Just over 60% of Americans report feeling stressed around the holidays. That’s a pretty high number for a time of year that’s characterized by joy, giving, and love.
Plenty of people deal with excess anxiety around the holidays, and for good reason. We spend time with family that we have a lot of history with. (Sometimes more history than we’d prefer.) Memories can come flooding back, and for people who struggle with trauma, it can pose a serious threat to their mental well-being.
The holidays also bring a host of logistical planning that can crush any holiday spirit. Don’t let that hold you back from enjoying the holidays the way you want to.
Let’s talk about how to cope with rising anxiety around the holidays, from the planning to the partying stages.
Let Go of the Holiday “Shoulds”
We’re two winters into the pandemic, and there’s more pressure than ever to have a knock-out holiday experience. However, just because the year was tough for some of us doesn’t mean we should have to work overtime to make it enjoyable.
Instead, drop the “shoulds”. Sure, you should deep-clean the house. You should bake cookies to pass out. You should get a real tree this year.
If you feel especially burnt out this time of year, use the holidays as an opportunity to relax. Be realistic about what you can and cannot handle. If you can’t afford extravagant holiday decor, make paper snowflakes and hang them all around the house. If you don’t want the added stress of cooking something intricate, switch out a couple of plates for something pre-made and easily re-heatable.
The important thing is that you spend the holidays genuinely connecting with others and focusing on love. You may think that checking off the copy-paste list of holiday “shoulds” will make you feel accomplished, but they are more likely to add stress to your plate.
Invite All of Your Emotions to Holiday Dinner
Save a seat for more than just joy this holiday season. Don’t whitewash your feelings because you think it’s what the family wants—come as you are. Being able to hold multiple feelings at once builds your resilience and helps to form a strong sense of purpose.
So feel your feelings! It’s ok to be sad about a missing face at dinner but excited about the annual family poker tournament after. Resisting negative feelings because you find them inconvenient only encourages them to come back again and again.
Journal through your feelings, talk them out with a loved one, or feel them deeply through art.
Take Breaks When You Need One
Some people feel confined to their seats when celebrating the holidays with family. Remember, the point is for you to celebrate, too. In order to do that, you need to feel refreshed.
There’s nothing wrong with stepping out of the room to take a walk around the block or settle into a quiet corner to read alone for 20 minutes. We all need mental and social breaks, and it’s okay if you need more of them around the family.
See Your Family At Their Best
For only one day, try to accept your family for who they are. There may be unresolved feelings, unmet expectations, or awkward cold shoulders. Accept your family as they come this year, and put in a pin in the grievances until after the holidays. Recognize that tonight is probably not the most productive night to open Pandora’s box. In January, it could be!
Remember, you are not the only one feeling anxious this holiday season. Your family may be feeling the stress, too. Things may go wrong, but you have the power to react with understanding.