7 Therapist-Approved Tips if Your Anxiety Gets Triggered Around the Holidays
For some people, the holidays are their favorite time of year to say bye to the current year and ring in a new one. But for anyone with anxiety, the holiday season can make for potentially stressful situations. Between planning and hosting events to buying gifts, it's admittedly an expensive and exhausting time of year. Not to mention, the holidays bring people together that you may have not seen in a long time, which for some can be anxiety-inducing in and of itself. Or maybe you're spending it alone, which can also be triggering.
As much as the holidays campaigned as a joyful time of year, holiday stress and anxiety are real and valid things to experience. In efforts to make you feel more grounded during the busy time of year, check out these simple yet effective expert-approved tips that help you practice self-care and take control of your mental health.
Of course, retreating to a tranquil meditation space to bliss all the way out would be a dream come true for most, but that's probably not an option for anyone hosting their entire family for the holidays. Luckily, you don't have to go full-blown yogi to reap the benefits of mindful breathing. "Deep breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, reducing your anxiety," says Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt, psychologist, and co-founder of Safe Conversations, an organization that provides workshops that teach how to have meaningful and productive conversations in relationships.
Studies also show that deep breathing helps evoke a relaxation response in the body. When you begin to feel the pressure or anxiety arise, try taking several deep breaths in a quiet space, like a bathroom or parked car, to calm yourself down.
2. Have a mantra.
When you feel the anxiety or panic start to creep in, Dr. Harville Hendrix, a psychologist, and co-founder of Safe Conversations, says, a quick and easy way to distract your mind from what's bothering you is by reciting a positive mantra or affirmation. "A mantra serves as a reminder of what to focus on and allows you to take your mind off of your anxiety," says Dr. Hendrix. One you can try saying is "this too shall pass" to remind yourself that your anxiety does not define you.
3. Write down your feelings.
In the weeks leading up to the holidays, where you're probably feeling your anxiety and stress build, try journaling. "Journaling about your stress and anxiety is a great way to get the feelings out and address them by placing a name to it and thinking about it more deeply," says Dr. Hunt. Research also shows that journaling helps release the intensity of your negative emotions as it clears your mind so that you can better solve situations at hand.
4. Set boundaries.
"If the holidays are creating added stress for you, find ways to say no and set boundaries," says Dr. Hendrix. "This could look like not going to every holiday party you are invited to, setting a time limit on how long you will go [to each party], or retreating to another room during a holiday." Setting boundaries will help you create a sense of safety and security for yourself.
5. Take it easy on the alcohol.
We know the holidays are usually a time of celebration, and with that comes alcohol, but drinking has shown to cause anxiety-like symptoms. It may seem like a good solution in theory, but the effects of alcohol are only temporary. We recommend monitoring how much you drink so you don't make your anxiety worse or feel bad later once it wears off.
6. Get your rest.
When it comes to maintaining your overall health, getting your recommended amount of sleep each night is usually among the top tips out there. According to the Mayo Clinic, lack of sleep, or even frequent disruptions, can directly affect cortisol levels triggering more anxiety and stress. During this time of year, it's important more than ever to prioritize getting restful sleep to help you better handle your days and implement these techniques.
7. Be kind to yourself.
Holidays can be tough as there are usually a lot of moving parts and expectations. Sometimes our families test our patience or even become too triggering to be around, and that's okay. Just remember, the holidays are temporary and they will pass, so do what you can to take care of yourself in stressful moments.
And of course, feel free to reach out to a physician or therapist to discuss a treatment plan that works for you. It's okay to get help and prioritize your mental health.