There are two main types of people that are going into the holidays: the kind that embraces the season it all its chaos and the kind that brace themselves.
It’s hard to feel the holiday spirit or enjoy time with family when you’re dealing with anxiety and on the verge of a panic attack. Between dinner parties and additional festivities, a lot is going on and it can be extremely anxiety-inducing.
Thankfully, there are ways in which you can manage anxiety and show up to that ugly sweater party you know you’re going to win.
For three years, the holiday season was very triggering for my anxiety. As I learned ways to manage it effectively, I have been able to enjoy the holidays a whole lot more! I wanted to share 10 of the primary ways here.
10 TIPS FOR MANAGING ANXIETY DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON
1). Don’t overcommit.
The holiday season is full of invitations. From Christmas parties to family get-togethers to school celebrations, it can be overwhelming. The more full the calendar gets, the more stress you start to feel, and the less time you have for yourself and also your own family. Prioritize the events that mean the most to you and stick to them.
2) Know it’s okay to say “No”.
Declining an invite or passing up the chance to direct the holiday play doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. It means you are willing to consider your needs. You’re not being rude; you’re setting healthy boundaries. Saying “no” is not being selfish; it’s being self-aware.
3) Limit sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Don’t neglect your gut!
During a season where pumpkin pie is followed closely by Christmas cookies, try not to overdo it. The food we eat plays a major role in the way we feel. Excess caffeine, alcohol, and extra sugar can contribute to anxiety (so much for “taking the edge off”). The body needs healthy, life-giving fuel to run smoothly. When you overload your system with processed foods and tons of sugar, it makes you feel like poo. Not to mention it makes you more susceptible to catching illnesses because it weakens the immune system. Don’t deprive yourself, but make sure to balance out the treats with healthy choices for your body (and mind).
4) If you get anxious because you have specific dietary needs or food allergies, take along something you can eat at the party.
There’s nothing worse than mustering up the courage to get your anxious-self to a Christmas party and then finding out there’s nothing you can eat. It feels awkward being the only person that can’t sample every baked good that’s passed around the room. Worrying about what you can and cannot have is enough to cause stress, let alone feeling like you need special treatment. Where you’re eating mindfully for your mental and physical health or if you have food allergies, do yourself a favorite pick up a treat on the way or bring something that suits your needs so that you know you can eat something at the party.
PS- You don’t have to share. Sometimes I label my gluten-free cookies with “Please reserve for those less fortunate”. This way you’ll always have something to nibble on that you enjoy.
5) Communicate your needs and stand your ground.
People can’t read your mind. They won’t know how to help unless you tell them what you need. If you feel anxious about something, like not wanting to open your gifts in front of everyone, communicate it kindly. You don’t even have to bring anxiety, but you do need to communicate as clearly as you can. Pull the ring leader of the family aside and say, “I am feeling anxious right now and don’t feel comfortable doing XYZ” OR “I don’t feel up for this right now but don’t want it to affect others negatively. How about we have little Johnny go ahead and start the gift-opening sequence this year?
When you do communicate your needs, you have to be willing to stand your ground and by what you say. Don’t feel guilty about communicating your needs and don’t feel pressured by others to do something that adds more anxiety onto your plate. Set healthy boundaries and stick to them. You’ll thank yourself later.
6) Have an anxiety-wingman or a “pebble”.
Whether it’s your spouse, friend, or your twice-removed aunt on your mother’s side, find a person that can be your anxiety-wing man. This is someone that, when you’re feeling anxious, you can confide in and they can support you. If you feel anxious, give them the look that says it’s time to go, or just mention to them that you need to step outside for a minute to reset. They can cover for you at the dinner table when you step outside or go into the hall to breathe into a paper bag.
Everywhere I go, I take what I like to call my “special pebble” (my husband is obsessed with Otters- that’s where the pebble comes into play). This isn’t exactly a pebble. It’s something I can use to ground myself if I feel anxiety creeping on. For me, it’s usually a favorite essential oil blend or even my camera to take pictures instead of focus on the anxiety. A “pebble” gives you something to focus on so you don’t tip over the ledge on an anxiety attack. What’s your special pebble?
7) Be sensitive to yourself and take it one day/gathering at a time.
Oftentimes, anxiety looks different one day from the next. Today you might feel like you can take on the world, but Monday rolls around and you’re not feeling so brave. It’s okay if each day looks different and you have to adjust the plans a little. Sure, it might mean a last-minute change to your RSVP but it’s important to be sensitive to space your in and feel out what you can and cannot tolerate right now.
See how you feel each day and take it one day, and one gathering, at a time. Give yourself some grace this season.
8) Be aware of stimulation.
Overstimulation plagues those with severe anxiety. From snowbird traffic to lines at shopping malls to a house full of guests, it’s easy for someone with anxiety to feel overwhelmed.
Be mindful of where you will go and who you will see. If it’s all a little too much, step away from the stimulation and take a moment to yourself. Do a little deep, slow breathing.
Don’t beat yourself up for needing a little space. It’s easy to listen to the lies that anxiety tries whispering in your ear (read more about what having anxiety can really feel like here).
Know you’re just being self-aware and that’s totally okay.
9) Move your body.
It’s easy to neglect exercise when the kids are off school, the family is in town, it’s chilly outside, and there’s so much happening. But don’t forget to move your body this season!
Exercise is key when it comes to playing the offense against anxiety and stress. Whether it’s power walking the outlets for sales or hitting the gym, try to get in at least 30 minutes of movement a day.
10) Let your presence be gift enough.
Few things contribute to anxiety more during the holiday season than the swarm of presents. From trying to pick out the right thing, to budgeting finances, shopping, and order and wrapping…it’s a lot for anyone, let alone someone that’s navigating anxiety. Don’t let gift-giving contribute to more anxiety.
Instead of buying all the things for all the people, let your presence be the gift this year. Spend quality, mindful time with those you love. Gift an experience or quality time.
Hopefully, you can use some of these tips to make the holiday season a little less stressful and ease the anxiety.