Mental Health and The Holidays: How to Cope with Holiday Anxiety
Katy Kandaris-Weiner, LPC
With the holiday season upon us, it’s entirely possible your stress levels are at an all time high. It may leave you questioning your mental state since it feels like everyone around you is so happy and joyful, right? You’re not alone.
In fact, due to the increased stress levels this time of year, it’s easy to succumb to what is known as holiday anxiety.
What is Holiday Anxiety?
Anxiety is the combination of fear, stress, and uneasiness. When someone is anxious, they often experience worry, increased heart rate, sweating, and in more severe cases, panic attacks. When it specifically is oriented towards the holiday season, we call it “holiday anxiety.”
The individual feelings of fear, irritability, and uneasiness doesn’t always equate to anxiety. Those are absolutely normal reactions to stress. Anxiety is oftentimes looked at as a future-oriented response to a perceived threat.
Now, we know that the holidays aren’t a real threat, but our mind tricks us into reacting like they are one because they bring discomfort. Knowing that we have to face the things that cause us distress is enough to trigger anxiety.
Obviously, we all know the holidays happen at the same time each year, but the anxiety can get worse the closer we get.
Symptoms of Holiday Anxiety
Holiday anxiety, though caused by this specific season, presents itself in the same way many other types of anxiety do. The most common symptoms include:
Changes in appetite
Anxiety isn’t just psychological, it’s physical, too. Someone experiencing anxiety might shake, become dizzy, sweat excessively, and feel nauseous or faint.
Not Feeling So Merry
Not everyone feels holly jolly this time of year. For a lot of reasons, it’s pretty common to feel resentful or sad at Christmas, or any number of holidays we celebrate this time of year. Families can be complicated, money can be tight, and making your life look like a Hallmark movie isn’t really achievable.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves this time of year. We often fall into the trap of trying to replicate what we see on TV and in social media—the decorations, the food, the large family gathering in a cozy living room isn’t achievable for everyone. We have family members we don’t get along with, and some that can’t be there.
The pressure for giving can also be a burden. Do you give gifts to everyone in the family? What’s the spending limit? Someone gave you a pricey gift, but yours is more modest—what now?
Yes, giving makes us feel good. But you need realistic expectations for whom you give to and how much you spend. Financial stress is often more significant during the holidays.
The holidays can also be lonely for a lot of people. Because most celebrations are oriented towards family and loved ones, those without can feel left out, or depressed. Either due to loss or distance, many people associate the holiday season with grief.
How to Get Through the Holidays
Whether it’s your crazy uncle, burnt turkey, attending three separate parties, or mourning a loved one, most of us have reasons for some kind of holiday anxiety. Luckily, it’s only for a short amount of time, and there are ways to cope
Going into the holiday season, it’s important to be realistic and manage expectations about celebrations. This includes accepting the fact that some things are NOT going to go as planned. If you’re the person reaching for the Hallmark card Christmas, do what you can to make it happen, but remember it might look a little different in reality.
Setting up a schedule and budget ahead of time (and sticking to it) can help you create achievable goals.
Accept Your Family and Friends
When stress levels begin to rise during a holiday event, take a step back and remember why you’re celebrating. Your family and friends might have their quirks, but it’s probably why you chose to be with them in the first place. Sometimes feeling stressed or angry can cause us to be less tolerant of others.
However, you should never tolerate harassment or abuse. If someone is being hateful or mean, spend this time with others who make you feel welcomed and loved.
Living in the moment can help with stress. Be mindful. Try to block out all outside thoughts and truly enjoy being surrounded by your loved ones.
It’s the Thought That Counts
When gift-giving, you’ll always hear, “it’s the thought that counts.” This saying can apply to almost anything during the holidays. It’s perfectly normal for things like decorating and or meal preparation to not go as planned. But trying your best is what matters.
If you aren’t able to make it back to your family for these festive times, try to call or send a letter. These things tend to go a long way.
Remember, when things start to go astray, it’s your efforts that matter most.
Get Some Fresh Air
During the holiday event, if you feel your stress levels begin to rise, try to step outside for some fresh air. Grant yourself some peace to quiet your mind and reset your thoughts.
Exercise, even a short walk, is one of the easiest ways to be mindful and ease stress. It’s easy to get caught up in the holidays, but stick to your exercise routine. You get the benefits of exercise and stability, and both do wonders in combating holiday anxiety.
Let’s Make It Through the Season Together
For some of us, it can be difficult to get through the holidays because of the immense pressures and stress. It’s important to understand that you are not alone in this battle against holiday stress. That's why Inner Balance Counseling offers group therapy for individuals struggling to cope with the holidays. In a supportive space, you can feel better during what can be a difficult season, and help others do the same.
The team at Inner Balance Counseling want to help you have the best holiday season possible. If you’ve dealt with holiday anxiety, reach out for a consultation so we can help make your season merry and bright.