Gift Giving Anxiety

Health Writer

Years ago, I worked with a woman who became extremely anxious when she needed to buy a gift for someone. At the time we worked together. Our office building was attached to a mall and during the holiday season we would go shopping during our lunch hour. One year she bought ten different presents for her husband. It wasn't that she was giving him ten gifts. She had planned on giving him one gift. One day she bought a gift, then worried he wouldn't like it. The next day we returned it and bought him a different gift. We returned that one and found something else. We did this ten times. I think we would have continued except she ran out of days and gave him the last thing she bought. Back then, this wasn't considered an anxiety disorder. It was considered high-strung, nervous or even neurotic.

Gift-giving anxiety, according to D.B.Wooten (2000), is a form of social anxiety. The amount of anxiety one feels at giving a gift is dependent on the need for approval and the fear of being seen or judged in a negative way. People with gift-giving anxiety might think:

  • "What if my husband doesn't like his gift?"
  • "What if my children think I was cheap?"
  • "What if my children think I bought more for their brother or sister?"
  • "What if my boss thinks my gift is inexpensive or he doesn't like the color?"
  • "What if my sister already has this item?"
  • "Will my gift to Dad be as good as my brother's gift to him?"

According to Wooten, the higher your need to impress, the more anxious you will feel when giving a gift to someone. Below are some ideas to help you overcome or manage your anxiety about giving gifts this holiday season.

Ask. If you are not sure what someone on your list would like, ask. After all, you are buying a gift because you want to make this person happy. You might be surprised at the response you receive, your friend, relative, co-worker might appreciate that you took the time to find out what they wanted instead of buying some generic gift.

Find creative solutions. Some people on your list may not need or want anything. They may appreciate, however, spending time with you, having you baby-sit or having their car washed. Gifts don't always need to be material items. They can be the gift of time. (Great for those that have a holiday budget.)

Buy gifts based on your budget. Sometimes we want to show-off and buy someone the most expensive gift. These aren't necessarily the best gifts. Gifts that are thoughtful and hold some meaning for the recipient are the best gifts. The amount of money you spend is not important.

Remember it really is the thought, not the gift, that counts. Think back to the gifts you received. Which ones do you remember? You probably remember the gifts your children gave you, a card that said, "You are the best." You probably remember those that were given with love. Use this as your guide. Give your gifts with love and they will also be appreciated.

Focus on the person rather than you. So many times we buy gifts that we want to give rather than gifts the recipient wants to receive. Think about the recipient's life. What would make their life easier, bring a smile to their face, bring joy to their day.

No matter what gift you give, if you give a gift from your heart, with love, it will be remembered cherished for years to come. Lou Tice of the Pacific Institute says it all, "Put aside the expectations and the stress, and remember that it is the time devoted, the intentions and the love involved that make any gift truly special. When all is said and done, it won't be the gift that is remembered. It will be those moments of true connection with loved ones that live in our hearts and minds forever."


Wooten, D.B. 2000. "Qualitative Steps toward an Expanded Model of Anxiety in
Gift-Giving", Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 84-95.