The holidays often bring anxiety and worry. What gift will I buy for so and so? Who am I forgetting? Are these gifts good enough? Will they notice if I don’t get them anything? What if I don’t contribute to the office charity this year? Am I a bad person? How am I going to pay for all this? Will I be alone again? Do I have to go to this party and pretend to enjoy myself? What if I drink too much? What if people talk to me? I’m eating too much, people are probably thinking I’ve gained weight. How do I get all this done? How am I going to get through tomorrow if I can’t get to sleep tonight?
Anxiety is usually tied to the future. We fear what might go wrong, things we might not be able to deal with, problems we might not be able to solve. We worry about situations that could possibly be stressful. We assume the worst and that things in the future will be difficult. Add holidays to the mix. We have all these societal expectations about the fact that we are supposed to create the holiday we’ll never forget. We should be singing, everything should look great, we have to find just the right gifts for everyone, and everyone around us will be happy. We want it to be special for us, but also everyone else. It is a lot of pressure to plan so that everything turns out right.
What Doesn’t Work
Most of us use unhealthy coping skills to get through. We usually drink too much (and then anxiety is worse the next day). Or we eat too much (and then we worry about our looks even more). We go non-stop, planning, shopping, decorating, cleaning and going to parties – and we can’t even enjoy it because we are always in a rush and can never get everything done. Or we isolate and avoid everything because we’re overwhelmed – but then we feel bad about missing out. Somewhere we’ve gotten the message that we are supposed to have these impossible expectations for ourselves. It’s too much, we complain to each other about it, and we still do it.
Why We Are This Way
Why do people worry so much? Well, worry can be seen as a helpful tool – in small amounts. It is really just planning ahead, being prepared. If you are not prepared, then things can surprise you, bad things. If we worry enough and are prepared, then we can avoid scary or upsetting situations. If we worry enough about what gifts we are buying, then people won’t be upset or disappointed by us. If we are cheery enough then people will enjoy their party more. If we cook the perfect food, no one will be mad at each other. If our house looks like a dream, then people won’t think we are a failure. If we attend the office holiday gathering, then our boss won’t think about all our mistakes last year. If we visit every relative possible, then they won’t hate us for forgetting to send them a card last year. This type of worry though easily gets out of hand, and really just runs us ragged. We take it too far. Planning becomes obsessing, ruminating. We get overrun with “what if?” and assume that the worst is about to happen. It’s exhausting trying to prevent all these catastrophes that could maybe happen.
Make a List – Prioritize
What can we do to stop the anxiety monster from terrorizing the holidays? First make a list of all the things you are worrying about (if you fill an entire page, stop). Then go through the list and check off all the things you have control over – what are the things you can actually take action on today? Of these (few) things, what can you do right now? Do that. If you don’t have time, schedule a time for later today when you can: run an errand, make a phone call, complete a task. Give yourself a break “that is all I can do right now”. The list will be there later. Get back to work, take care of kids, walk the dog – whatever you always have to do normally. Identify what you have control over, prioritize and let go of what you can’t do right now.
Take a Break
SLOW DOWN. Take a few deep breaths. Take a break. Get off the treadmill. You can’t run all day. Give yourself permission to sit for awhile doing nothing. Read a book. Stretch. Watch a show. Listen to some music. Take a bath. Allow yourself to take a lunch break – not at your desk! Five minutes even. We can get so wrapped up with stress that we don’t stop to enjoy right now – which usually leads to us feeling worse and getting even less accomplished. Take a break. Take little breaks all day. Breathe. Practice a relaxation exercise. Turn off all the noise, be quiet for a few minutes. Take some time for yourself to regroup.
What’s the Evidence?
Confront all those worries with evidence. Go back to your list. What bad things might happen this holiday season? Now, realistically, what are the odds that these bad things will happen? If your child gets one less gift, will they be scarred for life? If you’re Aunt Edna gets a card from you 2 days after Christmas, will she really hate you? If you leave the office party after one hour, will people care that much? In the past, what has really gone wrong? And if things did go wrong – was that really your fault? Realistically, how many friends/family members can you visit? Usually things aren’t perfect and it’s ok. Sometimes things go haywire, but usually it is not the end of the world.
Practice Being Grateful
Focus on gratefulness. We usually can’t have everything we want, or give everybody everything we want to give them. We can’t be everywhere at once or visit every relative. We can’t make it to every holiday gathering or connect on the phone with every old friend. Focus on what you do have. What is good today? What am I thankful for that is already here? If I get 20% of my list done, what will still be meaningful today? Who can I share a few minutes with? Who can I talk to for a bit? What is good about my life? Can I make my kid laugh?Is the dog happy to see me? Did I work hard all day?Is there food in the house? Is the sun out? Often it is the small things that mean the most. When we take a moment to be mindful of these positive things, then we are not as frantic about trying to create a perfect tomorrow.
Anxiety Prevention Checklist
Remember – we worry most about things we have no control over (especially other people). Focus on what you can control, what you can do today. Take a Break – get off the treadmill once in a while. Confront worries with the evidence – something bad is probably NOT going to happen. Be grateful and focus on what is good right now. Whatever happens tomorrow, there are good things about our lives right now. If we focus on these 4 things, we can survive holiday anxiety. If you think this is more about Anxiety that you have been dealing with for years, rather than just a stressful time of year, then consider talking to a therapist who might help reduce therapy. Anxiety is treatable, it can get better!