The holidays are the most stressful time of year for a lot of people — particularly those suffering from some type of anxiety disorder like myself. If you’re looking for ways to support someone who has major anxiety around the holidays, you’re in luck. In my decades of coping with multiple versions of anxiety (generalized, social, etc), I’ve come across a few things that others have done that made all the difference in the world. It really just might be that one thing someone does to transform holiday blahs to holiday ah-has! Yeah, that was cheesy, but if you’re still reading, here are some things you can do to show support during this “joyous” season. Or at the very least, help someone get past it a little easier.
1Educate yourself about it first
There’s literally nothing worse than feeling really down, and having no one “get it.” If you know people struggling through the holidays, read up on anxiety and research ways to help them or things to do to ease the stress. Basically, don’t try to talk about the anxiety without learning what the person may be going through first. A little empathy goes a long way.
2Offer to help with errands
I HATE SHOPPING! Especially during the holidays. There’s too much traffic, too many crowds, and I’d rather just hide at home behind my laptop until the frenzy passes. If it’s within your power to take some of that off someone’s hands who’d rather not leave home, please do it. Oh, how I wish I had more helpers of this kind because maybe then, my panic attacks would remain at bay (for the time being). Be that person for someone who needs it!
Stress-baking is my biggest tip for relaxing. I’ve been known to crank out dozens of cookies, brownies, and cakes when I’m overwhelmed. If you know someone’s stressing, offer to come bake with them. You could even bring the ingredients and have a baking party! By the time you’re finished, I guarantee the recipient feels a lot better. Plus, there will be cookies to eat. EVERYONE WINS.
4Bring over some pre-cooked dishes
Another thing that’s helped me in my life is when friends get together to donate freezer meals. No matter what specific responsibilities are in your life, things can always get crazy — especially around the holidays. If you’re thoughtful enough to prepare meals to heat and serve, bless you. This is one of the biggest hassles during an already chaotic time and you’re probably a better chef than I am anyway.
5Host a party of two
It’s very possible that your loved one who struggles with mental health during the holidays doesn’t love going to the big group gatherings, which are almost always part of the holiday ~deal~. And while it’s almost always necessary to go to the events to see family or friends, it’s a lot harder for those of us with anxiety to go and have a good time. One thing that helps: Make sure your loved one knows you will be his or her person the entire time, so that no matter what happens — anxiety attack, the need to bail early, too much noise and/or stimulation overload — you’re going to ride or die!
6If children are involved, offer to watch them
For the love of all things, my stress stems from a lot of holiday-themed bullet points but probably none more than my children being home on Christmas break. As a lead up to the holiday, by the time it arrives, they’ve been bored, in my face, and usually quite whiny. If my anxiety is evident, take a moment to think about how you can take my kids to do something so I can have some quiet for a bit. It might be my saving grace. A little quiet. Please. I beg.
7Keep judgements to yourself
The last thing a person with anxiety needs right now is judgment on his or her behavior. A lot of the way I act in public is inexplicable, and often, uncontrollable. My need to duck and hide from conversation isn’t something I want to do, but need to. Circling back to reading up on anxiety, also refrain from offering advice that isn’t helpful as it may only make the recipient feel that much worse. Like, I realize it’s a pain to watch me spiral at times but believe me — it’s worse in my head.
8Help create a plan
A lot of holiday festivities are about traditions, so if your loved one is having a hard time this year, sit down with them and write out a detailed plan of attack. Write when you’ll help with shopping, meal prep, gift wrapping — whatever it is, so that he or she doesn’t think they have to battle all of it alone.
9Get some physical activity together
Exercise, particularly running, keeps me sane on days I might otherwise fall into oblivion. Make a point to get your loved one outside for a walk along a quiet trail or somewhere away from the noise. Even doing a DVD together works. Point is, help him or her give that stress an outlet.
10Start new traditions
Maybe you take a class together, or that whole baking cookies thing becomes a vessel for a new tradition in which you donate the baked goods to the local retirement community or homeless shelter. Do something to give back which may instantly help put some things into perspective.
11Help Decorate — or un-decorate
I didn’t always love the jolly decorations. In fact, they sometimes made me angry just looking at them! If all the festive, joyous decorations aren’t helping your loved one, offer to take them down and don’t bring any more around. Forcing it won’t change the way he or she feels about the holiday. On the other hand, if decorating is a great stress-reliever, go to the dollar store and buy $20 worth then have a decorating party. Focus on the joy.
12Make sure the person doesn’t feel alone
The hardest part of this time of year is that lonely feeling. I could be in a room full of people and still feel alone inside. Something about the season draws up all my old depression habits. If this sounds like someone you know, make a point to just be there. Don’t be smothering, but state clearly you are there, and you will listen. When we feel less alone, the anxiety may not go away completely, but becomes a lot more manageable.