8 Helpful Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress and Anxiety

Ah the holidays. Too much, or too little family time. Lots of booze and food. Your creepy uncle. Your aunt who has the opposite view of politics as you. 2020 holidays may look hella different but the stress that comes with them is all too familiar! Read on for some tips on how to keep yourself sane during the holiday season.

1. Keep yourself grounded

Starting and maintaining a regular meditation practice is essential to good health. I’ve heard so many times from clients with anxiety and ADHD that they are “not good” at meditation or cannot sit still long enough to do it. But here’s the thing: there is no such thing as being bad at meditation! Of course, it’s very important to recognize when silence and being with yourself can be triggering, particularly if you’ve experienced trauma. The most important thing is that you feel safe. However, learning to sit with and slow down your thoughts, if you feel safe to do so, make a huge difference in your day to day and long-term physical and mental health. 

2. Imagine your stress on a thermometer 

When I see my clients with anxiety, I like for them to envision their anxiety rising and falling in a thermometer. We want to try and keep the anxiety from rising to a certain point before our coping skills become less effective. The goal is to keep your temperature relatively low, when possible, so that your coping skills are super effective. Sometimes it’s helpful to think about your coping skills in categories: what activities or tools help you when your anxiety is low but still impacting you? What helps you when your anxiety is super high and you’re having a panic attack? The lower we can keep the temperature in your thermometer, the more effective your coping skills will be at diminishing your stress and anxiety. 

3. Offer compassion to yourself and others

2020 has robbed us all of many normal and exciting milestones-the holiday season being one of them. For many of us, our holidays will not look the same as they usually do. Unfortunately, to keep us all safe, we’ve gotta roll with it and do the best we can. Some of our family members may have different opinions regarding gatherings, but we must stay true to ourselves and what we feel safe doing. 

Along the same lines, it’s perfectly normal and okay if you feel RELIEVED about the holiday season being different this year. There is a ton of messaging out there about people missing out on their traditional holiday gatherings, but maybe you don’t feel physically and emotionally safe with the people you would normally have to spend the holidays with. Please do not allow this messaging to make you feel guilty or weird. This is a totally normal and valid way to feel! 

Most of us are doing the best we can so a bit of extra kindness and understanding this season can go a long way.

4. Create a safe word or phrase

If you’re attending Christmas or another gathering with a significant other or trusted friend or family member and find yourself being triggered by someone’s attitude or discussion of politics or social events, plan a safe word or phrase with that person beforehand, so that they can assist you with coping and getting out of the situation by getting some air or even leaving early. 

5. Make self-care a priority

Okay, I know you’ve heard this a million times. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” blah, blah, blah. But I’m telling you, taking care of yourself is so important for your mental health. If you don’t take time to slow down and rest, the stress will catch up with you and you’ll be FORCED to make time to the tune of physical or mental illness. Make sure you are making time to do the things that relax and reinvigorate you. Yoga, skincare, rest, reading, listening to music, or exercise. Whatever it is that speaks to your soul is worth taking the time to do. 

6. Practice gratitude

The idea of practicing gratitude can sound “icky” to some people. One of my clients expressed discomfort with this idea because it never felt “genuine” to her. I totally get that! It can feel super corny and disingenuous to write down things you are thankful for, especially if you’re not in a great mental space and nothing seems to be going right for you- hello, 2020! 

The thing about gratitude is that if you know that at the end of the day you have to write down 2 or 3 things you’re grateful for, your perspective shifts and you begin to look at your day-to-day experiences through the lens of gratitude. Once you make that shift, your mood will inevitably improve. Your list doesn’t have to have these big items on it-you could be grateful for your really yummy cup of coffee or that the sun is shining or that your dog made you laugh.

7. Stick to a financial, physical, and mental health budget 

If you’re at all like me, you get excited when the holidays roll around and love to indulge yourself and your loved ones with lots of yummy food and gifts. I love online shopping and choosing really thoughtful, beautiful gifts for my loved ones but more often than not, I end up stressed out about my credit card bill afterwards. I also love eating the rich and nostalgic foods we all make for the holidays, and as a result, my stomach and mood are out of whack. Be mindful of how much you can handle physically, financially, and emotionally when spending time with family and friends, gift shopping, and eating and drinking. Of course, you want to indulge during this special time and I want you to savor all that the season has to offer, but be mindful and check in with yourself and how you feel physically and emotionally along the way. 

8. Have realistic expectations

Tell your inner critic and perfectionist to take a hike! Some people tend to romanticize the holidays and have an idealistic picture in their minds of what they think they’re going to look like. As a result, they may, unfortunately, wind up disappointed with the reality. Try to manage your expectations. Don’t feel pressured to do everything and be everything to everyone. You’re only human! Do the best you can with what you’ve got. Especially for moms, I know there is a lot of pressure on you about creating the perfect holiday and getting the perfect gifts for your kids. I promise you, in their adult lives, they are not going to remember the gifts you gave them and the little details you worry so much about perfecting. Instead, they are going to remember the feelings you gave them. The feelings of warmth, coziness, love, and magic. And that is the best gift of all.