Featured Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team Wellness

Ask a Family Doctor: I get anxious around the holidays. Is this normal?

Written by Dr. Sharon Domb

Question: As the weather changes and the holiday season approaches, I’m feeling kind of anxious. This happens each year (now that I think about it). I just feel kind of wound up and stressed. How do I know what’s a “normal” level of holiday stress/anxiety? Is this something I should talk to my family doctor about?

Answer: This is a great – and rather common – question. So first off, remember you are not alone. For many people, the holidays bring a lot of joy and excitement but also a lot of pressure, stress and anxiety. So the real question is whether it is “normal” stress, or something more concerning that should be addressed with your doctor.

Potential causes of holiday stress include purchasing gifts, preparing to host holiday gatherings, going to holiday parties, and attending challenging family get-togethers. Some people find the holiday period particularly difficult if they don’t have people to celebrate with, have recently lost loved ones, have recently ended a relationship, or it rekindles unpleasant memories from the past.

So as the season gets underway, try to take care of yourself. Keep a sleep pattern. Continue with your routines – like eating healthy meals at set times and exercising. Set aside some alone time to re-energize. Try to get outside. Also try to make an effort to socialize. If you do not have friends or family nearby, consider participating in a holiday meal at a community centre.

Some of the signs to watch out for: Do you have poor sleep or the desire for increased sleep? Has your appetite significantly increased or decreased? Do you have poor concentration or the inability to enjoy activities that you once previously enjoyed? Do you have a lack of motivation or a lack of interest in interacting with other people (and therefore social isolation)?

These questions can help to determine if your level of stress or anxiety should be of a concern. If you answer “yes” to these questions and it persists for two or more weeks, or your mood is interfering with your work or home life, please make an appointment to speak with your family doctor. If you have thoughts of wanting to harm yourself, call your doctor or a distress line, for example 416-408-HELP (4357) in the GTA. If you are in immediate crisis, call 911.

If you know your increased anxiety is a pattern and it happens every year around the holidays, try to get help in advance. If the stress is coming from a particular family member or specific gathering, consider whether you can limit these activities to decrease your stress, or set up a system to help – take a buddy to the party, for example, or set a time limit for being there.

You may find these resources helpful:


About the author

Dr. Sharon Domb

Dr. Sharon Domb is a family physician and member of Sunnybrook’s Academic Family Health Team.
If you have a general question for a family doctor, email us at questions@sunnybrook.ca. Please note that we can not dispense medical advice over email.