Five Christmas tips for the anxious

Written by: Dr Pooky Knightsmith | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Christmas can be a difficult time for those suffering with mental health difficulties, especially anxiety. Dr Pooky Knightsmith offers five ideas for managing Christmas

Confession time: I find Christmas really hard. I used to think I was alone in this, but the more open and honest I’ve been about it, the more I have realised I am far, far from alone.

Instead of just battening down the hatches and bah humbugging until new year, I have learnt to manage the festive season and reclaim a little Christmas joy. So in this article I am going to share five tips for managing the festive season that may be helpful for you, or a colleague or a pupil you are supporting.

These ideas are especially helpful for people with autism or anxiety disorders, but use them as a starting point for discussion with anyone who finds the festive season tricky.

Talk about what you find hard

Stopping to take note of what we find difficult at Christmas time is an important first step. We start with a little self-awareness, then have a think about who it would be helpful to share this with. Friends and family are often incredibly kind and accommodating if they know that there are things we find hard.

If people don’t know there’s a problem, they can’t help, so being honest with ourselves and others is an important first step.

It might be that you or the person you are supporting cannot pinpoint exactly what it is that is difficult. In which case, a useful exercise is to look through a planner of the days and weeks ahead and consider the various events and situations that are coming up and think about each in turn.

This should be done at a time of calm and approached unjudgementally. Never dismiss concerns – listen openly and try to look for patterns.

It’s okay to say no

You do not have to accept every invitation that comes your way. It is always nice to be invited and involved but if there is something you don’t want to do or that makes you feel especially anxious, think carefully before accepting the invitation. If the person inviting you knew that the event would cause you distress, they would be unlikely to expect you to attend (which takes us back to the first point).

The idea of saying no can cause a lot of anxiety in and of itself – finding a form of words that can be used over and over can make it easier.

I tend to go with: “It’s so kind of you to invite me, I’d love to come but I’m on the autistic spectrum and I find these kinds of events really hard, so please accept my apologies and have a great time.”

Try to find words that work for you or the person you are supporting – it really helps.


You might not want to say no to every invite, but you might also be keenly aware that you can only manage so many before you risk burning out either mentally or physically. If that is the case, think ahead and proactively decide which events or days are your priorities and plan around them.

For example, if you want to make sure that you are able to enjoy Christmas day itself, that might mean withdrawing from events directly before or after December 25.

Build in rest and recovery time

If you decide that there are some parts of Christmas you feel you would like to engage with then go for it – but try to be kind to yourself afterwards. Think about if and how you can help yourself to reset after big social events (or whatever it is you find hard).

Netflix and chill is the perfect medicine sometimes, and spending some time resting and relaxing in whatever way works best for us can also help us to build our reserves up for the next challenge.

Make new traditions

Christmas is a time full of traditions, and not feeling able to fulfil these traditions can be a cause of great distress for those of us who find Christmas hard. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do, have a think about what you think you could do, and create some new traditions.

It can be hugely fun to create new traditions and they don’t have to be big to feel special. Maybe you could:

  • Go for a muddy walk.
  • Pick up the phone to someone you care about.
  • Curl up with hot chocolate and a feel-good film.
  • Read a favourite children’s book.
  • Singalong to your favourite soundtrack.
  • Call in for a chat with a neighbour who might be lonely.

There is no limit here except your imagination – the point is to find what feels good for you and to forgive yourself for what doesn’t.

  • Dr Pooky Knightsmith is a passionate ambassador for mental health, wellbeing and PSHE. Her work is backed up both by a PhD in child and adolescent mental health and her own lived experience of PTSD, anorexia, self-harm, anxiety and depression. Pooky provides regular support and advice in SecEd. To read her previous articles, go to You can contact Pooky via


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