How to cope with holiday anxiety and stress

The holidays are an exciting time to spend time with family and friends, share good cheer and gifts, and to practice fun traditions. People young and old are looking forward to this special time of year. Or are they?

For most people, the idea of gathering together with people, exchanging gifts and telling stories, and traveling home or from home for the holiday season can be quite stressful. One of the most common stressors among people with anxiety disorders is attending holiday parties. While some feel elated during these festivities, other people feel anxious and depressed about them.

Holiday anxiety symptoms

The holiday season can affect mental health in many more ways than one. There are tell-tale signs that could indicate if the anxiety you or your loved one is feeling is something you should take seriously.

  • Excessive and continuous worries. This can be about one thing or many different things all at once.
  • Physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, short breath, sweating, shaking, restlessness, upset stomach, dizziness, and more.
  • Panic attacks that may include a rapid heartbeat, breathing troubles, lightheadedness, and nausea.
  • Withdrawing or isolating oneself. Some say that this is a coping mechanism but it could also be a result of a serious anxiety disorder.
  • Loss of interest or lack of energy, especially in doing things that a person used to like doing.
  • Appetite and weight changes. Some may lose their appetite while some experience an intense need to eat, causing unusual weight changes.
  • Sleeping problems are common among people with anxiety disorders. Having so many worries could make it difficult to sleep and rest.
  • Helplessness or hopelessness is a sign of an anxiety that’s become too much to handle. This will require help and intervention because it could lead to self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
  • Lack of self-care. People who have intense anxiety over any aspect of the holiday season tend to lose interest in their appearance and hygiene.
  • Psychotic episodes that may involve hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions. If this is the case, a professional medical opinion is needed.

What are the risks of untreated anxiety disorders?

There are five major types of anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – GAD is characterized by exaggerated worry and tension, even when there’s nothing or very little reason to trigger it.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – OCD is characterized by recurrent thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors, such as washing hands, cleaning, or counting.
  • Panic Disorder – This is characterized by unexpected episodes of intense fear and may be accompanied by chest pain, palpitations, short breath, abdominal distress, or dizziness.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD can develop after exposure to a terrifying event, such as violent personal assaults, natural disasters, human-caused tragedies, accidents, or military combat.
  • Social Phobia – Social anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive self-consciousness in social situations, such as speaking in formal or informal situations, eating or drinking in front of others, or just being around other people.

If anxieties aren’t addressed and treated, there could be serious effects on one’s health. It may interfere with work performance, relationships, responsibilities, and daily functions. It could drive people to do unimaginable things that may be detrimental to themselves or others.

Intense stress could affect the body as well. Untreated anxiety disorders could contribute to heart disease, infertility, gastrointestinal conditions, and more. It may also worsen other mental health problems, doubling the effect on the lives of affected individuals and the people around them.

Tips on preventing stress during the holidays

When stress gets worse, it can become difficult to relax and enjoy the holidays. To avoid holiday stress and anxiety from taking over, here are a few tips to consider:

Be true to your feelings

If you’re unhappy, grieving, or disappointed, it’s alright to express your feelings. Forcing yourself to be cheerful and festive just because it’s the holiday season will only put more stress on your mind and body.

Reach out for support

Asking people for help or companionship is never a sign of weakness. If you feel sad, alone, isolated, or invaluable, reach out to family and friends. When support isn’t available from within the home, get in touch with support groups. From the comfort of your home, get on the internet and join websites, social events, and online communities that offer support. 

Set realistic expectations

If you had a perfect holiday last year, don’t expect it to be the same every year. Remember that families grow, people get older, and traditions change. There’s nothing wrong with holding on to memories but be open to creating new ones. Although the plans for the holiday season seem different this year, there are many good reasons to celebrate.

Set aside grudges and grievances

There’ll always be family members or friends who may have upset you in the past. Set aside differences and try to focus on celebrating the holidays. There’ll be appropriate times for discussions.

Stay within your budget

Before you shop for gifts, check your finances first. How much are you able to spend on the holidays? If you’re planning to splurge on gifts, decor, and food, you’re more likely to feel stressed if you can’t afford all that. Instead, stick to your budget and think of a cheaper yet thoughtful alternative to costly gift-giving.

Plan your holiday

Welcoming the holiday season blindly can make you feel anxious. You don’t know what to do and what can happen. But if you plan your holidays and list down the things you want to do, it’d be easier to avoid stressful situations.

Learn to say no

Sometimes, saying yes to everything isn’t going to work out well. If you say yes to requests and invitations just because you didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, you may end up feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Most people will understand if you can’t accept an invitation or if you can’t give in to a request.

Maintain or develop healthy habits

Having a healthy body can help keep your mind healthy. Overindulging in everything will only result in guilt. Eat healthy food in healthy portions, get enough sleep and exercise. 

Have some “me” time

Take a breather by making time for yourself. Being alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely. Doing something you like without distractions can help clear and refresh your mind. 

Seek professional help

There may be times when, regardless of your best efforts, you’ll still feel anxious and depressed about the holiday season. If this is the case, you may want to talk to a mental health professional. They can help you find the main cause of your anxiety and come up with a means to manage it. 

Stay in control during the holidays

Don’t let the holidays affect your mental health. Learn to recognize triggers and take steps to avoid stressful situations. But if your anxiety won’t budge and is getting in the way of most things in your life, you don’t have to bear it and deal with it alone. Reach out to a mental health professional to help you find a treatment that’ll help you get through the holiday season with peace and joy in your heart.

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Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered, construed or interpreted as legal or professional advice, guidance or opinion.

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