You’ve set up the December evening perfectly.
The curtains are closed, you’re sitting down with a cup of tea, about to watch a film. It’s been a long day, but it’s time to block out the world for a little while.
But then the Christmas adverts start, and all you see are commercials for him, for her, for your mum, your dad and the kids.
You take the phone out to drown the noise out, but on your screen are ads and influencers with gift guides galore.
‘You have to get this!’ screams one advert. ‘Treat them to something special,’ shouts another.
Suddenly, you are bombarded, and it all gets a little too much.
And you probably aren’t the only one.
More than any other Christmas before, there is a sense of anxiety around the festive period. The cost-of-living crisis hangs over us and people are struggling to cover the basics. Buying Christmas presents is something that will be causing anxiety for many.
Mariah* from London says she’s been feeling a sense of dread since early autumn. ‘I’m really struggling,’ she explains. ‘I know there are people worse off than me but it has been a really difficult few months financially. I’m not from London originally so I need to make it home for Christmas, but even that will be a push because flights are so expensive.
‘I feel this pressure about gifts – giving them and wanting them to be brilliant. I just can’t afford anything that will make my loved ones go “wow.”
‘It sounds materialistic and I know deep down my family won’t care, but I don’t want them to look at me differently or judge me or know that financially I am not as stable as before.
‘It feels like a failure of some sort.’
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott says Mariah is not alone. He says the act of exchanging is deeply embedded in our psyche.
‘There never was a time we didn’t use money as a means of exchange and it’s deeply embedded in our brains, culture, relationships,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘We have been through several existential crises over the last few years, Brexit, Covid, the war in Ukraine and now the cost-of-living crisis. Each one amplifies the anxiety.
He continues: ‘Every parent works to protect their kids from external worries and give them hope and happiness, and at Christmas we do this with gifts and feasts.
‘So, of course we are anxious when that is now a difficult thing to do too.’
Noel also believes advertising and social media don’t help, but we have to separate the business from the people.
‘Looking at TikTok currently, every other video is someone selling a product.
‘It’s particularly pervasive, but because of the user generated nature of the platform, we don’t see that salesperson. Instead, we see someone like us, emotionally and psychologically akin to a friend or family member giving us helpful advice.’
To remember how very much we don’t need excess stuff, senior therapist Sally Baker says we need to look at the recent past and start the conversation about a different Christmas celebration.
‘One thing we all learnt during the pandemic is that we didn’t miss stuff and things,’ she recalls.
‘What we really longed for was our people, the family members and friends we truly love. Everyone is feeling the extra financial pressure this Christmas, so it’s time to talk and start the conversation about a smaller, less showy holiday.
‘Because the gifts don’t matter. This year instead of a physical thing, give the gift of your time and attention, and give promise notes of your commitments.’
Sally has some ideas for gifts that will mean so much – but won’t cost much.
She says: ‘Gift a spring picnic in the park, a trip to an art gallery or museum, a day trip to the coast. Your promises will make memorable gifts that will be spread throughout the year, and that provide the exact thing people truly want.
However, having these types of conversations can be difficult. Money talk is never an easy thing to do, but Sally notes there are ways to communicate clearly and in a way that is comfortable for you.
‘Remember, the gap between the haves and the have nots has narrowed to the point that most people are experiencing additional financial anxiety, she says.
‘With this is mind it’s fine to suggest changing your present giving habits.
‘If it feels too hard to start a conversation, then send a text message suggesting a budget limit or suggesting how everyone can spend less this holiday.
‘Friends and family can process your suggestions and perhaps respond more thoughtfully than when they are put on the spot in conversation.’
Sally says pragmatism is never a bad thing and most will respond well to your thought out efforts.
‘There’s no shame being realistic about what’s affordable for you,’ she explains.
‘Having a set of rules is a mature response to difficult financial constraints – many of which are beyond our collective control.
‘Friends and family will welcome your honesty and feel relief you’re offering to be pragmatic, instead of putting yourself and others under pressure to go into debt to buy presents that most people don’t need.’
*Names have been changed
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