There’s no denying that the holidays are a stressful time for just about everyone, but this is particularly true for individuals suffering from anxiety disorders. Between long-distance travel, frenzied preparation for house and dinner guests, familial tensions, and sky-high expectations, it’s no surprise that in a recent poll by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, three-quarters of respondents report being more anxious and/or depressed during the holidays. Forget good tidings and counting your blessings — it seems that the holidays and anxiety go hand-in-hand!
Bring on the Stress
A classic Christmas carol may proclaim that the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for anxiety sufferers, it often seems like anything but. Autumn’s brisk days have given way to outright cold, and the sunset comes earlier each day. These factors alone can impact well-being, but when you consider everything else that goes along with the holidays, it’s easy to see why this season is a challenge for so many.
According to a recent TripAdvisor survey, nearly 40% of Americans say that they plan to travel for Thanksgiving this year, and of those who are traveling, 70% report feeling anxious about it. Packing and preparing to leave are stressful enough when you have anxiety, but the congested roads, long lines, and crowded airports that come with the holiday season only make travel harder. For those who are staying put and hosting their own gatherings, the stress of cleaning for and cooking for a crowd can quickly take its toll.
And of course, there’s the issue of family. It’s no secret that much of the stress associated with the holidays has to do with navigating difficult family relationships. Some people simply feel the pressure of attending a large gathering, while others must cope with toxic family members, old emotional baggage, or trying to keep the peace between feuding relatives. Conversely, some individuals may find their pain compounded because they have no longer have any close family members or friends with whom to spend the holidays.
And of course, in the midst of all this, you’re supposed to be feeling thankful …
5 Secrets to Surviving the Holidays
1. Keep your expectations realistic.
Remember: Perfection should not be a requirement for you to enjoy yourself. No one will be grading your performance. There won’t be any food critics scrutinizing the meal or cleanliness inspectors examining the bathroom, so relax! (If you have family members who’ve appointed themselves to this duty, consider pitying their need for negativity rather letting their criticism shake you.)
Even if you’re not hosting this year, you’ll want to keep your expectations in check. If you know there will be some disagreement over the dinner table, just accept it; worrying won’t prevent it from happening. Besides, a bit of chaos is what keeps the holidays interesting!
2. Avoid clinging to traditions so tightly that you can’t accept change.
If your sister-in-law brings her own cranberry sauce instead of Great Grandma’s traditional recipe, it shouldn’t ruin your entire holiday. Remember that time changes all things. Traditions evolve, and new ones arise over the years. This should enhance your enjoyment of the holidays rather than taking away from your experience.
3. Exercise restraint and self-control with contentious family members.
If you’ll be seeing a relative with whom you have trouble interacting, you should do some mental preparation ahead of time. Repeat that you will not allow this person to negatively impact your self-worth or make you second guess your choices. Try to avoid loaded topics of conversation, and feel free to avoid discussing any subjects that you wish. If a relative becomes problematic, remember to take deep breaths and to think before you speak. Firmly stand up for yourself when necessary, but resist the urge to participate in a dramatic confrontation. You can excuse yourself from a heated situation at any time.
4. Schedule some time out from the chaos.
Whether you’re a guest in someone’s home or hosting guests of your own, taking time out from the group can make a big difference on your stress and anxiety levels. Schedule a block of time where you (and your spouse or children, if you’d like) can get away. Take a long walk, see a movie, hit the sales at the mall … whatever will help you unwind.
5. Examine what you “must” do.
Because we associate the holidays with tradition, it’s easy to get caught up doing the same thing year after year, even if you don’t necessarily enjoy it. The good news is, barring a few select circumstances, most people are not actually obligated to do any one thing for the holidays. If attending your family’s annual feast makes you miserable, stay home and plan your own menu instead. Or if the traditional modes of celebration aren’t the least bit appealing, find another way to spend your time. Whether you take a tropical cruise, spend a few nights in a new city, or just blast through your Netflix queue, the point is that it’s your time, and you’re entitled to spend it in a way that suits your needs. If “what you’ve always done” no longer works, you can always redefine your holiday traditions.