I recently saw a meme on social media that said “It’s almost time for my normal anxiety to turn into my fancy holiday anxiety.” I had to chuckle when picturing anxiety showing up in a glittery ugly sweater or draped in all things sparkly. Humor aside, it shows that during the holidays, our existing anxiety (or depression) does not just “take a holiday” but rather increases due to stress and societal pressures.
This time of year can be an incredibly stressful and frustrating time. On one hand, we fill our days to the brim with spending time with family and friends, social events, potlucks, baking, preparing meals, finding the right present within your means, and many other tasks guised in the name of the holidays. All of this “fun” can turn to chaotic quickly. Then on the other hand, some of us may have unwelcome reminders or memories associated with the holidays or feel more alone during this time as we watch others join together and celebrate. Whatever the reason for your distress, here are some helpful strategies to help manage the rise of our fancy anxiety (or depression) in finding ways to relax during the busy time of year or help with our perspective on the season.
- Self-soothe – Using all 5 senses, focus on what you notice. Cast any judgments away and focus on the experience in the moment. Here are some examples.
- Taste – slowly eat and notice different flavors in a favorite holiday treat or dish
- Smell – light a candle or smell a pine tree or cup of tea
- Sound – listen to your favorite holiday music, point our different instruments or lyrics you might have over looked
- Sight – watch the fireplace flicker with light or notice the holiday lights all around
- Touch – when baking or wrapping gifts, bring attention to the different textures you feel
- Pay it forward – doing something kind for others or contributing can make us feel good about ourselves and give perspective. This could be anything from holding a door open for someone, greeting someone with a smile, adopting a family for the holiday, or volunteering. It does not need to be a large act to bring a sense of contribution to your holiday.
- Be intentional about breaks – Set aside 15 minutes to check in with yourself and pause from all of the holiday excitement. Read a favorite book, do a meditation, sit in silence, or snuggle up with someone you love.
- Simplify and slow down – With your to-do list growing, it may feel like you need to be in multiple places at once; however, what we know about the brain is that it cannot think 2 things at once. So, focus your entire attention to the task at hand rather than jumping from task to task (aka multitasking).
- Follow traditions (or make your own new ones) – Partake in something that brings you meaning for the season, whether this be a family tradition, baking Grandma’s cookies, or finding something new to do this time of year (i.e., sledding, ice skating, driving around to see holiday lights, etc).
- Put down the phones – I know, I said it. Just hear me out. Often times social media can impact our level of stress by comparing ourselves to others, especially when those others seem to have it all together. They have the catalog ready decorations, Martha Stewarts holiday food spread, or gifts we cannot afford. This can lead us into a down spiral. So, try to limit your access to your phone and engage with those around you.
- Reach out to someone– The holidays can be a lonely time for some. Sometimes we can still feel lonely in a room full of people, feel so far away and disconnected from others, or feel forgotten. Use all of your willingness to reach out to someone or connect. Whether that be grabbing a cup of hot cocoa with a friend, attending a service, volunteering, or making a phone call to someone you have lost touch with in the past. We are social creatures and need human connection.
- Be real with yourself – This includes preparing to spend time with family or friends. You likely already know who is going to be the Grinch, who is going to over indulge in the holiday punch, who is going to bring up politics, and who is going to ask about your love life. Just because it is the holidays, does not mean we are going to change who we are or the roles we play. Have an action plan for how you are going to deal with the likely interactions or dynamics.
- Life in moderation – Life is about balance. Enjoy the holidays by partaking in the indulgences and socialization. Moderation is key. Listen to your body and the signals it is giving you.
- Gratitude– Research is growing on the importance and efficacy of practicing gratitude in daily life. Our brains are inherently negative so being intentional about shifting out of the holiday stress (and negativity) can help bring perspective and renew our enjoyment of the season.
- Write down things you are thankful for in life. Focus on the small things (i.e., clean water, fresh air, etc). Nothing is too small to be grateful for in life.
- Reflect one thing you believe you did well over the past year.
- Compare yourself to a time in your past when you might have handled the holiday stress less effectively.
- Permission grant yourself – The holidays are not always candy canes and sprinkles. Often times we hold ourselves to high expectations and forget we are in control of our own actions. Grant yourself permission to: take time outs/breaks, have fun, do things “out of order”, celebrate differently than family/friends/the past, start a project and stop, be honest with people (and yourself), or have days that are “humbug” or just okay.
Feel free to make these tips your own by adding your own personal flair to them. It is important to find what works for you and your fancy holiday distress.
Dr. Alison Dolan