5 Tips For Managing Holiday-Related Anxiety
As the holidays approach, you may feel anxiety rising like a creek filled with too many stones. Before you know it, your thoughts may overflow, and your emotions may feel like they’re rushing out of control. Anxiety doesn’t have to be in charge of your holiday. Here are five steps you can take to reduce holiday anxiety and enjoy a restorative holiday season.
Name your anxieties
The first step to managing holiday anxiety is taking time to understand it. Most people experience anxiety at some level during the rest of the year, but the holidays often increase pressure and bring these anxieties to the forefront of the mind. Identifying your feelings of anxiety can reduce their power over you. Some common causes of holiday anxiety include financial stress, constant rushing, lack of rest, stressful social situations, family drama, and grief. Some anxieties may be easily solved by having a conversation or reframing expectations. Others will require support and time before they lessen.
Take a few moments to write down what you’re worried about. It’s okay if the answer is “I don’t know” – anxiety without a clear cause is just as valid as that caused by a specific concern. A good practice is to note what makes you anxious over several days. Then, you can review your thoughts for any recurring patterns.
Invest in your health
Taking care of your body won’t necessarily resolve mental anxiety, but it can significantly reduce symptoms and improve your ability to resolve anxiety. Self-care can go out the window during the holidays as schedules get busier and many people travel. To protect your peace of mind, it’s essential to take care of yourself during this season. Consume proper nutrition, drink plenty of water, and ensure you’re getting enough hours of sleep every night. It’s also a good idea to reduce screen time, especially before bed. Some studies suggest that screen time can heighten anxiety, so setting boundaries for yourself is important.
Exercise is another way to fight anxiety and take care of your body. Moving your body decreases stress hormones while increasing “feel-good” hormones that boost your mood and energy levels. Exercise is often accompanied by other mental health benefits, like time spent outside or with friends. Hitting exercise goals is also a manageable way you can increase your self-confidence. Unfortunately, people who struggle with anxiety are at high risk for substance abuse. Research shows an estimated 37% of alcohol abusers also have at least one significant co-occurring psychological or emotional problem. Alcohol addiction and anxiety exist in a vicious cycle that makes individuals feel more depressed and hopeless. Thankfully, there are many programs to help you recover if you’re struggling with anxiety and alcohol addiction.
Sit with your emotions
The holidays are an emotional time even without anxiety. Strong emotions can be scary, overwhelming, and painful. Unfortunately, many individuals have never learned to process their emotions in a healthy, sustainable way. Instead, they ignore or avoid their feelings in an attempt to reduce pain. This way of dealing with emotions only postpones discomfort until later. Anxiety is closely related to the feeling of fear, and fears gain mental weight every time they’re avoided instead of faced directly. Unless you make time to address it, anxiety can grow to the point where it affects your physical as well as your mental health.
Your emotions don’t have to define you as a person. Instead of reacting to them, practice observing them and asking questions to learn more about them. For instance, don’t immediately try to “fix” or stop it when you start feeling anxious. Instead, take a mental step back and observe how you’re feeling. Ask yourself how anxiety makes your body feel. What triggered it? Is it a strong or weak emotion? What thoughts naturally arise from this emotion? Does this emotion give you information about your surroundings? If not, what else can you learn from it? Taking time to question your feelings of anxiety can help you come to terms with what is bothering you.
Talk to friends
Many individuals need quality alone time to be mentally and emotionally stable. Quiet time and solitude are opportunities for you to process life, ask questions, and check in with yourself. Over the holidays, travel and increased responsibilities can make it difficult to get enough quiet time. Try blocking out 30 minutes early in the morning or just before bed to process your day. While alone time is very healthy, extended isolation often increases anxiety. In fact, isolation has been linked to a reduced life span and many health problems. People who are surrounded by community are happier, healthier, and live longer. If you feel isolated, the holidays are the perfect time to reevaluate social connections and start to change your priorities.
Some individuals who are lonely may also deal with social anxiety, which makes it hard for them to spend time in large groups over the holidays. Social anxiety affects many people across the world, and it can be treated and improved like any other mental health condition. If your holiday anxiety stems from social anxiety, practice making small connections leading up to the holidays. Consider reaching out for professional help if social anxiety is impacting your life on a regular basis.
Practice being present
Mindfulness is the practice of returning your thoughts to your physical reality. Refocusing on your surroundings can reduce anxiety and ground your mind in what is real rather than your interpretation of reality. Your imagination is a powerful tool, and practicing mindfulness trains it to work for you rather than against you. Being present is difficult when your mind buzzes with thoughts about the past, present, and future. Memories and goals are an important part of your life, but they shouldn’t interfere with your ability to be present. A simple way to return to the present is to use your senses to notice what’s around you.
Mindfulness is typically practiced in two parts: attention and acceptance. Most exercises have you focus on what you’re feeling, both physically and mentally. Breathing deeply can help your thoughts slow down and focus on the present. Then, instead of reacting to your emotions, name them and let them go.
Cultivate peace this holiday
The holidays can trigger many forms of anxiety, as well as heighten any anxious feelings you’re already experiencing. However, this season is also an opportunity to identify the source of painful emotions and work toward healing. Anxiety can be managed and significantly reduced with the right kind of help. Follow these five steps to find peace during the holiday season.
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