How To Cope With Anxiety During The Holidays
Practices for Thriving this Season
The holiday season is a difficult time for many. While it can bring joy, it also forces us to confront various sensitive issues all at once. For some, this season will never be a favorite, however there are ways to keep it from becoming a month-long anxiety attack.
Anxiety is a response to fear or stress, and this time of year can easily cause this reaction in many whether they suffer from mental illness all year long or not. Western culture has put pressure on individuals to splurge for the perfect gift, spend joyful time with family, and even fall in love during the holidays. Anxiety rears its ugly head when those false narratives become the yardstick for how to enjoy the season. Fear of letting loved ones down and the stress of creating perfect memories keeps us all from staying present.
This year, let’s choose to take a different course of action. Instead of watching anxiety rule the holidays, set thoughtful intentions for celebrating the season, practice boundaries with others, and form self-care traditions. It is possible to share this time with loved ones and still take care of ourselves, no matter what comes our way.
Set Intentions, Not Expectations
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Though this does ring true, I would argue expectations are just as devious as comparisons.
I love the holidays, yet every year the season comes around and I find myself disappointed. I continue to set unreasonable expectations for time with my family, come unprepared for the inevitable emotional situations, and rely on others for happiness.
When we develop expectations for events, seasons, or relationships, we are setting ourselves up for dissatisfaction. Goals are wonderful, and dreams are lovely ways to keep us in forward motion, but expectations are not productive. Life is unpredictable and when we try to control it with a white-knuckled grip, we lose out on all the delicious surprises it has to offer. The only thing we can control is how we react, especially when caught off guard.
The holiday season is full of high-pressure scenarios leading to disappointment if you go into them with specific expectations. Instead of worrying about what landmines you may have to navigate over the holidays, focus on how you would like to navigate them. Let go of the outcome. Take time to reflect on how you would like to feel this holiday season and set intentions accordingly. Maybe you want to fill this time with gratitude. Maybe you’d like to reconnect with yourself and others. Or maybe you’re hoping to infuse your life with compassion during the intense season.
Remember to set intentions for your health as well! Very few of us enjoy focusing on physical health during the holidays, although doing so has proven to benefit mental health. Setting realistic goals means avoiding the urge to generate an overwhelming exercise, sleep, and eating schedule for yourself. Instead, set an intention to slow down periodically and listen to your body over the next month or so.
Whatever you’re looking for during this time, write it down and keep it handy. Every instance you start to feel anxious and observe yourself expecting specific outcomes, come back to your notes and remind yourself that each day is what you make of it. Nothing will be perfect, though everything can be of use to you when you set thoughtful intentions.
Implement Healthy Boundaries
For those of us with anxiety, part of gearing up for the holidays requires implementing boundaries. Some may need boundaries for social activities, some with family members, and others with spending. In order to carry out your intentions for the season, prepare yourself for triggering situations.
I’m an ambivert myself, and while I love holiday activities, it’s necessary for me to carve out space for alone time. This means declining some invitations and letting go of people’s reactions to that.
In addition, my family is still in the process of mending a lot of fractured relationship, which means getting together over the holidays can easily lead to fights. It’s important to reflect on what provokes me and prepare myself with self-care tools for those moments, instead of reacting harshly.
By noting the events, people, or conversations that have triggered you in the past, you can also set yourself up for success in the future. If some of your boundaries require agreement from others, set aside time before festivities to lay them out clearly to your loved ones. Though possibly scary and difficult at first, setting boundaries can free you up to enjoy the holidays in a way that is healthy for you.
Otherwise, brainstorm ways in which you can make yourself feel safe in uncomfortable situations. Bring your own car to events, be upfront about your budget, and remove yourself from situations when you start to feel things spiraling. Come ready with a self-care playlist to listen to for a few minutes when you feel hijacked or take a walk around the block. Everyone’s boundaries will look different and some may need more preparation than others. Coping tactics discussed on the internet (including here in this piece!) are most certainly not one-size-fits-all, and I strongly advise you to supplement this information with counsel from a mental health professional.
Cultivate Your Own Traditions
You can’t control what others think, do, or say, though you can be intentional about your own time. Don’t rely on others to enjoy the holidays. That doesn’t mean you need to avoid spending time with loved ones or withhold trust, it simply means that you won’t be tying your happiness to others.
Take the initiative to set up festive hangouts if that’s important to you and don’t expect others to read your mind. Life isn’t like the movies, and sometimes you have to be the one to start a tradition. While not as “romantic,” taking your happiness into your own hands and building the experiences you want can be incredibly empowering!
On the other hand, if you’re like me and need some solo time in addition to social events, make sure you carve out space for that too. Make time in your schedule to consistently dig into activities which may spark joy for you. Create a list of things you’d like to savor this holiday season and don’t be afraid to go solo if no one else delights in them as much as you do. Self-care means honoring exactly who you are.
Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and content creator with a focus in sustainable fashion. Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious living and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.