If you find yourself getting stressed out during the holiday season, you may be dealing with holiday anxiety. While everyone can feel a little “holiday blues” now and again, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time for those with anxiety and depression. The prolonged sadness and nervousness many feel around the holiday season can be detrimental to mental and physical health, but the more we learn about holiday anxiety, the easier it will be to treat.
Why Do We Experience Holiday Anxiety?
The holiday season comes with high expectations: the pressures of gift-giving, the expense and time spent decorating, and the stress and social pressures of family gathering just to name a few. Alongside this is the social pressure to be happy during a “cheerful” time, but the reality of life is that no one can force themselves to be happy. These pressures tend to worsen the symptoms of those with pre-existing mental conditions, and research on these behaviors shows fascinating patterns that occur during this time of year.
A study by Randy A. Sansone, MD, and Lori A. Sansone, MD concluded that while the Christmas season is characterized by worsening of mood and alcohol-related fatalities, there was also a decrease in psychiatric services, self-harm, and suicide. Despite the intense stress people with these conditions are under, there is still a strong desire to carry on. However, the study also noted a rebound of these behaviors occurring immediately following the season, when the facade of happiness can be dropped once again. The question then comes how to cope with holiday anxiety, and how to prevent it from dipping to dangerous levels.
Tips for Holiday Anxiety
1. Know Your Triggers
The Mayo Clinic suggests the best way to deal with holiday anxiety is to recognize the anxiety-inducing aspects of your holiday season and create a plan to combat them. For example, if money stress is what causes the most anxiety, start budgeting early on. If there is a family member that brings out the worst in you, reassess your holiday plans. The most important aspect of this is being honest with yourself and thinking about what is best for your mental health.
2. Set a Holiday Budget
Even if money isn’t the main stressor during the season, deciding how much to spend on gifts, decorations, travel, and food ahead of time can free up your emotional and mental energy for the rest of the season. Get together with your partner, family, or friends, and be honest with them about your concerns. Discuss the possibility of setting a spending limit on gifts, so that expectations are equal all around. Consider exchanging handmade cards or gifts, or organize a holiday potluck rather than expecting one person to pay for a feast.
3. Take Care of Yourself
It can be difficult to care for yourself when you feel such intense pressure to be selfless, so be extra conscious of both your body’s and mind’s needs during this time. Keeping to your usual exercise and meal regimen can be tough, but get movement wherever possible and eat healthy outside of the holiday indulgences. Be sure to get enough sleep each night for optimum energy and practice mindfulness exercises like deep breathing to manage stress. It can also help to take a break from social media at this time, to avoid the stress of comparing your holiday to the polished ones on your Facebook feed.
4. Pick Your Battles
However, don’t give into holiday pressure that you must make yourself uncomfortable to keep the peace. While it is important to accept family and friends as they are, be honest with yourself about how the people you see during the holidays make you feel. Will feeling like that again be a good or bad influence on your mental health? If there is a point of contention between you and another person, are both parties willing to call a truce over the holidays? It’s important to remember that while everyone is under pressure during this time, it is not your responsibility to control how other people react to stress. Determine where your boundaries lay and stick to them. Remember, it is alright to take a step back from a situation and take some time for yourself if you get overwhelmed.
5. Be Realistic
The pressure to put on a perfect holiday can bring out some of people’s worst anxieties. The only way to relieve this is to accept that you are human and cannot realistically do everything. Remember that holidays do not need to be perfect to be important. You don’t have to do all of the holiday events, or prepare all of the traditional dishes, or see every family member. Families grow and change, life takes people in different directions, and this year’s celebrations may look different than last year, but you still care. Manage the expectations of your ability, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if needed.
6. Begin a New Tradition
A holiday is what you make it, and if the conventional holiday celebrations only bring you anxiety, think of what brings you joy and turn it into a new tradition. This could look like spending time with family on a vacation, volunteering at a soup kitchen to give back, cherishing time off at home with a good book, or spending the holiday with friends. Much of holiday anxiety is triggered by the desire not to let people down and unrealistic expectations of behaving certain ways because tradition says so. Changing up holiday traditions does not make you a bad person or mean you do not care. In truth, being honest with what will help your mind and body relax, then allowing yourself to have it, is a gift to yourself. It is thanks to this gift that you will be better able to cherish others when the new year rolls around.
Get Help Managing Your Holiday Anxiety with Call Mid City TMS
If you find your holiday anxiety and sadness are lasting beyond the season, you may need of additional support. Mid City TMS is a depression treatment center in the heart of New York City specializing in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, the most effective treatment for depression and comorbid anxiety after medication alone. If holiday pressures pass, but your anxiety does not contact us to learn more about how TMS helps relieve anxiety.