Updated: Mar 22, 2020
If you're someone that struggles with anxiety, you know the holiday season can be one of the biggest triggers of the year. Many folks can feel overwhelmed with it all wanting to participate in family events but also dreading the complicated situations they may encounter.
"Did I get the right present? Are they going to ask me about my job, my relationship, my life? What if aunt so-and-so talks to me. I don't like her and don't know what I'd say. I just know my mom and her sister will get into it like always. I can't deal with that".
The list of thoughts and potential triggers can be never ending. So what do you do? This article may have some insights to help you manage that anxiety and feel more confident and prepared.
1) Recognize that your thoughts are just that, thoughts.
Just because you think something doesn't mean it's true or will happen. Challenge those anxious thoughts by asking the following: Is it realistic? Is it likely? If the answer to these questions are both that the thought is true then you can still explore an alternative more helpful or rationale mindset. For example, if I know my mom and aunt tend to "get into it" I can position myself at place where I might be less likely to be sucked in. Maybe I can sit at the far end of the table or know that I can step outside or go to another room if/when that happens. You don't have to just sit there and feel overwhelmed! Further more, if my anxious thought is about someone not liking the gift I got them, I can still focus on the fact that I made an effort and that's something to be proud of. It says more about their own internal struggles than it does about my "failure" as a gift-giver. Make sense?
2) Know your personal resources and exercise them proactively.
What works well for you when you start to feel anxious? Is it taking some deep breaths, positive mantras, meditation, going for a short walk, exercising, etc? Know what your go-to things are and implement them before you even get there. Regulating your body and your mind can make a huge difference in your experience. If you go in already super anxious, it's more likely you'll have a harder time and be triggered more quickly. Spend some time beforehand (either in the car on the way over or maybe even most of the day if needed) doing some self-care and don't forget your scale. Using your emotion scale from 0 to 10 (calmest to most anxious) can help while your actually there knowing when to use your coping skills.
3) Know your supports you have available and use them!
Before getting together with the family, explore who you can count on for emotional support. Is there a certain cousin you get along well with or an uncle or aunt? Know that you can spend more time with them. Even more helpful, if they know you struggle with anxiety, you can discuss (ahead of time) a few ways they can support you if you start to have a hard time like maybe reminding you of your breathing, even stepping out and breathing with you.
4) Remember to have fun.
After all, it's the holidays. This should be a time to enjoy yourself. If that means just popping in with the family for an hour or so and then going home and watching a movie alone, that's okay. Know yourself and find the balance between putting yourself out there and doing what you enjoy. It's also okay to say "no" to some things (and people) if you really know it'll just be too much. You can also think outside the box and see if there's another way to spend time with some people you really want without the unhealthy setting you might worry about. You're in control of your own experience and you can handle it!