Whether it’s anxiety from stress over finding the right gift, the cost of buying gifts, or just feeling overwhelmed at the amount of gifts to buy, many people experience gift-giving stress over the holidays. For some of us, the stress can quickly manifest as symptoms of seasonal depression and/or social anxiety. This can make you feel like you want to hide under the covers and not come out until January 1st.
How can we fight back against the urge to withdraw? Focusing on the benefits of the actual act of gift giving instead of fixating on the perfect gift for everyone in your circle can be a helpful reframe, or alternative way of interpreting a stressful situation. It can aid in channeling your anxious stress to a more productive and healthy way of thinking.
Studies show that gift giving increases what clinical researchers call prosocial behavior, which means engaging in activities that involve both outreach and social contact (Lanser & Eisenberger, 2022). That combination can include gift-giving, but you can also see benefits from something as simple as writing someone a note of appreciation. These actions can counteract negative automatic thoughts as well as feelings of loneliness, both common symptoms in people with depression and social anxiety.
Interventions from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, encourage prosocial behavior and have been shown to reduce loneliness and increase mood significantly. This can be very helpful against the negative affect disorders that tend to increase over holidays. The positive effects from prosocial behaviors like gift-giving are also long lasting, because just recalling the event can lead to similar negative mood reductions for weeks afterwards. It’s like a power boost of benefits from just one event!
When you’re feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated to start shopping for gifts, try these tips from DBT for not letting the anxiety take over your thoughts and behaviors. They can be an effective means for you to combat stress and even to start enjoying the process…
Behavioral Activation through Opposite Action: When you’re feeling unmotivated to participate in holiday events and gift-giving your instinct may be to withdraw from others and engage in self-soothing behaviors like canceling plans and staying in. The short-term impact may be a sigh of relief. Fighting past this urge, grabbing some gifts and going to the holiday party can have a lasting decrease in loneliness and negative thoughts, and an increased boost in mood.
Pleasant Events Scheduling: Another way to help against gift-giving anxiety is to plan a time to exchange gifts around a festive event or meetup. This will take the focus off the gifts and increase the likelihood of an enjoyable experience. Adding on a non-gift tradition like playing a game or watching a classic holiday movie together gives everyone something to look forward to beyond gift giving.
Mental Health Counselor Intern