anxiety and the holidays

For many, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration. Others have to deal with holiday anxiety and find it an incredibly stressful time. The holidays can trigger painful memories, feelings of anxiety, and other experiences related to general anxiety disorder. The additional stresses relating to the COVID pandemic and political divides only exacerbate pre-existing anxious feelings.

What Is General Anxiety Disorder

Whether you or a loved one is struggling with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), understanding it makes it easier to recognize when it happens. Everyone feels anxious or nervous at some point, but when the reaction to the anxiety goes beyond the ordinary, the anxiety could be caused by GAD.

Usually, GAD shows itself in endless worrying, troubles sleeping, and inability to cope with expectations.

Anxious Feelings Around the Holidays

According to the American Psychological Association, women tend to experience additional holiday anxiety. The research shows that one out of every two women experiences stress while one out of every three men experiences additional stress when the holidays arise.

Often the stress comes from traveling, visiting family, and adding tasks to our already busy calendars. Stress and anxiety also build when buying gifts at busy stores, worrying about whether the recipient will like the gift, and trying to stay within a budget.

Some people with GAD also find their anxiety grows as reality doesn’t match their expectations. They often become depressed because what they expect doesn’t happen, or their ideals aren’t met. To avoid having disappointment that leads to more anxiety and depression, people with GAD have to set themselves to have no expectations.

How to Manage the Holidays with GAD

Getting through the holidays takes little steps and some tenacity. Understanding that the holiday season ends on January 2 can give people with GAD a bit of hope.

Don’t Overdo It

Stress and anxiety build when people try to do too much for each event. Demands come from work, family, friends, charities, and other unexpected colleagues and acquaintances.

To manage your holiday anxiety, don’t do more than you can handle. If you find that shopping at brick-and-mortar stores gives you anxiety, do your shopping online. Rather than cooking an entire meal for a family get-together, tell each recipient what you’d like them to bring. Work on saying no, so you don’t overload your calendar and add more stress to your already full plate.

Take Care of You

During the holidays, we are bombarded with the idea that we must give our all to everyone around us. Social media shows us people baking massive batches of Christmas cookies, people giving gifts that outdo the average, and donating huge sums of money. It is difficult to take care of other people when you aren’t taking care of yourself.

To give what you can, you have to be healthy and sober. You can do this by maintaining a healthy diet, finding time to be physically active, and sleeping enough hours each night. Getting drunk or high can add to your stress because you might behave in a way you regret.

Consider what you really need and enjoy. Often, people with anxiety need some quiet time to recuperate their thoughts and feelings. Keeping some semblance of normalcy with your daily coffee or nightly reading can help you stay focused and centered.

Be Prepared for Triggers

If you know that the holidays trigger your anxiety, plan your coping strategies. For example, if your company’s holiday party triggers stress, then maybe you decide not to go this year. You can make other plans or just say that you’re not up to it this year. However, if everyone goes, and your boss expects you to attend, find a colleague who calms your worries and go together.

Other people find that they can ease their anxiety by making lists. During the holidays, keep a notepad and pencil near your bed. If your thoughts about the holidays keep you up, write them down and deal with them in the morning.

Rely on a Wingman

Knowing that you have support can make it easier to manage your GAD. Remember that nearly half of all women and a third of all men experience holiday anxiety, so you aren’t alone in your thoughts.

If you are going to an event with a friend or family member who knows about your anxiety, develop a secret sign or codeword that shows you need a break. Your wingman can help you quietly escape situations that become overwhelming.

You might need to go outside and get some fresh air or get away from a large group of people. Whatever it is, let your loved one help you cope with stressful situations.

Create Your Own Traditions

For some people with anxiety, they need to have holiday traditions of their own. You can involve people who make you calm, go to events you enjoy, and create a holiday experience that leaves you feeling satisfied rather than disappointed.

Some people take personal vacations during the holidays, so they can enjoy some time alone in a lovely location. They get to relax and stay away from the anxiety-inducing holiday events.

You don’t have to eat turkey at Thanksgiving, and you don’t have to buy gifts at Christmas. Your holidays can be extraordinary when you take time to do what you enjoy with the people who bring you joy.

Learn to Say No

Often people with anxiety worry about disappointing others, so they fail to say no. If you do this too often, you can quickly become overwhelmed with all of the things you have committed to doing. Instead of always saying yes, you have to teach yourself to say no. You can do this by practicing and preparing an answer with a polite thank you and no.

If you work with a therapist, spend time talking about this and practicing your responses. Talk about why you find yourself saying yes and how you think you will feel when you say no. You might feel guilty at first, but once you’ve said no, you might start to feel free.

Final Thoughts

Now that you are armed with several tools for better coping with holiday anxiety, we hope that you’re able to enjoy this wonderful time of the year. If you find yourself still not feeling well, there are counseling solutions available that will provide all the help you need.