There have been many times in my life when my anxiety kept me holed up in my bed — lights off, rubbing my feet together so ferociously I developed callouses. This was me, isolating as a way to stave off anxiety, before Netflix was even a thing. However, the holidays should not be one of those times. Not for me, and not for you. There are ways to survive the holidays when you suffer from anxiety is something you can learn to master and must tackle. But why, exactly?
According to The Mayo Clinic, holiday anxiety can affect your health, and who wants to be sick when there's mistletoe hanging? As someone who's lived with anxiety for over 30 years, being "chill" is easier said than done. It's not, however, impossible. I know because I've been handling my anxiety for a while now, and I think I've got this. Something is bound to get me fired up between now and the first of the new year, because I'm not perfect (newsflash), but I've learned to be fine with that. I'm doing the best I can to keep imperfection from making me anxious.
When it comes to the holidays, the struggle is real. It might not be the most joyful thing to say, but I'll say it: the holidays make me anxious. I start to feel like my head is in a vice (not very festive, I know). What's wrong with me? My family has crazy expectations of me, I get nervous about traveling, I over-commit to holiday parties, I over-spend and feel more broke than usual, and then I start to feel guilty over these First World Problems. Still, just as the struggle is real, so are my feelings, and acknowledging them is the first step to banishing holiday anxiety.
Therapy and mindfulness have helped me manage anxiety, but even more so is feeling comfortable in my own skin. Trust me, the holidays will shake you, but as long as you hold onto yourself you can survive all the way into the New Year (and beyond, my friends). The following tips can help, too.
If You Have Social Anxiety, Be An Active Observer At Parties...
Social anxiety. Yeah, I've got that. An estimated 15 million Americans have social anxiety as well, according to Social Anxiety Support. It's not necessarily a bad thing; it's part of being human and living in the social world. In fact, it's almost impossible to discern between social anxiety and anticipatory excitement, as my guru once told me, because they feel the same (for me it's a fluttering stomach).
You might think that everyone is watching your every move with judgment in their eyes. You might blush, sweat, faint, or, like me, blurt out the most idiotic things to ever be uttered (guess what, people are way too worried about themselves to focus on you). So, how do you avoid being a grinch by eschewing holiday parties? You go to them, people. Don't force yourself to sing a sexed up rendition of "Santa Baby." Instead, ease in and be an active observer.
You've so got this.
...Or Ask The Host What She Needs Help With
Another way to navigate the holiday party scene when you have social anxiety is to help the host out. I find it easier to socialize when I can forge individual relationships. After a little one-on-one time, it's easier for me to join the group. A grateful host will help you mingle.
Don't Use Alcohol To "Loosen Up"
If you have social anxiety, you might think booze will loosen you up. According to Healthline, however, drinking alcohol can make your anxiety worse. Rather than reaching for a glass, I've learned to reach for a friend and start a conversation. An awkward encounter feels a lot better than a hangover. I promise.
If You Have General Anxiety, Organize A Charitable Activity
Clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical Center in New York Dr. Carol W. Berman, told The Huffington Post that volunteering can ease general anxiety. "Getting outside of yourself and helping others in need helps take the focus off of our own situation, circumstances, and feelings, and often delivers a significant emotional boost," said Berman. And what better time to spread joy than the holidays?
Don't Abandon Self-Care Routines
Shopping, cooking, planning, wrapping, volunteering — the list of holiday activities goes on and on. If you're like me, the more you have to juggle, the more frazzled you get when you're told to "chill." (By the way, never say that to someone who's anxious.) While you can't stop the onslaught of holiday asks, you can take extra care to self-care.
Plus, you don't have to stick to the traditional holiday fetes. Switch things up with a midnight meditation, holiday yoga, or a group application of festive (and relaxing) face masks.
Just Say No (To High Stress Situations)
When I first started saying no, I felt a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Guilt, regret, fear — the list goes on. But when you learn how to say no, the declaration can be empowering, and, according to an article in Psychology Today, saying no can ease anxiety.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it, saying no to your family and friends, especially around the holidays, is difficult. However, my unpleasant feelings about saying no dissipated. They didn't disappear altogether, but I realized that they're tolerable. It's your holiday season too, remember, and you deserve just as much joy as anyone else.
If You Have Anxiety About Traveling, Think About How Bummed You'll Be If You Cancel Your Trip
Travel writer Lauren Juliff wrote on her blog that she used adventure travel to cure anxiety. Whether you're flying solo for the holidays, and using the time off for a much needed vacation, or traveling home for the holidays; travel itself can seem like a source of anxiety.
Juliff argued that it's not travel that makes you anxious, but anxiety that's the culprit. At least that was the case with her. Her antidote? She pictured herself in a year's time, and thought, "Wow, I'm bummed that I didn't take that trip." Remember, people, you can't turn back time.
Plan Your Trip Down To The Last Detail
Still not convinced your travel anxiety will go away just because you've decided to book the trip? I suggest you plan your trip to the last detail to avoid anxiety. Pinpoint your fears, (fear of flying, fear of being away from home, fear of new places, fear of going back home) and address them one by one with a therapist or friend. Then plan strategies to overcome your fears. This divide and conquer approach to anxiety has saved me many a time.
Remember You Can Always Go Home
OK, you're on that trip. Remember, nothing's permanent. Although holiday travel is stressful — the long lines, the holiday music on loop at travel kiosks — you can get through this. If you feel like you need to go home, there's nothing wrong with doing just that. Cut your trip short, make the necessary arrangements, and go back to the place you feel most comfortable.
If You Have Financial Anxiety, Stick To A Budget
Luvleen Sidhu, BankMobile's co-founder, told Culture Trip that planning a holiday shopping budget is easy if you cut back on discretionary income in the weeks leading up to the holidays. So, nix the superfluous spending and stash the cash for all your holiday spending. Creating a budget doesn't make you a Scrooge, it just helps you implement all those spreadsheet skills you learned in college. Keeping track of how much you spend will make you feel a million times better than putting everything on your debit card and then wondering why your bank account is empty come January.
But don't worry, with a holiday budget, that scenario is out of the picture.