For some the holiday time can be an exciting time of year filled with great food, loved ones, and traditions. For others, it can bring feelings of anxiety, loneliness, frustration, and fear. Not everyone has a family that feels safe, warm, accepting or loving. Furthermore, depending on work, location, or money, many might spend a lot of time by themselves. Regardless of if you spend the holidays with family, friends or by yourself it is important to tune into yourself in order to become aware of your needs and feelings, which can help calm yourself down when you get anxious.
If you are already anticipating being around family, maybe there is some ambivalence, discomfort, dread or anxiety around spending a large amount of time with others. If you do not yet have plans, there might be some sadness from feelings of loneliness. It can be useful to make a plan to take care of yourself during this time. Here are some tips to help reduce holiday stress.
When you begin to notice how you feel, what can you do to manage the situation in order to take care of yourself? What has helped you in the past? It can be helpful to think back on previous successes can provide potential possible solutions. It is okay to take a break if you are feeling overwhelmed. Learning to say “no” can be a helpful skill during the holidays. This time of year often brings high expectations to make everyone around you feel love or values that are most important to you and then evaluate the social or family engagements that coincide with those values and traditions. Do not over extend yourself. Choose which situations are most important to you. It is okay to not say yes to everything.
Gifts can be highly focused on during the holiday season, which can activate stress and anxiety levels. Between family, friends, partners, children, and other loved ones gift buying can rack up quite a lot of money. Making a budget for yourself may be a helpful way to lower the anxiety around gift buying. Maybe do a secret Santa exchange or only buy gifts for the kids. There are also simple “do it yourself” holiday gifts that turn out beautiful such as a self decorated coffee mug, or a homemade Christmas tree ornament. Remember that the holidays are not about the gifts but the people you spend time with. The thought put into the gift is more important than thegift itself.
Tune into your feelings
The holidays are a time where many different feelings may come up. When you start to notice how you feel in these different situations, ask yourself “where is this feeling coming from?” Maybe you are feeling nervous to interact with certain family members or friends because they are known to be inappropriate or even a little annoying. Tell yourself that you have every right to feel nervous because you cannot control the actions of others. At other times maybe you feel happy. Notice what brought about the feeling. Maybe someone had a great smile on their face when you hear everyone signing off key. Notice what situations make you feel uncomfortable or happy. It’s okay to not be able to identify the feelings when you tune in. Being aware of when you have a difficult time identifying the feeling can be just as helpful! Just by actively turning the attention on to yourself, you are tending to your needs and your body. It may be difficult to identify an emotion or trigger. If you could paint a picture or pick an emoiji to visually represent what you feel, what would it be? Your feelings are valid and they matter.
Tuning into your physical reactions
Tuning into your body can give you clues to what your feel and which situation caused your response. When you feel anxious, where do you feel it in your body? What parts of your body feel tense and what parts feel more relaxed? Just notice how the body feels without judgment. As you are tuning into your body, also take a second to notice your feelings and thoughts from the previously mentioned section. Integrating these aspects helps facilitate mind-body awareness. As you are eating your delicious holiday meal, notice how your body feels when you eat. What flavors are your favorite? How does the feeling change from when you chew to after you swallow? When you sit around the fireplace after dinner, how does the warmth feel? Put your hands up to the fire and notice how the feeling in your hands change. This exercise just focuses on bringing your attention to the body and away from those anxious thoughts in your head allowing for headspace and a better ability to remain present in the moment.
Breathing exercises help regulate your nervous system by sending fresh oxygen to your brain which in turn facilitates calmness. An easy one to start with is called 4-7-8. For this exercise you will want to start in a comfortable seating position. You will breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath in for a count of 7, and then exhale completely through your mouth for a count of 8. Complete 5-10 rounds of breathing. For this exercise, you want to try to breathe from your diaphragm. Anxiety often facilitates chest breathing, creating shallow breaths that actually feed the anxious feeling. You can recognize diaphragm breathing by noticing the rising and falling of your belly. Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest. As you breathe in through your nose, your belly should move out against your hand, which your hand on your chest remains still. As you exhale, tighten your stomach muscles and slowly push out the air through pursed lips. Practicing this breathing for 5-10 minutes will gradually allow this breathing to become easy and automatic. During the holidays, it may be difficult to get time to yourself. Breathing is an exercise that you can do anywhere for any allotted amount of time. You can do this exercise anywhere at anytime: when you wake up, in the car, or at someone’s house. It is a helpful tool that you can bring anywhere at use.
Activate the senses
When you notice yourself become flooded with anxiety and worrisome thoughts, take a deep breath, and focus on your senses. First focus on your sight. What do you notice in your environment? Where are you? What colors do you see? The holidays are filled with colors of green and red and holiday lights. Build an awareness of your surroundings. Next, focus on the sounds. What do you hear? Let the sounds come to you and just start to notice them. After the sounds, shift to smell. What fragrances do you smell? Maybe a family member is cooking a pumpkin pie that fills the space with sweet cinnamon smells. Activating these senses can help you feel grounded in your experience with the present moment, instead of focusing on anxious mind.