The Psychology Behind New Year's Eve Anxiety
Already stressed out thinking about New Year’s Eve? You’re not alone. Without a doubt, the last night of the year is the most anxiety-inducing. From figuring out the perfect plan to finding the ultimate outfit to, you know, questioning what it is you did with the last year, there are a million things that can go wrong in your pursuit to ring in the next 12 months the "right way." But why do we really get so worked up while trying to curate the ultimate NYE?
Mostly, says psychologist Danielle Keenan-Miller, Ph.D., it's because if you expect it to be the "most fun night of the year," you might also be making a number of unreasonable assumptions about the occasion—whether it's about how other people are spending it or about what our NYE experience represents about the year past and the one to come.
“When people experience anxiety about New Year’s Eve, it’s because they have some kind of irrational and unhelpful thought about the night. Those thoughts might be things like ‘This has to be my most fun night of the year’ or ‘Everyone else is having fun and I’ll look like a loser if my night isn’t great’ or ‘If I don’t have an amazing time, that will be a bad sign about the year ahead,'" says Keenan-Miller. "Objectively, NYE doesn’t have any more or less meaning than any other night of the year, but sometimes people ascribe special meaning to it in a way that puts themselves under terrible pressure."
When deciding how to spend the night, we often let those thoughts get the best of us—even though we should really just trust our instincts from the get-go, suggests Keenan-Miller. “The self-imposed pressure to have an ideal night can sometimes lead people to choose plans that they feel like they ‘should’ have, rather than the plans that are truly going to make them happy."
Don't fall for it, she warns. If you're a wine-and-cheese sort of person, January 31 doesn't have to be the one night you turn into a club kid. "It’s better to choose the plans that are closest to how you truly have fun than it is to choose a glamorous idea that is someone else’s idea of fun. That may mean choosing to stay in and create a new tradition with family or having a quiet night with a close group of girlfriends.”
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It’s also wise to stay within your budget. Because quite frankly, it’s not worth worrying about draining your bank account on a glamorous New Year’s Eve outfit and fete—especially when your money could be better spent on more and fulfilling adventures in the months to come. “It’s a recipe for stress to choose plans that are more expensive than you can reasonably afford,” says Keenan-Miller. “There is nothing inherently better about one set of plans over another; there are just plans that suit you more and less well.”
So how can you remain calm and stress-free in the days leading up to the ball drop?
According to Keenan-Miller, the key is to figure out the underlying source of your nerves. "The best way to combat New Year’s Eve anxiety is to identify the thoughts underneath the anxiety." Are you worried you'll be surrounded by people Frenching at midnight, while you recently went through a breakup? Does being surrounded by drunk near-strangers give you social anxiety?
Then, says Keenan-Miller, "Develop a more balanced, realistic replacement thought. If you’re having a hard time finding the anxiety-producing thought, pay special attention to any beliefs that contain the words ‘should,’ ‘must,’ or ‘everyone.’ Once you’ve found it, see if you can identify a more realistic way to think. For example, ‘This night has to be perfect’ might be replaced with ‘I hope I have fun on New Years Eve, but if I don’t, it’s just one night and I can plan another night of fun sometime soon.’”
And since we all know that NYE can't possibly live up to its expectations, looking past the night itself and toward a brighter year ahead just might cheer you up. “It’s helpful to take the long view: Is this going to matter in three weeks, three months, or three years? Usually the answer is no,” says Keenan-Miller. “It’s also worth remembering that the worst fiascos sometimes turn into the best stories—ones that keep you laughing for years. ‘Remember that New Year’s Eve that I got locked in the bathroom at midnight?’”
In the end, it’s just one night—and you’re the one in control. “Whether an experience is good or bad depends mostly on your attitude,” says Keenan-Miller.