Anxious around the holidays?
I think most people get some anxiety around the holidays. Perhaps you have unrealistic expectations for how the holidays should go, or those around you have unrealistic expectations of you. Maybe you have difficult memories from holidays past that leave you feeling vigilant and edgy. Or perhaps you have a great time but feel overstimulated with a nervous system that can’t settle down. For a lot of people who experience anxiety year round, the holidays seem to dial everything up.
Whether the holidays are something you treasure and enjoy or just barely survive, having a plan and taking a proactive approach can help keep you in a calmer, more grounded place. Below are some ideas of how to make your holidays less anxious and more meaningful and enjoyable.
Schedule down time to reduce anxiety.
This may seem nearly impossible, but I think it’s really important to figure out ways to soothe your nervous system at this time of year. Lots of parties and socializing can bring you much joy but leave you feeling frazzled and tense. Can you schedule a day off from all of it? Or at least an afternoon where you go for a long walk, take a hot bath, or get into nature? Better yet, build some time throughout the next few weeks where you can take a break.
Don’t forget about self-care.
On a similar note, there are likely practices that help promote calm and help lessen anxiety for you. I think it is important to double down on these at the holidays. Don’t skip your gym routine, don’t scrimp on sleep, and make other self-care practices like meditation and watching coffee intake a priority. You can read more about self-care here.
Get in touch with what’s important about this time.
Imagine it’s January 2nd. You’re headed back to work and you think about what a great holiday season you just had. What would that look like? What kinds of experiences would you have? Maybe it’s a blow out party where you get to dance all night or it might be quiet conversations with friends you haven’t seen in a long time. It could be doing some volunteer work or hanging out with your family. What’s important is to consider what matters to you and then identify ways to make it happen. Focusing on what will make your life richer and more fulfilling at this time of year can be helpful when anxiety shows up.
Try a little self-compassion.
Be gentle with yourself. Notice when the internal self-critic shows up with expectations of how you should be at the holidays. Often the self-critical voice inside can lead to feelings of anxiety and shame about what you didn’t do, what you should have done, or what you failed at. It can be helpful to identify the self-critical thoughts that are causing distress and considering what it would be like if a dear friend or family member told you the same thing. How would you react? Most likely you would be gentle with your loved one, offering them support and compassion. Can you do the same for yourself? Can you use the same gentle and supportive language with yourself that you would with a loved one?
In the whirlwind of the season, take a moment to be present.
Whatever you engage in during the holidays, it can be helpful to pause, breathe and use your senses to take in everything around you. Don’t forget you have five senses - what do you smell, hear, taste and feel, as well as see? Let these experiences register in your brain. This can serve a double function of shifting your attention from the struggle you might be having with anxiety and also help you to build more happy memories of this time of year.