Have holiday anxiety? It's common, and we have tips to help!
5 min read
The holidays are almost here and though we’re super excited for this time of year, sometimes we start feeling anxious. So we’re left wondering, why do we get anxiety around the holidays? And what can we do to help it? We’ve teamed up with Amy Tran, mental health, self-love and mindfulness advocate, as well as PhD Candidate in Clinical Psychology to speak on why we feel this way and provide us with a few tips on how to get through the season as mentally steady as we can.
Amy tells us that anxiety is closely related to fear. So why do we tend to experience fear around the holiday season? Expectations. We have been sold this concept that the holiday season is a period of only cheer, happiness, and love. After all, many of us grew up singing Christmas songs around these emotions. The reality is that this expectation is not very realistic. It is not realistic for us to expect people to be happy all throughout the holiday season. So if you aren’t feeling 100% throughout the holiday seasons, you may begin to feel bad about feeling bad.
It is also not realistic for us to assume that people always have loved ones to spend the holiday season with. Some people are alone (especially during this new Covid era), and others do not feel safe or loved with the people they are around. For instance, if you spend time with people who violate your boundaries (e.g., make unsolicited comments, guilt trip you, demand your energy and time, gossiping about someone else you care about), these situations can be anxiety provoking to anticipate and navigate.
The holiday season also tends to be quite social. There can be family gatherings, work parties, and social events with friends. This can be emotionally taxing for someone who is socially anxious or gets overwhelmed with social interactions. Many people describe social gatherings as “having to be on” all the time. They are constantly trying to figure out how others perceive them, whether they are doing anything wrong, and how to leave the gathering without making it awkward. It may even be difficult for people to turn down invitations to events.
What could be some things that are triggering it?
Social media is not reality, but our brain tends to forget this. Sometimes, it seems like everyone is having the best holiday season of their life, while you’re sitting at home feeling bad about feeling bad. Social media is curated. People showcase the highlights of their lives, not the behind-the-scenes footage.
Speaking of expectations, most people exchange gifts. The financial burden of purchasing gifts can be a source of anxiety for many people. In addition to that, you may worry about whether or not the person is going to even like your gift! This can be extremely terrifying for people pleasers, which a lot of people with anxiety tend to be.
Families are more likely to pull you back into dysfunctional patterns of interactions, and more likely to trigger your inner wounds. Why? Because these are the people who you were surrounded by when your brain was learning and growing. For example, if you were made to feel unworthy and unloved because you were criticised all the time, then one ambiguous comment by a parent may trigger the assumption that they are criticising you, which then quickly triggers anger and sadness. As another example, let’s say your parents tried to shape you into what they wanted you to be by dictating what you could or could not do, and making evaluative comments about you all the time. So, if a parent offers you some advice during conversation, especially if it is unsolicited, this may trigger you.
Our brains also create links between things. So, if your family members tend to make you feel a certain way, then you may begin to link your family with these uncomfortable feelings. Even if these feelings do not get automatically triggered, the feelings are primed and ready to go. Even the physical environment can be triggering because your brain has learned to connect your surroundings with these distressing feelings.
Finally, many people who experience anxiety like to control things. They may control their routine, people, the tidiness of their home, and how much they eat. During the holiday season, our routines get disrupted. People may take time off, they travel, they spend time overnight in other places, and there are office and school closures. This disruption in routine can signal a lack of control to the brain, which then triggers feelings of anxiety.
What are some tips to cope with it, specifics you can do, take, and practice to keep balanced and clear minded heading into the new year?
Try to stick to parts of your routine you can control (e.g., working out even if you are visiting home, waking up at a consistent time).
Remind yourself that it is not realistic to be happy all the time and that everyone goes through highs and lows - even if you don’t see it.
Ask people for their wishlist, discuss a budget during gift exchanges, or choose to do a Secret Santa gift exchange so you don’t have to buy as many gifts.
Set boundaries with family and friends. Sit with yourself and figure out what your needs are and what topics you are comfortable or not comfortable talking about. Communicate these findings to anyone you feel comfortable enough to do so to get them on the same page. Then brainstorm and rehearse different ways to set boundaries so that when you need to set a boundary - you already know how to handle the situation.
You have to calm your body in order to calm your mind. Find ways to soothe your anxiety and release tension from your body. Helpful exercises can include deep breathing, practicing meditation, stretching, and yoga. Even stepping away for 5 minutes to listen to a guided meditation/deep breathing exercise can be enough to help calm your activated nervous system.
When you enter a new environment, scan the room and determine where you can go if you need some time to yourself. If you need a social break or anxiety break, head to this safe space.
Sometimes when things are feeling hectic, catastrophic, or gloomy, intentionally paying attention to things you are grateful for can help shift your perspective. When you wake up in the morning, name 3 things that would make the day great (this primes you to pay attention to these things throughout the day). Then also, in the evening, list 3 things that you feel grateful for.
It's important to know that if you deal with anxious feelings regardless of the season, that you are not alone. 1 in 6 adults in England have some form of an anxiety disorder and some consider it to be one of the most common psychiatric disorders in the world. The holiday season can be one of incredible moments and heartwarming joy too, but make sure that if you do have a low moment in the midst of it all, to just take care of yourself first.
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