Growing up and celebrating the holidays brings to mind a simpler time of family gathered around the Christmas tree opening the yearly pajama set from my Nana. These days, as an adult, this time of year is filled with a more hectic holiday tune. Cue “The Weather -Inside- is Frightful.”
I have come to understand the holidays, while still joyful and meaningful, can bring about much anxiety and dread. Traveling, finding the “right” gift, contributing a side dish, all while juggling the needs and expectations of others is oftentimes draining. Even counselors, as myself, who know the various tools to deal with anxiety, experience the overwhelming feelings that come up this time of year. So how can we be mindful of our own wellbeing in a time that is centered around family and loved ones? How do we juggle what’s right for us and commit to making the mashed potatoes, too?
We all have our own holiday situations. As I write this I think of the different traditions that make my family’s holiday season come alive and also what new traditions my husband, myself and his family are now making. It is a balancing act, but I am attempting – and encouraging others – to continue to put themselves first.
Here are some suggestions on how to keep the holidays cheerful and bright:
-Plan ahead and prepare. If traveling for the holidays is your struggle, be sure to create enough time to get to and from your destination. Rushing to the airport or on the road will creates undue pressure. Plan for traffic and delays. Slow down and plan accordingly.
–Set boundaries with your time and energy. If spending all your time with family brings you discomfort and zaps your energy, make time for yourself. This can mean scheduling alone time when visiting and allowing yourself to say “no”. This enables you to take a breather, reconnect, and enjoy your holiday too.
-Set realistic expectations or adjust the ones you already have. There is no “perfect” gift, you have placed that expectation on yourself. Instead of worrying about what to purchase for others ask for a gift list or a list of favorite stores that offer gift certificates. They choose what they want and you maintain your sanity.
-Know your warning signs. If anxiety is something you deal with frequently, understand what your triggers are that set you off. Be diligent in protecting yourself by avoiding these triggers or if this isn’t doable, have a coping skill in place.
-Practice and implement coping skills. There are plenty of techniques to assist you when in the thick of things. If you feel symptoms of anxiety beginning to escalate try these:
- 4, hold for 2, and exhale for 6. The longer the exhale the better. It slows the heart down back to normal and puts you back in control of your breath.
- 2. 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding. Use your 5 senses to ground you and create a sense of calm. List 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Better yet, take yourself on a walk and try this one out.
- 3. Challenge your thoughts. If your thoughts have become negative and fearful, challenge their validity. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen, the best that happen, and most likely to happen? Replace the irrational thought with a rational one, such as the most likely scenario.
The holidays are meant to bring people together and provide a sense of family and wellbeing. Remember, that you can choose how to participate in the season, whether that is being present or not. It is okay to put yourself first and maintain your mental health. Just be sure to ask yourself if your tendency to shy away from events is to practice self-care or a way to isolate. If it’s the latter, understand that avoiding situations completely brings only temporary relief. Ignoring what causes us anxiety, rather than learning to deal with it effectively, can actually create more fear and worry. It takes courage to face those things we fear; we believe you have that.
At Kaleidoscope Counseling we offer aid to those who experience with anxiety during and in between the holidays. Give us a call, we are happy to help you along your journey.
By: Jessie Condon, LCAS, LPC, NCC, CCMHC