5 ways to cope with anxiety during the holiday period

The holiday period is typically a time of joy and celebration, but it's also natural to find it a difficult time for a whole range of reasons. And this year is no exception with all of the uncertainty and changes happening in the world around us. Many people find this time of year particularly stressful with cooking, parties, spending money, and choosing gifts often on the agenda. If you live with a mental health problem such as anxiety, the feelings of sadness, frustration and pressure during this time can be amplified even more.

 

Here are 5 tips to help you cope with anxiety and other difficult emotions you might be feeling during the holiday period.

1. Say no to things you don’t want to do

Setting boundaries can be difficult, but your mental health is more important than anything else. You’ll need to find the right balance for yourself between socialising, social obligations, family time and rest time. And remember, you’re allowed to say no to things you don’t want to do. Boundaries enable you to prioritise your own needs and give at a pace that’s good for you. While it may be tempting to make excuses so as not to hurt feelings, being upfront will save difficulty in the long run. You can tell people that you’re anxious about making too many plans over the holiday period and that you need some nights off to rest.

A good way to communicate a boundary is the “I-statement” approach developed by Thomas Gordon in 1970. It centres your feelings and experiences, reduces the likelihood of defensiveness in the listener, and offers concrete suggestions for change. You can structure it like this:

I feel…
When…
Because…
I need…

Say you don’t want to go to your family home for Christmas, you might say: “I feel overwhelmed when I come home for Christmas because we follow the same traditions each year that I don’t enjoy. I need to spend it on my own this year.”

2. Practice mindfulness

In times where we’re feeling particularly anxious or stressed, practising mindfulness can help to bring us back to the present moment. Mindfulness is about being in the here and now, without judgement. It can help to regulate our emotions and focus our attention. Start by thinking about the senses. What can you see, smell, taste, touch and hear? You can start by holding an object in your hand and thinking about how it feels. How heavy is it? What are the textures you can feel? What are the colours like? When anxious thoughts start racing, this is a good exercise to help you feel more grounded and aware of the present.

 3. Sleep and rest

Be sure to take time to rest over the holiday period. You don’t need to be doing things 24/7. And if you have time off work this is a great opportunity to have a lie-in and catch up on some extra sleep. Sleep is important for our health as the body repairs itself when we rest. Not sleeping for long enough can have a big impact on our cognitive function, mental health and how we process emotions. For tips on sleep, check out our sleep advice and information guide.

4. Manage people’s expectations

During the holiday period, there are often a lot of expectations, such as having to spend time with close relatives or friends. Whether it’s difficult relatives or challenging family circumstances, there are a whole host of things that can be going on in our personal lives which make fulfilling people’s expectations hard for us. The reality of Christmas isn’t like what we see on TV and in films, and that’s ok. You can spend time by yourself, or with people you actually want to spend time with!

5. Plan ahead

Try to avoid shopping for last-minute gifts if you find dealing with crowds or the pressure of gift shopping stressful. The same goes for entertaining – you don’t need to offer or agree to host anything if it means you’ll be anxious about it beforehand. If you know you’re going to be in a situation you find taxing, for example a work party or a social event, tell someone in advance how they can help if you begin to panic. Also, know that it’s ok to leave when you want to. With the pandemic still around it’s important you do what’s right for you.

 

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