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5 Ways to Help Holiday Anxiety, Create a Positive Holiday

November 19, 2020 Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

The holiday season is here, and for many, the dreaded holiday anxiety comes with it. The ostensibly festive and happy season can cause significant stress and anxiety. However, you can create a positive, meaningful holiday despite the very legitimate worries and challenges you may experience (especially this year--holidays 2020-style). The following five tips can help you have a peaceful, positive holiday season with less anxiety. 

Holiday Anxiety Is Understandable, but Not Inevitable

If your anxiety increases this time of year, you're not alone. According to a survey of people living with mental illness conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in 2014, 64 percent of respondents reported that the holiday season makes their condition worse.1 Even if you don't have an anxiety disorder, the season can be stressful and anxiety-provoking. 

Among the many reasons this is true is the following: (this list is by no means exhaustive):

  • Intense planning and preparation
  • Worries about money (these may be especially strong this year)
  • Concerns related to social anxiety ("Will I be invited to gatherings?" is a question asked with a mix of hope and fear; "How am I going to get along with certain family members?" is another concern.)
  • Wondering if health conditions will limit your participation and enjoyment
  • Fear about health and safety related to COVID-19
  • Upsetting pandemic-related regulations and restrictions that potentially prevent family members from seeing each other during the only opportunity they have in an entire year

Whatever the source(s) of your holiday anxiety, know that your feelings are valid. When you accept the fact that the holiday season is stressful and allow yourself to feel the way you do, you give yourself room to wiggle just a little bit further from your anxiety so you can purposefully take steps to experience peace this season regardless of what the season may be like. Try the following tips to do just that. 

5 Tips to Create a Positive Holiday Season and Reduce Holiday Anxiety

These five tips are tips for your inner self. While things like making reasonably sized to-do lists, minimizing consumption of things like processed foods and alcohol, and being selective about how and with whom you choose to spend your time this season are, of course, incredibly valuable, the following tips help you connect with and nurture yourself to cultivate inner peace. This way, you reduce holiday anxiety and create a positive, peaceful experience from the inside out. 

  1. Identify your personal purpose and meaning. Regardless of all the external stressors and situations beyond your control, this is your holiday as much as it is everyone else's. Spend some time in quiet reflection, pondering what the entire season means to you. Forget how you celebrate. Focus instead on why you do it. A sense of meaning can help you through anxiety-provoking times. To use philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's wise words, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
  2. Set an intention. With your sense of meaning and purpose in mind, create an intention for yourself and your holiday season. How do you want to be during this time? What do you want the season to be like? Intentions are similar to goals, yet they often focus more on the feeling of the experience than on action steps to achieve something. Intentions drive goals, and with your intention in mind, you can decide on small but purposeful action steps to take every day in order to make your intention come alive moment by moment. 
  3. Choose a focus object. Select a small object that represents your meaning and intention. It can be a trinket, a picture, a piece of paper with your intention written boldly on it--the possibilities for mindful focus objects are seemingly limitless. Carry it with you throughout the season as a visual reminder of what this time means to you. When you feel your anxiety and stress levels begin to rise, pause. Be present with your object and study it, taking in the details and reminding yourself of your greater purpose beyond the anxiety-inducing situation. 
  4. Practice non-judgmental noticing. Rather than trying to fight your anxiety and push it away, be aware of it. Notice the signs in your body that alert you to stress, and catch yourself lost in racing, anxious thoughts. Remember, holiday anxiety is normal, so don't berate yourself for it. Rather than judging yourself or the situation you're experiencing, just acknowledge it and then become mindful. Shift your attention to the present moment so you're experiencing it fully rather than remaining trapped in your thoughts about it. If the moment is particularly stressful, use it as a great opportunity to use your focus object and re-center around your sense of meaning. Return to your intention over and over again without being upset with yourself for it. 
  5. Breathe. When we're anxious and stressed, our breathing quickens and becomes shallow. This signals the brain that something bad is happening, and it intensifies the stress response. Sometimes, simply stepping aside (into fresh air if possible, but if not, that's okay) and breathing mindfully is enough to calm you so you can face what you must. Take several slow, deep breaths, and pull your attention away from your thoughts and emotions and onto the sound and feel of the air as it enters, fills, and leaves your body. 

Actively engaging in these five steps repeatedly throughout the holiday season can noticeably reduce your holiday anxiety and replace it with peace and positivity. Doing them can reset your nervous system to calm your stress response quiet your soul so you can make a meaningful holiday no matter what it looks like this year.

Source

  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), "Mental Health and the Holiday Blues." November 19, 2014. 

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, November 19). 5 Ways to Help Holiday Anxiety, Create a Positive Holiday, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/11/5-ways-to-help-holiday-anxiety-create-a-positive-holiday



Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Tanya J. Peterson delivers online and in-person mental health education for students in elementary and middle school. She is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps, and five critically-acclaimed, award-winning novels about mental health challenges. She also speaks nationally about mental health. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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