Caring For Your Mental Health During the Holidays

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I, personally, tend to love the Holidays, but I know not everyone does, and I certainly don’t love every moment of the holidays.

The Holidays can be especially triggering for those of us with anxiety disorder. An overload of events, to do lists, and encounters with challenging family members can definitely up the anxiety ante. On top of it all, I think there can be this layer of guilt that builds up when you think you *should* be enjoying things more.

Please note:  I am NOT an expert.  But I do know what it’s like to get overwhelmed and have my anxiety triggered during busy times of the year, and I can tell you some things I do to try and maintain my calm!

Say No

This is probably my biggest tip for avoiding overwhelm during the holidays: just say NO. It’s easy to feel tempted to go to EVERY party and gathering and special event that occurs, and maybe you actually want to go to them all. But if you don’t, or if being super busy triggers your anxiety at all…know that you can say NO!

Real friends and important family won’t be offended if you decide not to load your (and your children’s) schedules up for the sake of your mental sanity. I know for me that both myself and my preschooler get irritable and overwhelmed when we have too many things to attend. This year especially, with our first taste of school and extracurricular additions to our schedule, I’m being mindful of what we attend and what we skip.

So if you fine yourself dreading going to all of your extended relatives cookie exchanges…just, don’t. I am a firm believer that the important people will understand!

Try this: If you’re feeling overwhelmed by event invites, make a list of those you’ve been invited to. Identify a few that you really want to go to and then some that are really musts for your family (Mom’s clam bake??). What’s left may be the events you don’t feel super psyched about…and it’s ok to cross those off your list!  (Disclaimer: If ANY family events will be truly damaging to your your your children’s health/psyche, please give yourself permission to not go.  No matter who will be offended.  No matter who’s feelings are hurt!)

Step Outside

I live in Southern California, where a 65 degree day is brisk and I’d pretty much count on the world ending if we saw a snowflake. So it’s easy for me to say make sure to get that fresh air when you can.

BUT I didn’t always live here, and I’ve lived in both snowy and extreme rainy climates.

Barring blizzard conditions and with the appropriate outerwear, I really think it’s possible to get out and get some nature time even during the winter months. I know if I’m feeling anxious, particularly with cyclical anxious thoughts or sensory overload, it’s helpful for me to tell myself to STOP and to do a task change by stepping outside for a walk, even just up to the next block and back. It might even be enough to step into cool air and take a few deep belly breaths.

Try this: Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, step outside your current environment, even just out the front door. Take three deep breaths, counting to ten on the way in, hold a beat, and try to release to a count of 15. Wait a moment before returning inside.

Practice Presence

Often, to do lists filled with what presents to buy whom overload our brains at this busy time of year, but focusing on a different type of presence often helps me to get through extremely anxiety episodes, and even panic.

Mindfulness is a buzzword these days…but it’s also the one thing that’s remedied so many of my own personal anxiety symptoms. Mindfulness forces you to be in the moment, to release yourself from the weight of the worries of yesterday and tomorrow, which can be especially heavy during the holidays.

I find mindfulness most beneficial when I engage in a regular practice, like daily meditation, and I often need to up the ante on my meditation during the Holidays (I, personally, turn toward The Dare Response App for my regular practice). But there are very easy and quick exercises that can be done throughout the day. Find several here at Positivepsychology.com!  I know for me, I feel much better when I’m able to truly take in the festivities around me:  the smile on my child’s face, the smell of my mother-in-laws tried and true snacks, the rustle of the wrapping paper.  These are the things I’ll hope I took in when I look back on these days.

Try this: If you’re feeling anxious, take a quick sensory break. Identify 5 things around you that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 that you can feel, 2 that you can smell, and 1 that you can taste. Really try to observe the items you identify. This exercise always helps ground me!

Anyway, I hope, wherever you are in your life, you take care of yourself this holiday season and lean into whatever you may be feeling.  It’s ok if you’re feeling more anxious than usual, it’s ok to NOT enjoy the holidays as much as you’d like to…and it’s ok if you are enjoying yourself and putting those heavy things we all have to the side for a little while.

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