Holiday anxiety is a real thing. The holidays are extremely triggering for many people. But there are positive techniques you can implement to help with holiday anxiety so you can enjoy the time of the year.
How are you feeling about the holidays approaching? Did your chest tighten, or did anxiety levels rise from just the thought of the holidays? Know you are not alone. Take a deep breath, hold it, and let it out.
Holiday Anxiety and Effects of Covid
Over the last few years, the world navigated through COVID protocols, holiday gatherings, and the so-called, “new normal.” Because of so much alone time, many realized they didn’t miss the stress and challenging family interactions that came with holiday gatherings. The simplicity of sharing Thanksgiving or Christmas in their home with just immediate household was enjoyable.
We experienced job failure, financial insecurity, illness, and even the loss of loved ones during this time. For these individuals, there was a deep emptiness from lack of fellowship and struggling alone.
As humans, we require healthy connections. Relationships are important for encouragement, inspiration, and love. Because of nationwide restrictions, much experienced mental instability for the first time.
Holidays, Family, and Anxiety
Are you preparing to enjoy the holidays alone or still deciding whether to attend the family holiday party this year? A plan and tools are important to navigate what is best for you as we step back into holiday gatherings.
Since we discussed family and the huge role relationships play in our lives, we should start with the number one reason we choose to not celebrate the holidays with family.
Is Your Family Toxic?
Your family should be a safe place to receive love unconditionally, but for many, it’s far from that. Unresolved family dynamics often surface during holiday events and before you realize it, you’ve traveled back into your childhood, reliving old wounds.
In fact, it’s the most common reason people appear anxious around this time of year. If this sounds like you, rest in knowing you are not alone.
Would You Rather Spend the Holidays Alone or being Anxious?
Why are so many choosing to spend the holidays without family?
Some will admit they had to release family from their hearts years ago to live happily. Sometimes family just brings too much heartache year-round and because of this, it’s easier to spend the holidays apart in peace.
“I will never spend another holiday crying by myself and feeling invisible. I’d rather spend it alone than with an unsympathetic family.”
It’s kind of crazy to me how so many need wellness advice before holiday celebrations with family and then therapy afterward.
What is happening to our deep family roots? This really says something about family dynamics in this world anymore… but we’ll save that for another post of its own.
5 Positive Techniques for less Holiday Anxiety
The most important advice is understanding you are in control of your situation, and you can choose how you share your time during the holidays.
Remember this… the holidays do not belong to one person specifically. It is your holiday as well. Therefore, your needs are important and matter.
If you decide to attend a family gathering that may include triggering tendencies, one technique is simply choosing to be present. This starts with mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness? Simply put, mindfulness is intention, attention, and awareness.
Mindfulness is the intentional practice of bringing your focus to the present moment without overthinking the situation you’re in as being good or bad.
Read that again.
Simply put, being mindful is to live in the moment and reawaken oneself to the present, rather than dwelling on experiences or questioning the future.
The goal of mindfulness is to cultivate a perspective on one’s consciousness that can bring greater peace mentally. Therapists use these same techniques in mindfulness-based therapies to address stress, anxiety, or pain, and simply to become more relaxed.
“Mindfulness is available to us in every moment, not just the special or precious ones. We just have to tune into it throughout the day.”
1. Be Present
Breathing through anxiety relieves stress
If you’ve never experienced anxiety, you may not know it affects your breathing. For an anxious person, breathing can feel as though you are dying at times.
Be present by focusing on your breathing. One example is to step away into a bathroom or quiet area and “notice” your breath. Listen for the sound of the air going in and out of your lungs. Take slow breaths in, hold it, and slowly exhale until you have a rhythm to your breathing again. Here are other great breathing techniques.
Forget About the Clock
Time is important, but it’s also a thief. So, if you allowed yourself a certain amount of time at a gathering, set your alarm and then put your phone away. Begin by being present. Try to not focus on the clock or checking the time on your phone.
How Your Senses Play a Role in Being Present
Our senses play an important role in learning to be present. Notice the beautiful holiday decorations, then the twinkling lights. Focus on the details of the ornaments on the tree or the Christmas cookies. Hear the children giggling as they run up the stairs to play or sit and listen to the fire crackling. Take in all the wonderful holiday aromas like the hot mulled cider simmering before tasting a piece of freshly baked pie.
Be present. When you feel your mind wants to re-mince on your own childhood… bring yourself back to the present by focusing on something right now.
