Dealing with anxiety during the festive season
The holidays are an exciting time of good cheer, warm family traditions, and spending time with friends. For many people, the idea of entering a crowded room and chatting up co-workers or strangers at a party, exchanging gifts with friends, travelling from home, or attending large family gatherings can produce intense anxiety, depression, or both.
Holiday parties are a common stressor, and they can be terrifying for people with anxiety disorders, particularly those who have social anxiety disorder. They may try anything to avoid such activities, but avoidance will only perpetuate fear.
Although some report that the holidays lift their spirits, many people say that the holiday season makes them feel very or a bit more anxious or depressed.
According to clinical psychologist, Payton Nembhard, persons who have anxiety-related disorders can take the pressure off themselves by knowing that some things will not go exactly as planned.
“Take the pressure off yourself. If you set high expectations for yourself and for others at holiday events, you are more likely to feel let down,” Nembhard said.
“Most people are not paying much attention to you. You may feel as if people are focusing on you, but in reality, most people are probably wondering what you are thinking of them. Try making a compliment, which can make others feel good, make you feel good, and reduce some stress,” he said.
Nembhard said persons can identify their specific concerns, and remind themselves that although they may feel uncomfortable, maybe even very uncomfortable, that’s the worst that can happen.
“Don’t look for relief in alcohol or drugs. Although it can be tempting to take the edge off at holiday events, alcohol and drugs can make anxiety worse and may trigger panic attacks,” he said.
“Smile, make eye contact, and ask questions. Most people like to talk about themselves and their interests. Ask other people about their holiday plans, what their kids are doing, or what book they are reading. Avoid religion, politics, and other topics that can lead to heated discussions and add to your stress,” he added.
In addition, Nembhard said persons can to say no and try not to over schedule themselves even during the coronavirus pandemic where persons are advised to practice social distancing.
“You don’t have to feel obligated to accept every invitation, and you may want to eliminate some traditions that cause you more stress than joy,” he said.
Here are some practical tips to minimise the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.
• Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones for other reasons, realise that it is normal to feel sadness and grief. It is OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You cannot force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season.
•Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Many may have websites, online support groups, social media sites or virtual events. They can offer support and companionship.
• If you are feeling stress during the holidays, it also may help to talk to a friend or family member about your concerns. Try reaching out with a text, a call or a video chat.
• Be realistic. The holidays do not have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children or other relatives cannot come to your home, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Or meet virtually on a video call. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate.
• Stick to a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts
• Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other activities. Consider whether you can shop online for any of your items. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That will help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for meal prep and cleanup.
• Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. Take a break by yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
• Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
(Source: World Health Organization)