Coping With Holiday Anxiety

Maria Tesoro-Morioka, Registerd Nurse, Calmigo

Although the fall and winter months are considered “the most wonderful time of the year,” the holidays that define these seasons can cause anxiety.  Holiday anxiety is so common that the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recognize the holiday season as a catalyst for anxiety and — in some cases — even depression. Understanding the causes of holiday anxiety may help stop holiday stress before it starts. And learning how to cope with holiday anxiety can make the season not only more manageable— but more enjoyable for both you and your loved ones. 

Holiday Anxiety: You’re Not Alone

Well-curated social media posts and photoshopped holiday greeting cards make it easy to assume that most people don’t experience holiday anxiety. The truth is the opposite. NAMI reports that most people tend to feel sad, anxious, or dissatisfied during the holidays. In a NAMI survey questioning participants about the holidays:

  • 63% felt overwhelming pressure.
  • 66% experienced loneliness.
  • 57% found themselves struggling with unrealistic expectations.
  • 68% felt financially strained, leading to anxiety. 

Women are much more likely than men to feel holiday anxiety, though men are not immune. Moreover, 64% of people with already existing emotional or mental conditions found that their symptoms worsen during the holiday season. Therefore, it’s critical to take steps to protect yourself from holiday stress and learn how to cope with holiday anxiety. 

What Causes Holiday Anxiety?

The cause of holiday anxiety can differ from person to person. Some people may have a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where the change in daylight hours can influence emotion. Others may have various severity levels of agoraphobia or social anxiety, which can make holiday get-togethers distressing.

For many people, however, it’s the combination of financial burdens, social obligations, unreasonable expectations, and the disruption of usual daily schedules that trigger holiday anxiety. In addition, the pressure to get everything “perfect for the holidays” can lead to a heightened sense of tension and cause disappointment, making the holidays a struggle rather than something to enjoy.

Five Tips On How to Cope with Holiday Anxiety 

Managing holiday stress can make the season more pleasant and memorable for you and your family. The following are five tips you can use to manage holiday anxiety.  

Establish reasonable expectations

Don’t let the word “perfect” get in the way of your joy. The holiday season will never be perfect for anyone, but it can certainly be meaningful and fun. Take appropriate shortcuts and don’t focus on getting things “perfect.” Does wrapping gifts frustrate you? Place presents in reusable gift bags instead. Do you dislike cooking? Order out instead. Rather than trying to make the holidays fit the ideal vision in your head, prioritize the things you enjoy. Typically, these are the activities that matter most to you. Spend time with the people you want to be with, and let go of the need to be perfect.

Set Firm Boundaries

The holiday season is an excellent time to practice all the different ways of saying, “no.” Whether it’s children asking for high-end gifts or co-workers asking you to work on Christmas Eve for them, you have every right to set your boundaries and say, “no.” Here are a few polite ways to set limits and say, “no.”

  • “I wish I could, but I have other plans. Thank you for asking.”
  • “That’s not in my budget. Is  there something else you’d like?”
  • “I wish I could attend, but I’m overbooked as it is. I’m sure you’ll all have a good time.”

Plan Ahead

Dealing with events that are expected is typically far more manageable than addressing surprise situations. We can at least predict when the holidays will occur, which can give us time to prepare ourselves for what we know will come. The calendar warns us each year, allowing us to plan ahead and cope with holiday anxiety. Starting early and planning ahead can help you cope with holiday anxiety. For example, shop for presents throughout the year rather than all at once. 

Let Go of the Urge to Compare

Social media apps like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook contribute to holiday anxiety because people usually only post picture-perfect photos and narratives. This influx of polished information from other people can deceive us into believing that our lives aren’t up to par with theirs. The reality is that no one’s life is perfect, even the perpetually Instagram-ready couple on your social media feed. Instead of comparing, close your laptop and your app. There’s an imperfect holiday out there waiting for you to participate. 

Practice Self-Care

Because so much of the focus on the holiday season is about giving to others, it can seem indulgent to practice self-care during this time. However, the holiday season is perhaps the most vital time to look after yourself. After all, you can do more for others when you’re feeling your best. 

To manage holiday anxiety, you may want to take some time for yourself before giving time to others. The following are simple ideas for self-care.

  • Get 8 hours or more of sleep every night.
  • Eat healthy meals for 20 minutes at least three times a week.
  • Allow yourself some holiday treats, but try not to overeat or drink too much alcohol.
  • Make time for activities you enjoy, like reading a book, gardening, or other hobbies.
  • Practice methods to calm your anxiety, like mindfulness meditation, yoga, or controlled breathing. Controlled breathing may be the simplest activity to do with the most benefits. Studies show that controlled breathing changes the body’s physiological response to stress, resulting in lower blood pressure and slowing heart rate. 

A CalmiGo Companion to Manage Holiday Anxiety 

A CalmiGo Companion device makes controlled breathing easy, informing the user to inhale or exhale through visual and auditory prompts. A CalmiGo device might be your key to preventing holiday anxiety. Using CalmiGo 3 times a day for 3 minutes each time gets you through holiday stress. A CalmiGo may even become your go-to medication-free option throughout the rest of the year. Gift CalmiGo to someone you know struggling with holiday anxiety, and CalmiGo can become the gift that keeps on giving for the rest of the year.

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