The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year… but not always. Holidays can be stressful with high expectations and overall anxiety.
The stress is real, but there are tips for dealing with holiday stress that can help. Just as you wash your hands and try to avoid colds and flu around the holidays, taking care of your mental health is equally important.
What are the symptoms of holiday anxiety?
To recognize the symptoms it is important to be aware of what causes holiday stress.
It can be related to unrealistic expectations, such as everything going perfectly. Or maybe it is related to budget concerns, either from not having enough money, overspending or feeling pressured to spend on things you don’t find meaningful. Stress can also come from the interaction with loved ones.
Symptoms of anxiety during the holidays are similar to overall anxiety:
- Feeling overwhelmed and out of control
- Avoiding parties or other social gatherings
- Fatigue or feeling tired; sleep disturbances
- Stomach issues, lack of appetite or overeating
- Feeling depressed or hopeless
Please note, if at any time you feel like you are in danger, please call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. Anxiety can manifest in very scary ways, and you should never feel like there isn’t help or hope.
How to deal with holiday stress
Managing stress through the holidays is hard, but many of the strategies you use to manage daily stress apply to the holidays as well.
- Get enough rest. Hopping from party to party, shopping and long days at work to wrap up the year can all lead to exhaustion, which makes anxiety worse. Sleep and rest are healing and so important to reducing stress and anxiety.
- Eat a healthy diet. During the holidays everyone indulges and that is OK! Just balance it out with lots of water and healthy choices.
- Set boundaries. This is a critical part of managing holiday stress, but it can be hard to do. Decline invitations that don’t fit with your schedule or that you don’t find relaxing and enjoyable. You can always meet the host for coffee to spend an hour together if that is more manageable. Schedule family visits so that you have time to really enjoy one another rather than racing from home to home. Think about celebrating across several days instead of just one to make it more manageable for everyone. Communicate your plans early and often, and be prepared for solutions that don’t fit everyone. Be flexible but also ask for flexibility.
- Manage your budget. This means spending what you feel comfortable with. Don’t feel pressured to do more or participate in activities that don’t fit into your plan.
- Treat yourself. During the holidays do at least one thing that is truly for you. Whether you spend a day reading or baking or watching shows, give yourself the gift of time just for you. It can be an hour or two a week, but make sure it is something that brings you joy.
- Build in down time. Use the things that work for you — deep breathing, soothing scents, music or a brisk walk. Take breaks during the day to reset yourself through calming behaviors that you like best. Give yourself permission to take care of you.
- Leave perfection packed away. Measure your expectations so that you can truly enjoy the holiday season. Not everything will go according to plan. Accepting that in advance can help to reduce the stress when something crops up.
So, when the holiday anxiety hits, remember these tips and do your best to slow things down so you don’t forget to take time and enjoy this special time of year. And if you need help from a health care professional, we are here.