‘Tis the season to be jolly, however for many, the holiday season can be quite stressful. The stress of hosting, or traveling for the holidays, all the food prepping, the social engagements, the gift giving, and the finances that go along with it all can elevate your stress levels this time of year. If you have anxiety, these feeling of stress are multiplied and may be accompanied by feelings of dread and doom, with your thoughts spinning out of control. This is true for around 40 million people in the United States. The holidays can be stressful, but for people who have anxiety, these feeling are amplified.
Anxiety is very real for many people and is not something that you can just get over. Learning ways to manage and cope with your anxiety is very important, especially during the holidays when you want to feel happy. Here are some suggestions on how to help cope with anxiety during the holidays:
• Talk to your Medical Doctor and/or a Mental Health Professional about your feelings and symptoms of anxiety. They can help you come up with strategies to address your anxiety.
• Prepare yourself to be anxious. You know it will happen, it is a part of who you are, so be prepared and amp up the positive self-talk and have a list of coping strategies handy that have helped you in the past.
• Simplify your tasks. Narrow down your list to just 1-3 things a day. Learn to delegate duties to others or push off lower priorities to tackle on a later date.
• Lower your expectations. Life is not perfect. Things will go wrong, mistakes will be made, and you cannot please everyone all the time, and that is okay!
• Keep a routine. For example, try to wake up at the same time every day, try to eat your meals around the same time every day, or you may have a regular workout schedule, and stick to it. This helps give you a sense of order and control, not to mention that regular sleep, eating, and working out can help boost your overall energy and mood.
• Learn to say “no”. It’s okay to pass on invites to parties and gatherings, as well as taking on extra tasks. You do not need to attend every event, nor do you need to be the host every time. If you do host, this does not mean that you need to do all the prepping and cooking yourself. Asking others to bring dishes or even to help set up and decorate is helpful.
• Drive separately to events if need be. If you need an early out, drive yourself or plan on calling for a ride home. Sometimes, simply making an appearance is all you need. You do not need to stay the entire time or be the last person to leave.
• Surround yourself with love and support. Those who understand you and your anxiety are your best allies. Avoid those who do not and make you feel more anxious. Have a signal with those closest to you to let them know when you need help and are feeling overwhelmed. They can be your escape route, distraction, or maybe a good hug when needed.
• Take time out when needed. Sometimes you just need some quiet time. Find a spot in your home, outside, or maybe even in your car to just be for a few moments. Stepping outside for fresh air or excusing yourself from the table to use the bathroom are easy little ways to step away from others and have some quiet time to yourself.
• Do not make any big changes during this time of year. You have enough on your plate and going on in your head. Try to avoid moving, remodeling, redecorating, looking for/getting a new job, getting a new pet, starting a new workout routine, or adding in a new self-care regime at this time. Wait until the holiday season is over before making changes. Think of it like juggling, 1-3 balls can be manageable, but add more balls into the mix and you will most likely lose control of the balls and your anxiety levels will skyrocket up.
Anxiety is not a one size fits all. Everyone’s symptoms and experiences are different. The same is with ways of managing anxiety. Anxiety is more than just stress; it can be all consuming and overwhelming. Talk to your doctor and a mental health professional about ways to manage your anxiety. Look for triggers and find strategies to help reduce them. Create a plan to help you cope throughout year and to better help you during the holidays. You might want to start meditating or yoga. Or you may even want to start incorporating massage therapy or acupuncture treatments on a regular basis to see if that helps you. Slowly experiment throughout the year to see what might help you, that way, by the time the holidays roll around again, you have a routine already in play. Remember, it may feel really terrible and even terrifying when your anxiety is encompassing you, especially during the holidays, but you always survive. Let your closest friends and family know what they can do to help and support you. You are not alone.
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.