Gifts, good food and celebrating with the ones you love ― what could be anxiety-inducing about that?
Well, for some people, a lot. Along with the parties and holiday cheer, there are pressures, expectations and other mental health-related issues that can make this time of year less holly and jolly.
There are ways to manage this stress so it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying your celebrations. We chatted with a few wellness experts about how to make sure you actually have fun over the holidays and handle the anxiety that a whole month of celebrating, eating and entertaining can create.
Take a look at the different trying situations below, and the advice on how to deal with them:
Spending the holidays with family often means traveling. Not only is this logistically stressful, but it may also cause some people to experience anxiety about flying and navigating busy airports.
The fear of flying is a common phobia, said Christie Tcharkhoutian, a Los-Angeles based marriage and family therapist. If you’re a nervous flyer, she suggests talking through your worries with a good friend or a mental health professional before traveling. Once you’re in the air, you may also want to try some cognitive techniques.
“Affirmations can help calm the nervous system and ground you,” Tcharkhoutian said. “During the flight, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing ... will help trigger your body to automatically calm down, as it is physiologically impossible to have a panic attack while you are [practicing] deep breathing.”
Here are some other expert-backed tips to help fight anxiety in the air.
Gift-giving, hosting a big family meal and decorating your house all cost money. If you’re able to save ahead of time, you may be able to mitigate some of the financial burdens. Otherwise, you can be left with a huge bill at the start of the new year.
There are some creative ways to share the spirit of the season without blowing all your cash. Try arranging a secret Santa gift exchange with your family, or just buying things for the kids. Spending money on experiences instead of gifts may also make people happier, suggests research from San Francisco State University.
Ultimately, relationship expert Lisa Lieberman Wang said it’s important to remind yourself about what matters most during the season.
“Love isn’t the price tag on a gift,” she said. “It is about being with the ones you love and celebrating them not the gifts.”
Here are some other ways to help ease anxiety around finances.
As you return home for the holidays, you may find that you also return to familiar roles. You may be a successful adult now, but as soon as you get back home you become the baby of the family, or the troublemaker, or generally start re-enacting a whole host of ingrained behaviors that can lead to arguments and stress.
It can help to remember who you are now and to try not to take any mean comments too personally, said Neil Shah, founder and director of the Stress Management Society.
“You may be fretting about what a critical in-law is going to say about your cooking, your decorations or your hosting,” he said. “Remember to keep calm and try to see everyone’s positive intentions and let things go.”
Many people also find themselves defending their life choices to meddling relatives during the holidays. You could be grilled on when you’re going to get married or have a baby, or be asked if you really need that extra piece of cake. Experts recommend protecting yourself by setting boundaries. Simply saying, “I am not going to talk about that today” and moving away from the offending person can be very effective, as can limiting the amount of time you spend at family events.
And as for political arguments, which are becoming more and more common? Try following this self-care guide if you’re feeling anxious about them.
Expectations vs. Reality
We are often faced with a barrage of unrealistic expectations for how perfect the holidays should be. You may feel pressure to produce the best meal, buy the best gifts, be the best host ― and keep a smile on your face the whole time. This pressure can leave you feeling anything but festive.
Charlynn Ruan, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and founder of Thrive Psychology, suggests examining your traditions and figuring out what actually works well for you and what doesn’t.
“Question your ‘shoulds,’” Ruan said. “The holidays are filled with family traditions and expectations that we rarely question, but may not work for our family dynamics every year.”
Life changes constantly, and what worked for previous get-togethers may not be possible for everyone this year. For example, you may need to alter some of your usual holiday practices if you’ve had a baby, if a family member has been injured or if you’ve become a caregiver to an aging parent.
“When we put tradition over our family’s current needs, we create more stress for everyone,” Ruan said.
Try to have fun rather than aiming for a Pinterest-worthy celebration, and remember the most important thing is to enjoy time spent with the ones you love. Ruan also suggests budgeting for one extra gift if you can ― something for yourself.
“You deserve good things, too,” she said. “You want to enter the new year feeling revived not drained.”
Here are some other expert-backed tips designed to help you let go of perfection at the holidays.
May your holiday be as anxiety-free as possible.