5 Tips for Managing Holiday Anxiety
It’s that time of year when the air gets crisp, the stores start advertising Black Friday sales, and your anxiety about the upcoming holiday season starts to creep in and steal your joy. Particularly the thought of gathering with family starts to make you feel a little…queasy. Everyone expects the holiday season to be such a happy time of gratitude as we anticipate spending more time with our families, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case for everyone. For a lot of people, the idea of spending Thanksgiving or other holidays surrounded by the family that has long been the source of so much historical pain and trauma can bring on tremendous levels of anxiety and stress. It can be challenging to make the decision to gather with family, knowing that spending time with some people feels overwhelming, while also wanting to spend time with other family members who you love and miss. Unfortunately, we can’t change your family – they are who they are and (bonus tip!) they will most likely continue to exhibit the same behaviors that they always have. The good news is that your response can be different than it has been in the past and you can set yourself up to have a more enjoyable experience.
Here are 5 ways for you to manage holiday stress and anxiety this season:
Plan responses in advance.
You’ve been through this before and it’s exhausting—your grandma’s comments about your weight, your mom’s questions about when you will finally get married or have children, your uncle’s judgments about your career choices, the comparisons to your siblings and cousins…the list goes on and on. There’s no reason to believe that this holiday will be different or that your buttons won’t be pushed like they have been for years. Now’s your time to plan how you would like to respond before being caught off guard when placed on the hot seat at dinner! Being prepared with responses like, “Grandma, I appreciate your concern, but I’m more interested in loving myself as I am than spending my life worried about what others think of me” or “Mom, I know that you just want me to be happy, but it makes me feel really pressured when you ask me about marriage/kids”. This will be uncomfortable for you if you’re not used to setting boundaries. Try setting the boundary statement and quickly changing the subject or leaving the room to avoid continuing the discussion.
Cope ahead with self-care strategies
The holidays can be so stressful and overwhelming! Aside from the fending off rude comments from family, you may also be balancing holiday shopping, stressful traveling, and still trying to manage your work and other life commitments! But you can’t forget YOU! It’s still important to consider how you will take care of yourself during this extra stressful time. Get down to the basics by sticking to your sleep schedule and eating a balanced diet (colorful and full of fresh fruit and vegetables!), which are the foundation of good health and avoiding mental health symptoms. Then take it a step further by making sure that you’re carving out time for yourself every day—even if it’s just 20 minutes to practice breathing exercises, a meditation, or journaling (getting your thoughts out of your head is such a great way to manage anxious, worried, or fearful thoughts). You can also practice distractiontechniques to take your mind off what’s making you feel stressed. By taking care of yourself and filling your own cup, you will be less likely to feel depleted when having to participate in the less-desirable aspects of the holidays.
Bring in reinforcements!
Sometimes it can feel like the focus at the Thanksgiving table is completely on us and the conversations that we don’t want to have. Or it can just be hard to be a part of the same relational patterns that have been going on for years with the same family members pushing each other’s buttons. Insert your friend who doesn’t have plans/recently divorced coworker/college student in your apartment building who can’t travel to be with their own family. Inviting a friend to spend the holidays with you and your family is a great way to serve and care for someone who might otherwise be alone during a time of year that can cause people to feel sad and lonely. Having a non-relative with you can also help buffer discomfort by shifting focus away from typical uncomfortable patterns. Conversations can more easily be steered away from touchy subjects, and you have a built-in reason to excuse yourself to take care of your guest. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Have an exit strategy.
Unfortunately, if all else fails and the environment becomes too overwhelming for you, it may be time to consider leaving. Plan ahead for this possibility by having a prepared reason for your early exit. If you’re traveling out of town, consider getting a plane ticket that can be changed, driving your own car, or reserving a hotel room. It can also be wise to have some extra cash on hand, just in case.
Remember who you are now: you’re not your past, you are able to speak up for yourself, you don’t have to tolerate abuse or toxicity.
Being around the people who raised you and who are entrenched in the same old patterns can make you feel like a child again. But you are not a child anymore and you do not have to remain in an environment once it is no longer physically or emotionally safe. If you’ve tried to set boundaries, spoken up for yourself, and the environment starts to feel unsafe—as an adult, you can now choose to leave (refer to number 4 and engage your exit strategy right away), which is an empowering truth. Once you’re safe, reach out to your therapist to process the experience as soon as possible.
Do you want more help with your anxiety? If you live in New Jersey, schedule a free consultation call with me here.