How to Get Through Holiday Anxiety
If you live with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, the holiday period can magnify problems and make them seem even worse. Perhaps there are demands on you to host or attend parties, shop for gifts, cook and bake—or even if there are not, you might feel left out or that everyone else is having a better time than you. In short, you need tips for managing holiday anxiety.
The holidays are also a time of heightened emotions. Grief is made worse, particularly if you are holding onto memories of past Christmases with a loved one. If you are lonely, you will feel even more so during the holidays when there is so much emphasis on “spending time with the ones that you love.”
If you live with social anxiety, it can also be a time of dread, as you face holiday parties and talking to strangers, eating in front of people, and answering questions from distant relatives.
I can’t promise to fix all of that for you, nobody can. But if you’re struggling with holiday anxiety, take comfort in the fact that 1) you’re absolutely not alone, and 2) things will get better. Right now, let’s focus on getting you through this season.
Stop Aiming for Perfection
Easier said than done, I know. However, having too high of expectations sets you up to fail. Even thinking that you have to be happy when you feel miserable is a problem of perfectionism. Take some time to examine your expectations and then consider what is actually achievable given your current circumstances. Recognize what you can control and let go of the rest.
This applies to social anxiety as well. Why is it that you think you have to have the perfect thing to say at the holiday party? Instead of striving for perfection, strive for being real. Be okay with making mistakes—heck, even make them on purpose just to prove to yourself that it’s really not that big of a deal. Ask a ridiculous question and see who cares. Walk up to someone you’ve never talked to before and introduce yourself. You might be surprised at the outcome.
And one last thing—don’t set your holiday standards based on social media. Everyone is sharing their best and hiding their worst. You can be sure that behind the perfection there is a reality, and it’s not always pretty.
Set a Budget
This also applies to social situations: go into every situation with a game plan. I read a story about a blogger who was nervous about introducing herself to others at a conference, so instead of printing out business cards she had pens made with her website on them.
This forced her to talk to people so that she didn’t leave the conference with hundreds of pens! Come up with something unique that keeps you busy at holiday parties. The game “Table Topics” has conversation starters and could be a neat way to spend time with family learning more about each other.
You don’t have to say yes to everything! Say no sometimes. People would rather you don’t overextend yourself and then back out at the last minute than make promises you can’t keep. The only exception is if you are avoiding because of social anxiety. In that case, go – go – go!
Maintain Healthy Habits
Needless to say, if you want to keep up your stamina this holiday period, you’ll need to keep up with your healthy habits.
Don’t overindulge. Get regular sleep. Regular exercise. Don’t drink too much as alcohol can make you feel more depressed. Stay away from caffeine and sugar. And exercise! Exercise releases endorphins that can turn a bad mood into a good one. I’m a huge proponent of FitnessBlender.com (I don’t get anything for promoting them, they’re just what I use for exercise). A set of these Powerblocks can help take your workouts up a notch though. 😉
Finally, eat as many real foods as you can such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, and lean protein. If you’re at a party and can’t resist something unhealthy, just take a polite portion of three to five bites.
Do Things for Yourself
It’s too easy to get caught up in the holiday rush and forget about yourself. Do things you enjoy like listening to music, reading, going for walks, etc. Make these rewards for checking things off your to-do list. In general, have a sense of humor about this time of year and try to laugh as much as you can. Find things or people that make you smile or that you find funny and surround yourself with them.
There is no better way to feel better than to help others. Offer advice to someone who needs it and you will feel more in control. Be generous with compliments and help anyone that you can. This has the benefit of pushing you out of your social anxiety for the greater good.
If you feel embarrassed to step outside your comfort zone, remember that most people are more focused on themselves than you. Visualize helping someone and the positive impact that you can have to push past anxiety to offer others tips for managing stress during the holidays.
Work on Problems
If you are dealing with ongoing mental health issues, write them out in a list instead of letting them swirl through your head. Challenge negative thoughts using an app such as Woebot.io to see your common patterns of thinking (turns out I am a “black or white” thinker!) and keep notes on situations that cause you anxiety so that you can figure out triggers and how to manage your thoughts.
Remember that your thoughts are not facts but just stories you tell yourself. Take proactive steps to feel better during the holidays such as by practicing meditation, deep breathing, and visualization.
Reach Out for Help
Finally, if you’re truly struggling this time of year, please reach out for help. If you’ve had a loss or feel isolated, know that you don’t have to be alone. Make a list of people whom you can contact if you are feeling low and reach out.
You might be surprised who is happy to hear from you or who else might need some tips for managing holiday anxiety.