photos by David Garrison at Pexels
by Andrea M. Darcy
Despite your promise to not let anything get to you this year, holiday anxiety is winning again.
Whether it’s Christmas or New Year anxiety, or it’s fear of going away on a vacation, what helps? And why you?
Holiday anxiety symptoms
Holiday anxiety involves feeling worried and panicky as a festive season looms, or a trip away. And it means having increasingly illogical thinking. Other symptoms can include:
How can you tell it’s anxiety and not just stress?
While both stress and anxiety can have similar symptoms, stress has an obvious trigger. An event or experience has thrown you into overwhelm and if you deal with it, the stress lifts. Anxiety is less logic. It can hit even without an identifiable cause or just grow no matter what steps you take. This means it can feel far more out-of-control than stress.
Stress can, however, trigger anxiety. This might be why holidays, with the stress of the kids around, or extended family get togethers, is a perfect recipe for anxiety.
[For more clarification, read our piece on anxiety vs. stress.]
Maybe I’m just depressed?
The difference here is that anxiety tends to be very future focussed, with panic about ‘what will happen next’. A depressed person assumes what will happen next will be awful, and their attention often goes to negatively re-assessing past events instead.
[Think you have the ‘holiday blues‘ instead? Read our piece on Christmas and depression.]
Why do I experience anxiety around holidays?
As stated above, stress is a trigger of anxiety, and the holiday season is stressful. Plus it’s a time that many feel the stress of loneliness. If it’s a vacation away that strikes terror in you, it can be related to a fear of change.
Our tendency to develop anxious thoughts can be down to genetics and our past experiences. We can be born more sensitive to stress and prone to worry.
Then it could be a recent trauma at play. If your year involved a big life change like a breakup, redundancy, or medical issue, that would be the most obvious culprit.
When your past dictates your present
But if holiday anxiety has been a long running issue, it could be from experiences that go as far back as childhood. Something like a parent promising to show up for Christmas then not, or a family member passing away on a holiday, might be years ago. But it can still trigger anxiety even now.
Experiencing anxiety is also often connected to childhood trauma. Something such as child abuse can leave you with long-term c-PTSD, meaning stress and change is more difficult for you to handle than others.
How to manage holiday anxiety
So how to manage if you suffer anxiety during holidays?
1. Accept there is a problem.
One of the unique things about anxiety is the way it breeds more of itself. We can become anxious about being anxious!
Acceptance can help. Try saying out loud, “I accept I am feeling anxious“. And spend a few minutes mindfully noticing how anxiety affects your body, instead of trying to escape it. Imagine it as waves, coming and going, big but then smaller. And remember, until you accept there is a problem, you can’t really deal with it.
2. Up your self-care regime.
It can seem hard to do at this time of year, but do your best. Making good choices around sleep, exercise,and food tells your unconscious you are safe and cared for and also leaves you with more energy.
Be especially careful of alcohol and recreational drugs. Yes, it’s Christmas, and others might be indulging. But drugs and alcohol are proven triggers of anxiety. And if you are genetically prone to anxiety, substances alone can trigger anxiety disorder.
3. Say no if you need to.
Unlike depression, which can be alleviated by activity, anxiety feeds on overwhelm. The more situations and social interactions, the more fodder for your mind to panic over or seek ‘danger’ in.
Yes, it’s the holidays, but the party can go on without you, and your friend can find someone else to watch her kids. (Read our article on how to say no if you find it a challenge to set boundaries.)
4. Then choose wisely when you do say yes.
Try to be practical when making choices. Ask good questions, like, “Will this party/event/person make me feel good? Is a holiday romance really a good idea if I’m already feeling vulnerable? Is the cost of this event actually in my budget, or will it leave me anxious about money?”.
Try proven anxiety-busting techniques.
If you feel you have no time for any of these, note that muscle relaxation can be done in ten minutes, as can mindfulness meditation, which can be made even easier by using a mindfulness app.
Is it time to seek support?
One of the worst misunderstandings about counselling and psychotherapy is that you should only seek it when you are in pieces. Seeking therapy earlier means you never have to get to such a point.
If your holiday anxiety worsens to the point you are unable to manage daily life, or if it continues for more than a few weeks past the New Year, reach out for support. Anxiety, if it goes on too long, can turn into anxiety disorder, which is harder to treat, or trigger severe depression.
If there are any moments you feel beyond coping, remember that even during the holiday season there are free and confidential helplines with kind, trained listeners on the other end, such as the Good Samaritans at 116 123.
Harley Therapy can connect you with carefully selected, highly experienced anxiety counsellors and psychotherapists in three London locations. Not in London? We now connect clients and therapists via online, too.
Still have a question about holiday anxiety? Post below in our comments.