Anxiety and the Holidays – A Survival Guide.

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“The most wonderful time of the year,” we hear sung to us over the air. For many, this is the most stressful time of the year. Even for those without mental health issues we can find the holidays packing on the extra stress with all the things we have to do. With a mental health diagnosis or symptoms it can compound symptoms that already feel debilitating and limiting.

Christmas Anxiety
For many, this is the most stressful time of the year.

For anxiety, whether general, social, phobias, or even PTSD, the holidays can be a hot bed of cortisol and adrenaline (two of our stress hormones). We have so many obligations: family gatherings, work parties, friends who want to celebrate with us, presents to buy, cards to write, food to make, and don’t forget shopping for all of the above. The list can seem endless and the weekends are packed with getting ready for and going to different obligations.

What can a stressed out person with anxiety do?

  • First, simplify by making things easier.
    • Buy pre-made food or contribute one item to a gathering and have others contribute as well
    • Write a short holiday greeting in your card instead of an entire letter
    • Give gift cards or shop online
    • Write out your to-list and find those things that you don’t need to do or can make simpler.
    • PS, your house doesn’t have to look perfect. No really, it doesn’t.
  • Only do the things that you can do.
    • Just because you’re invited doesn’t mean you have to go. Say No to over obligation. Don’t know how to say no, follow this link to my article on boundaries.
    • If family gatherings are extra stressful because of the drama, there are a few options you have:
      • Shorten the time you stay.
      • Talk to your family about having one gathering.
      • Choose a gathering to go to and tell the other parties you can’t make it.
      • You are allowed to not go! Especially in toxic relationships, sometimes the best thing to do is skip it all together. You can go and visit your loved ones at other times, including into January and February when we have nothing else to do anyway.

Sometimes it’s the feelings that stop us from doing what we know we should or what we know would be best for us and our immediate family (take your kids into consideration). That guilt can be added stress on us. Ask yourself is the guilt appropriate or is it pressure from someone else. There are times when we know that a loved one isn’t feeling or doing well and we want to be there for them despite the stress. We feel guilty about thinking about not going. Weigh this out and do what is best for both parties. What will you feel like later if you don’t go? If you do go, can you go at another time? All of our feelings are just trying to tell us something (sometimes very loudly), what is the message and what can you do about it.

Guilt placed on us from someone else can be one of the worst, we know they will say something mean, or allude to a negative quality they think we have. Here is where boundaries and self talk can help. Set your boundaries with the person, “I’m not going to make it to the party.” Let them keep their own thoughts and feelings, no matter what they say or think that is their thoughts and feelings. You may be saying that it’s easier said than done but remind yourself why you’re not going (that’s self talk) and remind yourself of your good qualities (positive self talk). Taking care of your needs is a good quality, by the way. Then let it go. Don’t continue to ruminate on what they said, or how we feel about it, move on to something else, perhaps a distraction skill.

You get to choose your holiday celebration. You can morph them into something you like and can live with. Don’t let this holiday season be stressful and overwhelming. Take control over the things you have control of, instead of letting other people have power over you. You can do this!

Need Support?

For serious mental health concerns we’re here to help.   To schedule a counseling appointment, call us at 218-366-9229 (Park Rapids), 218-444-2233 (Bemidji) or 218-564-9229 (Menahga).  For those interested, I offer Christian counseling out of the Park Rapids office.  Please let our office support staff (and me) know that you are interested in Christian counseling.  Please check out our staff bios here.


Diane Cerven, LPCC

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