McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Anxiety around the holidays is quite common — but be careful when turning internet for advice on ways to cope

By Suzanne Morrison
Published: December 23, 2009

Everyone knows Santa is able to deliver presents around the world in just one night because he has a legion of elves helping him make toys, care for his reindeer, wrap presents, help in the kitchen and even clean.

Few of us are that lucky. So, we end up running around in endless circles, becoming more and more anxious as Christmas Day draws closer with so many jobs still unfinished.

"Anxiety around the holidays is quite common and can be triggered by a variety of situational stressors, such as financial strain, getting things done, getting things done perfectly, having to attend social events and family get-togethers — especially when tenuous relationships exist," said Dr. Michael Van Ameringen, an associate professor of psychiatry and behaviourial neurosciences in McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

Van Ameringen said people often have unrealistic expectations of themselves and how events should go, and put undue pressure upon themselves at Christmas when it should be a time of celebration.

As stress levels build up, be mindful when turning to the internet for advice on ways to cope with overwhelming anxiety.

The internet has become a powerful tool for finding and exchanging information, Van Ameringen said, with more than one-third (37.5 per cent) to more than half (56.3 per cent) of people in the general population using the internet to find health-related information.

"But, there is little to guide internet users regarding the credibility of the information found," he said.

Van Ameringen said there are differences between normal stress and anxiety and having an anxiety disorder.

If you think your anxiety may be due to more than just seasonal stress, he suggests getting information about anxiety disorders from websites of nationally recognized institutions, such as:

A web self-report questionnaire (MACSCREEN) developed at McMaster University screens for specific anxiety disorders (panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and specific phobia) as well as major depressive disorder, mania, alcohol and substance abuse and psychotic symptoms.

"All of these conditions may be worsened around times of stress and excitement, such as the holidays," Van Ameringen said.  "People who meet criteria for a disorder on the MACSCREEN often seek further information or treatment from their family physicians."

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