Anxiety can affect anyone at any time, but it seems to be especially prevalent during the holiday season. The reasons for heightened anxiety levels this time of year are vast: People often travel, which can be stress-inducing. Some people have financial issues that can make it difficult to purchase the items they want to give as gifts this month. Many people have anxiety related to their extended families; either spending time with them makes them feel stress or living too far away to participate in family holiday festivities makes them feel alone and sad. Some suffer from seasonal affective disorder, which usually causes signs of depression but can also cause symptoms of anxiety. And some people feel anxious about ending the current year and starting a new one. If you are dealing with holiday anxiety, here are seven ways that you might find relief.
1. Stick to Your Normal Routine If Possible
This time of year, it is common to eat more rich foods than usual, spend less time sleeping than usual, and otherwise get away from your normal routines. This alone can cause holiday anxiety; when your mind and body don’t know what to expect, you might find yourself worrying more than you normally do. Take a look at your schedule and figure out how you can get the sleep that you need. Late holiday gatherings are fine once in a while, but you might not be able to be out merrymaking during the workweek or both weekend nights. Also, be sure you’re getting all of the fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein that you need for good health and adequate energy.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Keep in mind that you do not have to say yes to every get-together or volunteer opportunity that comes up. You do not need a specific reason to decline invitations; simply say, “Thank you for inviting me, but I will not be able to make it.” Don’t feel obligated to take on more work, pressure, and stress. If you want to participate in a worthy cause but you don’t have time in December, keep in mind that you can always give your time during the less popular parts of the year and still make a difference.
3. Spend Some Time Outdoors
Taking some time each day to get some fresh air is a good way to reduce both holiday anxiety and depression. Some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder. If you find that your anxiety or depression symptoms tend to ramp up during the colder, darker months only to disappear during the warmer months, you might be one of them. Seasonal affective disorder can often be made milder by going outside each day when the sun is shining. Even a ten-minute walk can help you feel better as you wait for spring to arrive.
4. Be Realistic About Holiday Expectations
Commercials, movies, and magazines might have you believing that the only good holiday season is an elaborate one. This is not true, however! You and your family just might enjoy a simple holiday even more than one with gifts piled high and expensive foods simmering on the stove. Think about what you can do to make the season special. Can you make Grandma’s turkey stuffing or Mom’s latkes? Maybe getting a quart of eggnog at the grocery store is what you need to feel like you’re in the holiday spirit. You might decide to forego gifts for the adults or to set a limit on the number of gifts you purchase for children. Be realistic when it comes to deciding how you can make the most of your holiday without blowing your budget.
5. Get Some Exercise Each Day
Exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety, so be sure to get in some each day. The challenge this time of year is that if you live in an area of the country that gets snow and ice, it will be cold and potentially dangerous to be out jogging or even walking. Also, the sun sets earlier and you might not have a lot of daylight to take advantage of. Consider whether getting a membership at a local gym would be feasible. You can also dance around in your house or take yoga lessons… anything to get your heart rate up and move your body.
6. Take Time for Relaxation
Finding time to relax might feel impossible during the month of December, but it is important to set aside some time to breathe deeply, to meditate, to journal, or to simply enjoy a funny movie or a bubble bath. Relaxation techniques can help melt away the stress of the day and set you up for a better mood. Some you might consider trying include:
- Deep breathing exercises. If your holiday anxiety is causing hyperventilation and a fast heartbeat, breathing deeply and slowly can help you settle down in a matter of minutes. Try breathing in for the count of 5, hold for the count of 5, breathe out for the count of 5, then hold for the count of 5 before beginning again.
- Guided meditation. Look for guided meditation files online to help you focus on cultivating a calm state of mind.
- Yoga. Either taking a class at a yoga studio or learning with a video can help you breathe more deeply and calm your holiday anxiety.
Of course, you can also simply spend some time relaxing with a friend or your spouse, sipping your favorite hot drink, or even getting a massage. Think about what relaxation looks like to you and find some time at least weekly to indulge in it.
7. Seek Professional Holiday Anxiety Help If Needed
If you are finding that your holiday anxiety symptoms are becoming too strong for you to handle on your own or if you are having panic attacks, it is time to seek professional help. You can start with your primary care physician or your counselor, if you have one. You don’t have to live with anxiety; instead, you can enjoy less stress and more calm if you work with a professional who can help you feel better.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.