing children’s excitement (17%)
- Navigating family dynamics (17%)
- Supply chain issues (14%)
- COVID logistics during family gatherings (such as relatives who are vaccinated or unvaccinated) (13%)
On the bright side, however, many of these concerns are not as bad as they could have been thanks to efforts on behalf of companies and individuals. For instance, when it comes to holiday shopping, Amazon has doubled its fulfillment network since 2020, making it easier to get gifts in the hands of consumers faster. Even now, many products are still available with delivery dates in time for Christmas.
Also, many companies (from Amazon to McDonald’s) are embracing 12 Days of Christmas promotions this year, perhaps to boost holiday season profits. Sales during the week encompassing Black Friday and Cyber-Monday fell short of 2020, according to BusinessInsider.com.
But this just gives consumers more opportunities to snag savings and deals. A separate report revealed that 60% of consumers plan to take advantage of holiday sales in December to buy something for themselves, while 4% are still finishing their holiday shopping in mid-December.
So, if you’re a last-minute shopper, you certainly aren’t alone. And there are ways to make the best of it.
“Take some time to organize your thoughts,” Edwards says. “Revisit your list and see what’s necessary and what you can substitute that might be less stressful — whether in the amount of time you need to execute it or the amount of money that needs to be spent for it.”
How Americans Are Coping with Holiday Stress
Stressed out holiday shoppers may turn to less-than-healthy coping mechanisms to make it through the season, including eating comfort food (19%) or drinking alcohol (14%). Others are finding healthier outlets, such as exercise (19%) or sex (14%).
For those who are using unhealthy food or drinking to excess to cope, Edwards recommended changing small, day-to-day behaviors to make a big impact. “If you’re trying to eat healthier, take 10 to 15 minutes at the start of the week to think about what ‘menu’ you want for the week, then get the supplies for that menu.”
Meal planning can help reduce the temptation to grab fast food — which is bad for both your waistline and your wallet — and eliminate some of the stress surrounding grocery shopping.
“Make the decision when you’re in a good headspace. Plan your meals and don’t buy that pint of ice cream when you’re at the grocery store. That way, it doesn’t tempt you in your freezer later,” Edwards said.
If you find yourself relying on food, alcohol, or other substances to manage (or ignore) holiday stress, don’t hesitate to seek help, Edwards advised.
“If you even have the inkling that you’re turning to food or alcohol to soothe yourself, that’s the first sign that you should be working towards healthier coping mechanisms,” she said. “Without judging or feeling guilt, acknowledge that you’re going through something and need to think through how to provide care for yourself that doesn’t involve using food or alcohol — two things that can have incredibly negative downstream and immediate consequences.”
Likewise, if you feel you need professional help for anxiety or depression during the holidays, don’t hesitate to seek out experts who can help. “I think the threshold to seek behavioral health care is pretty low, whether we’re experiencing anxiety, coping with increased stress, grief, sorting through past trauma or managing family dynamics,” Edwards said. “We could all use the support of a professional, trained therapist.”
She points out that telehealth options like Sesame make telehealth and behavioral health options affordable for many people, with short waiting times for appointments to get the care you may need.
This is critical, as the Sesame survey revealed 67% of Americans this holiday season are considering seeking professional mental health care. Meanwhile, 8% would like to seek help, but feel they can’t afford it. “Friends are great and incredibly necessary for good mental health, but having someone who is more of a neutral observer who is armed with good, evidence-based training is a phenomenal asset for anyone,” Edwards explained.
Sometimes, it helps to take a step back and think about the possibilities available instead of focusing on the obstacles you might face. “Give yourself a little grace and time to think through things, and you’ll be far better for it,” Edwards says.
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