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift…. That’s why we call it the present.”
2. Your Needs Matter
As a Guest
Only you know what you need and what is best for you. Is it interaction with other like-minded individuals or just need to catch up with family members you don’t see often?
Whatever you need, it’s important. Sometimes the desire for human interaction outweighs the anxiety we may feel about a situation.
Process and focus on your needs above all.
As a Hostess
If you are hosting, it’s more than okay to ask for help or designate jobs for guests. In fact, many guests enjoy being helpful and it’s a great time to connect while you’re filling glasses with ice or finishing up a charcuterie board. Hosting is a big undertaking around the holidays, and by noticing your needs as a hostess, you can allow more time for visiting and less time stressing over clean-up.
This goes for immediate family as well if you choose to stay home. Please don’t spend all day cooking alone only to have everyone come out of their rooms for 15 minutes and then disappear. If that’s how they want to spend the day alone in their rooms, they can, but after food prep and clean up. You shouldn’t have to slave away.
After supper, take a walk. Alone.
3. It’s Okay to feel Thankful and Anxious
I read a quote the other day that said, “anxiety was the surprise unwanted guest that shows up every time there’s an event to attend.” If you ever experienced anxiety, you know exactly how true this statement is!
Holiday dinners and parties can bring on anxiety with just the thought. It’s equally important to remember that people will be themselves, so consider this before agreeing to attend a social event.
You know your triggers and the people in your life that set them off more than anyone. If you are in an awful place mentally, it’s okay to choose not to go. Remember, your anxiety has nothing to do with you being thankful. Some seasons in life are harder than others.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James
4. Set Boundaries During the Holidays. They’re Important.
It’s easy for conversations to go off course and subjects arise about uncomfortable triggering topics. Remember, you don’t have to match the energy.
Start a simple and upbeat conversation like, “what exciting things have you been up to lately?” Or “What did you bring to the gathering?” Any question that will bring a positive answer is what you are looking to achieve.
Don’t ask questions they will want you to answer like, “I heard your dad was sick, I’m so sorry.” That conversation will lead to asking you about sensitive things they know you are going through. It’s physiological and most people don’t even realize it.
For example: if someone picks a political fight, change the subject instead of debating views. It’s not the time or the place. The freedom and strength that comes from knowing you took care of yourself brings such peace. It may feel good to speak your mind over a matter you are enthusiastic about, but in the end… you know it won’t end well. Topics involving politics and religion never do.
5. Is Your Exit Strategy Becoming Your Whole Strategy?
Finally, know when it is time to leave a gathering. If you are not having a good time, and feeling so much anxiety, and spending most of the time outside or in the bathroom, it’s time to consider wrapping this function up. And think about an exit routine before going. Think about how long you plan to stay.
My opinion, if I need to develop an exit strategy, it’s not healthy enough for me to go, but…here we go.
Exit Strategy-a woman I interviewed stated, “I will say whatever’s necessary to get me out of a high anxiety situation.”
Most often, if you simply state the truth, it’s easy to exit. “This has been a lovely day, but I’m tired & need to head home.” There is no sense leaving an uncomfortable party that you will complain about later only to sit by yourself later on and know that you lied to your family. It just adds to the level of strain.
Set Expectations When You Walk In the Door.
Here are some strategies to help with your exit plan should you choose to attend a gathering.
“Oh, I’m not staying for [meal] I just wanted to stop by.”
“I have to leave at [time] but I’m glad I could be here.” Then, before the meal is served or at your stated time, leave. You don’t have to make up a reason. Just say you have other commitments, other things going on, “stuff to do.”
Show up later once the party has started, drop off a pie or a side in a disposable tin with a note on the lid. Stay for a little to see the people You actually want to see, then leave.
A Global Health Message this Holiday Season
If you got this far, you are probably asking yourself, “why am I going to gatherings where I need to plan an exit strategy? Bottom line, you don’t have to and if the techniques above don’t feel encouraging or helpful, you shouldn’t as it could be unhealthy for you.
I hope this post has stirred up lots of thoughts and questions for you in a positive way. Use it to dig out triggers you battle and look for ways to overcome them this next year. What could the holidays look like next year?
In closing remember, everyone has hard times so it’s important to check in on your neighbors this holiday. Watch for the person at holiday gatherings sitting by themselves or spending most of the evening in the bathroom. Maybe you’re that person that wishes someone could help or can empathize.