For those who struggle with anxiety, whether it be feelings of anxiety or a fully realized anxiety disorder, the holidays can be a troubling time. And this year, with the Covid-19 pandemic still ravaging our world, it’s going to be even worse.
There can be many reasons that anxiety may be worse over the holidays. But it’s also supposed to be a time of joy and love. So let’s take a look at some ways that you can cope with anxiety this holiday season so that you can take more pleasure in the festive times.
Anxiety doesn’t just mean feeling a bit apprehensive over holiday stressed. Anxiety disorders, like Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), have a myriad of other symptoms that come with them. It can cause uncontrollable feelings of anxiety, yes. But it can also cause physical symptoms like nausea, shaking, or a pounding heart. And there can be other mental setbacks, like being afraid to be around people, speak out loud, and an irrational fear of certain situations.
So GAD is a lot more than just feeling anxious. And it can be made much worse around the holidays. Planning large events, seeing family members, traumatic memories, and dealing with a pandemic all make GAD much harder to deal with. When it comes to holiday seasons, nearly half of all women and a third of all men have increased stress, which can also lead to increased anxiety.
So now that you know a bit more about what anxiety is, let’s take a look at some ways you can cope this holiday season.
When it comes to mental health treatment, this is one of the things you will be told most often: focus on you. Especially this year, if you aren’t seeing as many people because of Covid, it’s a good time to prioritize yourself and your needs.
Putting yourself first means that you can take the time to give yourself what you need. Don’t push yourself to do things you aren’t up to doing. Focus on what may help you, and take it easy on yourself.
Talk to a therapist
Again, this is a staple of many pieces of advice for mental health treatment. Especially if you live with GAD, a professional can really help you figure out how best to help yourself.
Anxiety disorders can be confusing, and a common side effect is that your mind isn’t rational. A professional can explain to you how anxiety works, and help you work through it. They can also act as a voice of reason when your own mind is going into overdrive.
Most importantly, a therapist can help you figure out coping mechanisms that work for you. They will teach you ways to cope with your anxiety, and work with you to find a personalized treatment plan that helps you as much as possible.
Keep taking your meds
If you take medications to help manage anxiety or mental health problems, now is absolutely not the time to stop taking them. The holidays are already full of enough stress, it’s not the time to make any big changes. If you have been considering going off of your meds, consult a professional and try to wait until the holidays are over.
Be careful with alcohol
For many, alcohol is a part of holiday celebrations. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. When used responsibly, alcohol can be a fun way to celebrate.
But you should be careful. Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of anxiety. It can also counteract the effects of certain meds, or have dangerous interactions. So if you take meds, consult a professional before drinking, and drink responsibly.
Keep things simple
When it comes to dealing with anxiety, simplicity can be wonderful. Complicated events and planning can be incredibly anxiety provoking. So try to keep your holidays as simple as possible.
Of course, with Covid, that could be much easier this year. But the less people you have to deal with, the less meals you have to cook, the less everything you have to do, the less things you have to get anxious about.
Keep using your coping mechanisms
If you have figured out coping mechanisms that work for you, whether by yourself or with a therapist, keep using them. It can be anything, from journaling and meditation to sleep and video games. Whatever helps you feel better, and less anxious, keep doing it.
This can also be a time to find new coping mechanisms, because the holidays offer new options. Maybe you like to bake, so you can spend more time baking delicious holiday goodies. Or you like to do crafts, so you can spend more time decorating and doing holiday-themed crafts.
Get help from others
Many people have others around them for the holiday season that they love and care about. If you will have people like this, talk to them, and ask them to help you. You don’t have to ask them to be your therapist or tell them your deepest, darkest secrets. But there are small ways you can rely on others.
You can simply tell them that you suffer from GAD, and inform them of what that looks like. You could also give them tips on what to do if you have an anxiety attack or other symptoms, so they can help you in the moment. If you have other people you can rely on, it’s never a bad idea to do so.
Coping with anxiety attacks
For those suffering from GAD, anxiety attacks are a given. And with the stress of this time of year, they’re likely to become more common. So figuring out ways to deal with them when they appear can be helpful.
For starters, if you are able to, it’s good to ride them out. Sometimes, you just need to sit through an anxiety attack and let yourself feel everything. If you choose to do this, make sure that you do it in a safe way, and have others who know what is going on.
But sometimes, you might not want to ride an anxiety attack out. So there are some things that you can do to prevent them, or ease them if they have already started. Different tactics work for different people, so it takes some trial and error to find out what works best for you. Again, talking to a therapist can help with this.
One of the best things I find for myself, and many others, is cognitive thoughts. If you force your brain to think cognitively, it has trouble focusing on the emotional side of things. This means engaging your brain in some kind of logical task.
For me, I like to list out mathematical perfect squares. Yes, I’m a math nerd, and doing this helps me recenter my brain. If there are other people around, I also like making lists. My therapist might say something like “tell me your top five favorite plants”, and I tell her. These activities force the cognitive centers of my brain to work, which shuts down the emotional side. I have avoided many anxiety attacks this way.
Those are just a couple examples. Any cognitive activity can work, so find ways that work for you and help you feel better. And remember, avoidance isn’t always the best option. Sometimes, you just need to ride it out.
These are a few ways that you can cope with anxiety this holiday season. With trial and error, and help from others, you can find the methods that work best for you. And hopefully, this will help make the holidays a more enjoyable time for you.
Do you have other coping methods you want to recommend, or questions about dealing with anxiety? Let us know in the comments below!