By Talia Abraham, LMFT, The Anxiety Relief Center

Anxiety during the holidays

It’s that time of year again. More accurately, that time when we start counting down to the end of the year and the bells are ringing. Quite literary.  The holidays are here and they can give us plenty of reasons to be anxious and stressed – there’s shopping to do, gifts to wrap, parties to attend, food to buy and prepare, money to spend, and perhaps even some traveling to do (to add to the already existing stress).  You know what I mean, don’t you? You can feel it in the air. It seems a little denser and tense. If that’s not stressful enough consider adding to that equation family. For a lot of us the biggest source of anxiety is family.    

When it comes to the holidays we have this idea that spending time with family is supposed to be joyful and elevating but that’s not always the case. Families are complicated and some of our relationships can be triggering and anxiety provoking. 

The reasons for getting triggered are countless. For some it can be spending time with toxic relatives that are avoided the rest of the year. For others, it might evoke painful memories that come flooding all of a sudden. You might find yourself preparing to sit down for dinner as your dad asks you about that job you didn’t get and now all you want to do is run out of the room. Or perhaps your aunt asks you why your partner or boy/girl friend, who you recently  broke up with, isn’t here tonight and now it seems like you need to explain in front of everyone why and what happened. Maybe it’s quite the opposite and at your family there’s hardly any conversation which leads you to feel like you could cut the air with a knife. How uncomfortable. The possibilities and examples are varied.  

Which ever reason it may be, quite often, if you suffer from anxiety you might find your symptoms increase and feel out of control during the holiday season. This may lead to having panic attacks, a sense of dread and sometimes even feeling depressed once all of the festivities end. When symptoms increase people sometimes disregard what they are feeling and they don’t seek help. Alleviating anxiety doesn’t have to be a big deal. If you can become more aware of the things that trigger you around your family and what they look like you can identify helpful resources that can help calm that anxiety down. Nonetheless, sometimes finding those resources can be challenging so here are 3 very simple tips you can use to send you off on a good start. 

3 simple tips to help ease anxiety during the holidays

There are different ways to deal with and attend to the anxiety and stress that you feel over the holidays. This three tips are just a sample of the variety that exits out there. Give them a try, experiment with them. Maybe you’ll find that you like them and maybe you’ll tweak them to your own needs and likings. A big part of finding what works of you is about trying different things and letting yourself be curious and learn. Once you found what works for you it will get more and more easy as you do it.

1. Take a breather – take a walk, walk out of the room, move and stretch. Don’t stay stuck in one position. If you find yourself in a situation that makes you anxious find a way to remove yourself from it. For example if you are sitting at a dinner and you start to feel anxious, walk out of the room, go the bathroom, wash your face and hands. Imagine that you are washing the anxiety away with the water. Another possibility is going for a walk once dinner is over. Remember you don’t have to stay where you don’t want to. You are allowed and even encouraged to take care of yourself. 

2. Find a resource – focus your attention on something that makes you feel good, neutral or calm in the room. Look for something in the room that makes you feel good or neutral and leave your gaze on it. Maybe it’s a photo or a painting, a plant or an artifact. Maybe there’s a pet around that can help you feel ease. Let yourself play with it, pet it. What ever you find that feels helpful and reassuring allow yourself to breath and let yourself take in that object or person. As if it was a soft warm blanket covering you. 

3. Reach out– before you attend a family gathering, contact a friend who is a good support. Someone you can trust and feel safe with. Ask if you could give them a call or send them a text in case you get too overwhelmed or flooded by your family. Let them know that you might need to reach out in case you feel anxious. Reaching is not always easy. It can be challenging for some people. It requires a certain vulnerability to tell someone that you need them. However it is natural and human to need to depend on other people. It can make a big difference once you allow yourself to call someone and ask for support. To know that you are not alone. We all need people around us that we can relay on and be supported by. 

Finding help 

Most people find themselves stressed and anxious during the holidays. It’s a time that has the ability to stir up a lot of those uncomfortable feelings that we try so hard to bury or avoid during the rest of the year. Often people may have this idea that they have to suck it up and just go though it or they might believe there isn’t any help available for them at all. Unfortunately this may end up being a trap, which can worsen your sense of well being. There’s no shame in acknowledging that you are having a challenging or difficult time. If you find yourself feeling like there is no one to reach out to in your circles, get professional help. A therapist or a counselor’s job is to support you and be there for you during difficult times. They will help you figure out and understand your emotions and thoughts. They will help you unload your burdens and feel more held. You really don’t have to face your anxiety alone. It’s never too late to start. Perhaps this could be a chance to finally invest in yourself and resolve some of those issues that arise for you.