Holiday songs, the media, friends and co-workers urge us to be merry during the holiday season. However, that’s not always easy to do! As much as we love the holidays, they are invariably a stressful time of year. According to the American Psychological Association, 61% of us describe our anxiety as elevated during the holiday season.
What causes this extra anxiety? Many things. The additional financial demands of the season, travel, interpersonal family dynamics, balancing work, shopping, cooking and decorating, too many social events, memories of past holidays, as well as unrealistic expectations can contribute to creating the perfect storm of emotions.
Even in normal times, many living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder – a chronic state of anxiety and stress which can make a person feel constantly worried even when there is little to no reason to. The stress can become debilitating and can lead to a loss of perspective on the current situation. GAD is treatable by a behavioral health specialist but nonetheless requires those who live with it to take extra care of themselves with a balance of healthy diet and exercise. The added psychological pressure of the holidays can present a special challenge for those struggling with GAD. You may feel like crawling under a comforter and sleeping until the new year!
It’s important to recognize key signs that things are becoming overwhelming and to know some coping skills to reduce the anxiety as it happens.
6 Signs You Are Experiencing Extra Anxiety During The Holidays
Key signs to look for are changes in mood or behavior that differ from your norm.
Be On The Lookout For:
Erratic or unusual behavior, irritability or impulsivity.
Physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, shaking, dizziness, sweating, an upset stomach, or a dry mouth.
Social withdrawal as some individuals try to avoid situations that will bring on feelings of anxiety or panic. You may also lose interest in activities you used to enjoy.
Changes in appetite and weight – either up or down.
Insomnia, extra exhaustion and other sleep disturbances.
Panic attacks that cause faintness, trouble breathing, pounding heartbeat, or nausea.
How To Cope With Holiday Anxiety
Below are some practical tips you can do to decrease stress during the holidays. We also recommend creating an Anxiety Action Plan containing helpful coping mechanisms beforehand, so that if you start seeing some of the early anxiety indicators listed above, you can put it into place.
Prioritize your health. Make sure you are eating healthy foods, staying physically active, and getting enough sleep. Think twice about overindulging in alcohol—as it can worsen anxiety symptoms.
Plan ahead. Think about your triggers and try to head them off. For example, if you're worried about money, put together a budget before the holidays. If holiday shopping causes stress, try to do it early, and avoid the stores by shopping online. If social situations make you uncomfortable, accept just a few invitations in advance and ask a good friend to attend with you. Use a calendar to plan specific days for shopping, baking, or gift-wrapping.
Stick to a routine as much as possible. Wake up at the same time, try to eat at the same time every day, take your regular walk, and journal if you normally do that. Don’t schedule a new hair style or make drastic changes to your environment during the holidays!
Schedule worry time. Yes, you read that right. Instead of worrying all the time, schedule a dedicated time –maybe even once a day – to do nothing but worry for a few minutes. Write the worries down if possible and even brainstorm solutions. This way, constant worrying won’t burn you out.
Make time for self-care. Schedule time in your day to relax with yoga or meditation, drink a cup of coffee or tea, listen to a podcast, play with the dog, or even take a quick nap. Choose something that relaxes your body and calms your mind.
Ask for support. Let your friends and family know that you might need extra support. It’s always ok to ask for help. Some experts even suggest practicing a secret signal with someone you trust who can help you during events if you become overwhelmed or anxious. And don’t forget to reach out to a behavioral health professional for additional help and resources.
In general, experts advise lowering your expectations during the holiday season, try to keep things as simple as possible, and remember that you're not alone – many others are experiencing holiday anxiety like you.
Do You Recognize Any Of These Signs Of Anxiety?
You can access licensed psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and therapists who provide treatment for anxiety from the convenience of your home. Click here to find your current insurance provider and request an appointment today!
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): Mental Health and the Holiday Blues
Harvard Women’s’ Health Watch: A Holiday Advisory for Your Emotions
Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute: Holiday stress and the brain
U.S. Army Health: Handling stress and anxiety during the winter holidays