Anxiety, Wellbeing

Tips to Managing Stress and Anxiety Over the Holiday Season

By Hudi Kowalsky, LMHC

For many people, the Holiday season comes with mixed emotions.

Some of the pro’s include crisp winter mornings, holiday cheer, great retail sales, and festive spirit all around.

But the holidays can also create considerable tension, stress, and anxiety. First, holidays often come with a break from routine which can be disruptive and complicated to navigate. And for those who need to travel things can be even more complicated, and expensive. Second, there is family stress. While spending time with loved ones can be a great blessing, complicated dynamics often play out especially during the holiday season. And for some individuals spending time with family members can trigger unwanted memories, as well as habits which no longer serve us well. Third, is the vice of social comparison: Looking at images all over of other “happy” people can leave many wondering why they are feeling so sad, anxious, and alone. And for those who don’t have families to share the holidays with, such feelings can be even more compounded. It’s very easy to look around and see what others appear to have and be quick to judge ourselves harshly and curse our fate.

What are some tools that we can utilize to have a happy and NOT anxious holiday season? How can we maintain a sense of equilibrium and peace from late November through the start of January? To rephrase that question in the language of clinical science: What are the most effective ways to manage our emotions and increased vulnerability to anxiety during this season?

Here are our seven favorite ideas:

  • Keep up a healthy and regular routine as possible. If you need to travel or attend a family gathering or holiday party, try not to wake up or go to bed more than 60-90 minutes later than usual. The body has its own rhythm that needs to be maintained.
  • When you need a break from work, really take a break and let things wait until you’re back at work.
  • Keep up your fitness and try to stick to your regular diet/calorie intake as much as possible. If you miss a workout or overeat a bit here and there, just try to get back on track.
  • A drink here or there with friends and family is usually fine, unless your doctor has told you otherwise. But if you’re feeling sad or anxious be sure to go easy and not overdo it. Drowning away sorrows tends to bring them back with a vengeance down the road.
  • When you’re spending time with family that you care about, turn off your cell phone for at least part of the time together. When we’re not distracted by our phones a new world of curiosity and possibilities in relationships opens up.
  • If you’re in therapy, ask your therapist if you can contact him/her while you’re away as needed during the holiday season when things come up. And if you’re taking medication, make sure you have an adequate supply so you’re not running to a random pharmacy for a refill mid-Thanksgiving meal.
  • If you’re not in therapy, make sure you have a close friend you can call or lean on if things get tough. Sometimes, there is no greater medicine than having a shoulder to cry on.

Happy Holidays (seriously)!

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