Managing Anxiety During the Holidays

If you are anything like me, as the holidays get closer the stress begins to build. That uncomfortable chest-tightening ache that comes with trying to do everything starts in late November and usually doesn’t subside until sometime in early January. Happy New Year— pass the antacid!

The holidays are (sing along with me) The Most Wonderful Time of the Year… and they are also the most stressful. From trying to find that perfect gift to visiting family and friends to holiday over-eating, there is no shortage of reasons for people to feel more anxious than normal during the holidays. All the running around, the parties, the forced-family-fun, and the work celebrations can bring with it a level of anxiety that can make me feel like I’m wearing an ugly holiday sweater while sitting under a heat lamp. Bring on the stress-sweat!

I often feel less like I’m enjoying the holidays and more like I’m simply trying to survive them!
So what can we do to better manage this level of stress without letting it make us act like the Grinch even before the Thanksgiving turkey (or Tofurky) has been served? Here are a few things you can do this year to help manage your stress and reduce your anxiety:

Remember to Breathe

I know this sounds obvious but when most people get stressed they take short, shallow breaths. In order to really calm your body and get the right amount of oxygen, you must learn to breathe better. Longer, deeper breaths allow you to relax and oxygenate your muscles. Also, by focusing your attention on your breathing you’ll temporarily take your focus away from everything else and return it to the present moment. If you want to reduce stress, breathing deep and living in the present is a great place to start.

Plan Ahead

The more you can plan and know what is going on, the less you’ll worry about forgetting something. Creating lists will help better manage your time and your money. Checking things off your list will also give you a sense of accomplishment, which will help lift your spirits. And don’t forget to include some ‘me-time’ in your planning. ‘Tis the season for giving but we often neglect ourselves. Give yourself a few nights to just kick back and relax. Watch a few holiday movies or read a good book in front of the fire. Don’t forget, you can’t pour eggnog from an empty glass.

Learn to Say No

You are not a superhero. You can’t do everything for everyone—get every person the perfect gift, make it to every party, cook every meal, or meet everyone’s expectation. People love getting together for the holidays but it can create a level of pressure that makes us feel as if we are obligated to go to everything we are invited to. Allow yourself to say no to the things you can’t make it to. If it causes more stress than enjoyment, it might not be worth it. It’s ok to say no, even during the holidays.

Get Enough Sleep

Usually, when the commitments pile up we withdraw from our sleep-bank to make up the extra time. But sleep isn’t something you can make up for after the holidays. In fact, there’s a lot of research that says lack of sleep is really, really bad for you. But in terms of stress, lack of sleep can make things feel so much worse. We are far more emotional and far less rational when are sleep tank is running on low. It becomes harder to process how we feel and can turn the best of us into Scrooge. The goal should always be 8 hours of sleep a night. Keeping your body and mind rested will do wonders for dealing with stressful situations.

Avoid Social Media Comparisons

As we all know, seeing how others celebrate the holidays can make us feel like we are failing at creating the perfect holiday experience for our family. Seeing the crazy ‘Elf on the Shelf’ shenanigans, all the cookies and pies, the overly decorated holiday lights and even the happy smiles of that casual holiday selfie can make the rest of us feel like we don’t measure up. Not everyone can have a perfect family, a perfect house, or a perfectly cooked meal. Seeing the images of other people’s celebrations can make us feel pressured to keep up or even a little depressed at our inability to compare. The holidays are not a competition. Don’t let another person’s pic ruin your day or stress you out. Remember, what you are seeing is usually a carefully choreographed image that leaves out the mess, the fights, the pressure and the stress that always goes on behind the scenes. No one has a perfect life, no matter how many likes they get on Instagram.

Stay Active

Depending on where you live, the start of the holidays coincides with the start of winter, which means shorter days and less sunlight. For many people, this fact alone can cause feelings of depression and anxiety. When it’s dark and cold people are less likely to go out and walk around and more likely to stay inside and eat comfort food. Finding a way to stay active helps keep the dopamine levels elevated in your brain. This will lead to more motivation, better focus, and less fatigue. All three of these are critical when it comes to taking action on all the things on this list. No advice on reducing your holiday anxiety will help if you don’t put them into practice. Even just a brisk 20-minute walk will help keep you going and help avoid that yearly holiday freak-out.

Celebrating the holidays is supposed to be an enjoyable experience—building lasting memories with those you love. Incorporate these steps and give yourself the gift of an anxiety-free holiday.

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