For many of us, anxiety makes holidays harder, and in turn, holidays make anxiety worse. But you can’t simply avoid every family gathering, which means you need to find ways to cope. Rather than suffering in silence, use these tips to keep your anxiety under control this holiday season:
- Keep Stress Levels Down
Preparing for holiday gatherings ahead of time can make the events less stressful. Instead of spending so much time worrying about the upcoming social situations, you can effectively lower your stress levels by focusing on other aspects of your life. Healthy coping strategies include getting more nutrients from healthy foods and supplements, sleeping seven to nine hours per night, and smiling more often. Additionally, getting enough exercise can make you feel happier, more confident, and worry less. Use these strategies on a regular basis, and you can approach the holiday gatherings with a healthier perspective.
- Know Your Limits
If you say yes to every holiday invitation, you’ll end up trying to stuff three Thanksgiving dinners into your stomach in one day. While you shouldn’t completely avoid the holidays, you should be honest with yourself about how much festivity you can handle. Consider which get-togethers you’d like to attend and how long you plan to stay. While you might want to stop by the office holiday bash for appearance’s sake, a short but well-timed visit can be just as effective as staying for hours. Just be sure to plan your exit strategy ahead of time.
- Lower Your Expectations — For Yourself
While some families coordinate a big to-do around the holidays, for most, the most important part is getting to spend time with loved ones. Don’t think you need to find the perfect gift for everyone or be the life of the party. Instead, just focus on doing your best. That might mean buying everyone gift cards and sticking to small talk, but by next year, no one will remember what you gifted or what you said. They’ll just be happy you were there.
- Skip the Alcohol
It’s not uncommon to turn to a drink (or two, or three) to cope with discomfort during social interactions, but self-medicating anxiety with alcohol sets you on a dangerous path toward addiction. In fact, about 28 percent of people with social anxiety also have problems with alcohol dependence, according to Bridges to Recovery. Whether you’re in recovery or just trying to avoid embarrassing moments, make a game plan for staying sober over the holidays. In addition to identifying healthier coping mechanisms and packing your own non-alcoholic beverages, you’ll want to plan responses for people who ask why you aren’t drinking.
- Ask Questions
Most people love talking about themselves, and it’s a truth that people with anxiety can use to their advantage. If the thought of answering questions about your personal life or career fills you with dread, steer conversations toward the other person. If your mind tends to go blank in social situations, think up some conversation starters ahead of time and try the FORD method for in-the-moment ideas.
- Make an Escape Plan
Whether your family lives across town or across the country, it’s important to have a plan for how you’ll get away when your anxiety becomes overwhelming. If you’re traveling for the holidays, get a hotel room rather than staying with relatives so you can retreat to your own space at the end of the day. Need a midday break? Going outside or taking a nap gets you time to yourself while avoiding blowback over leaving early. However, sometimes leaving is exactly what you need to do to protect your mental health. Depending on the gathering, you may be able to slip out quietly, but if not, Louder Minds suggests letting your host know you have to go without presenting a reason. Deflect digging by focusing on how lovely the party was, rather than on your exit.
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