The holidays are a joyful, magical time of year, except when they’re not. As most people know, the holiday season also brings its fair share of anxiety and other difficult emotions.
Below, we’ll help explain anxiety, how it differs from stress, and when you should seek help. Then, we’ll offer six expert-endorsed tips for how to cope with anxiety during the holidays and throughout the year.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a term that people frequently use, though not always correctly. It can be confusing because anxiety is a normal human emotion. We expect to feel anxious when awaiting test results from a doctor or preparing for a major presentation.
But there are also anxiety disorders that require medical intervention.
Are There Anxiety Disorders?
Yes, there are five primary types of anxiety disorders that physicians diagnose.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a bit of a catch-all but typically involves excessive worry about everyday things. Panic disorder is similar, but people with panic disorder have intense episodes of extreme, heightened fear that often come with physical symptoms.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when a person cannot properly process a traumatic event and can cause severe symptoms, including flashbacks and panic attacks. Social Anxiety Disorder revolves around interactions with other people or places.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder involves intrusive, obsessive thoughts that lead to ritualized behavior. It can be anything from having to perform a task a certain number of things to avoiding certain ingredients in food at all costs.
Finally, several other mental health conditions are also associated with anxiety, including substance use disorders and eating disorders.
When Should You Seek Help?
You should seek help if you feel you need it, no questions asked.
If you’re looking for a more concrete answer, you should absolutely seek professional advice if:
- You’ve been experiencing your symptoms for six months or longer
- Your symptoms have gotten noticeably worse over the past 2-3 months
- Your anxious feelings prevent you from engaging with family and friends and participating in everyday life
- You’ve suffered financial setbacks or problems at work due to your anxiety
- Others who are close to you have expressed concern
Reaching out can be scary, but sometimes the best gift you can give loved ones is taking care of yourself.
Six Tips To Cope With Anxiety Around the Holidays
Try these tips to cope with anxiety.
Start Practicing Mindfulness
Mindfulness is an entire field, so it’s hard to summarize. Basically, the point of mindfulness is to allow yourself to be present in the moment and focused on what’s happening around you, rather than what has happened (depression) or what might happen (anxiety).
The holidays are stressful, but they’re also filled with opportunities to enjoy the people you love most. Start incorporating mindfulness to fully immerse yourself in those moments, which makes everything worthwhile.
Set Realistic Expectations and Boundaries
Much holiday stress comes from dealing with people–particularly family–with whom we have conflict.
First, set realistic expectations. Don’t set others or yourself up for disappointment. Meet people where they are, and then set the boundaries you need.
Recognize that some people aren’t capable of respecting your boundaries, no matter how clearly you ask. With those individuals, you’ll need to set internal boundaries.
Don’t forget about yourself. If you have trouble coping with family after the second glass of wine, don’t have it.
Plan, Plan, Plan
The hustle and bustle of the holidays stress many people out. Don’t let parties, gift-buying, or other deadlines pass you by.
In November (or earlier), sit down with your calendar and start to fill in your days, especially weekends. Again, be realistic about what you can handle. Don’t be afraid to say no when you need to!
In addition to planning your holiday schedule, set a budget. Overspending stresses a lot of people out. Decide how much you can spend and then get creative.
Make gifts, “buy” people experiences you can enjoy together, or even look into subscription boxes since you only have to pay the first month up-front.
Maintain Your Routine as Much as Possible
Whether you realize it or not, your body has a clock and a schedule. The more you mess with it, the more it messes back. You’ll feel groggy during the day, easily agitated, or forgetful. You may also experience more frequent headaches or digestive issues.
To avoid throwing your system off, stick to your routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Skip the heavy leftovers and eat your healthy lunch. Drink plenty of water, and don’t overdo it at the holiday party.
Get Outdoors or Get Some Exercise
In addition to maintaining your routine, get some fresh air if you can. It’s good for your body and brain. Even if it’s cold, try walking during the warmest, sunniest part of the day.
If you can’t get outside, you can still move your body. Hit the gym or put on a yoga video on YouTube. It’s less about weight control and more about how you’ll feel, mentally and physically.
Take Time for Yourself
Last but certainly not least, you must prioritize yourself and your health. Many tips above will help get you there, but they probably won’t be enough.
Self-care means something different for everyone. What’s universal is that you need these rituals most when your anxiety spikes. If the holidays are hard, don’t sacrifice those things to make time for others.
Whether you need a long, hot bath to meditate, have to make it to your favorite yoga class, or get up early to journal, remember that it’s not selfish. You’ll be able to give the best version of yourself if you feel happier and healthier.
Learning to cope with anxiety is a lifelong process for some of us. It becomes even more crucial during the most stressful time of the year.
Just as your symptoms are unique to you, so are the solutions. Experiment with the six tips for dealing with holiday anxiety below, and implement the ones that work best for you.