The holidays are known as the season of joy but for people with anxiety, this time of year can be anything but joyful. The ability to enjoy oneself becomes overshadowed by the nervousness of seeing relatives who have been part of conflict for you in the past or by social anxiety of being in a crowd of people you don’t hang with often. Everyone should be able to enjoy the holidays their way without stress or anxiety getting in the way and we’ve got several tips to help you do just that.
- Don’t set high expectations. You may put too much sage in the dressing. Your cat may decide to start an epic battle with the Christmas tree during the middle of Christmas Eve dinner. Your kid may have a meltdown in front of your judge-y Aunt Susan. So what? Life happens, even during the holidays. Accept now that the unexpected and imperfect will happen and you won’t be disappointed or stressed about it when things go a little awry.
- Plan ahead and identify “triggers” or concerns beforehand. Waiting until the last minute to shop for presents, clean out the guest room or throw together your famous buttermilk pie only adds to the stress of the holidays. Make a plan for everything from what day you’ll finish up your Christmas shopping to what you’ll wear to holiday gatherings. You’ll also want to map out stressors and things that could trigger your anxiety during holiday gatherings so you can make a plan of attack, so to speak. Remind yourself to smile and ask questions that keep your company talking like what their plans are for winter break, or what they hope to find under the tree this year. Map out a quiet area to go and collect yourself in case of a panic attack.
- Say no when necessary. If attending Aunt Gloria’s Christmas Eve lunch or your holiday work party is more than you can truly handle, just say no to your invitation. If you find yourself becoming a go-fer for your mom or older sister and it’s beginning to take a toll on your anxiety, politely tell them to find another way to get their errands done.
- Keep your daily routine, take care of yourself and get plenty of sleep. When our bodies are running on empty, stress and anxiety gets worse. Keeping your daily routine helps lower anxiety levels and helps ensure you’re taking care of yourself properly. If the stress of the holidays begins to become too much, take some time out for yourself to relax and unwind. Go for a pedicure or a massage or go for a drive out of town for the day.
- Talk to your family about your needs and let them know what they can and cannot expect from you. If you need to say no to the four-hour drive to great-aunt Mary’s house or to making six different types of fudge for Christmas dinner, sit your relatives down and explain your needs to them. In many instances, they’ll be understanding and accepting of your decisions, but if not, don’t let anyone guilt you into doing more than you feel you can handle.
- Keep friends and family who “get” you close. The holidays are hectic and it’s easy to lose touch with those we value most but keeping friends and family who understand your anxiety close by is one of the best ways to get relief from holiday stress. Plan for breaks from family obligations to spend time with those who help relieve your anxiety.
- Don’t self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Having an extra glass of wine at dinner may seem like a great way to relax but it does nothing to help you actually work through your anxiety. Plus, it’s all too easy to let one extra glass at dinner become an extra glass after dinner each night for the next month.