If you’re like many people, your level of anxiety and stress spikes during the holidays. And why wouldn’t it? The holidays mean a longer to-do list: decorating, buying gifts, baking and cooking for guests. You probably have more social engagements to attend, from office parties to traditional family gatherings. And you may be traveling, which involves coordinating details and pulls you out of your routine.
Whether you get overwhelmed by large groups of people or you’re preparing yourself to see that relative who knows how to push your buttons, there are tons of ways to fight holiday stress before it starts. Below, I describe 7 things you can do to keep your holidays calm and fulfilling, from avoiding normal holiday stress to what you can do if you’re already struggling with anxiety.
7 Ways to Proactively Combat Holiday Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can often feel like an unpleasant surprise, but in reality, a lot of it can be avoided with a little planning ahead of time. Here’s what to do to guard yourself against holiday stress and anxiety.
1. Make a Plan.
Know where you’re going and how long you’re going to stay. If you feel obligated to attend a party but know that you will likely experience some social anxiety, it can be encouraging to remind yourself that you’re only staying for 45 minutes.
If you’re staying with someone else for the holidays and you’re worried about not having time to yourself, pre-plan some solo outings. Look up a coffee shop where you can go to read for a few hours. Find a movie theater and plan to catch a matinee by yourself. Find a park or trail where you can bundle up and go for a walk or run. Knowing that you have options and you’re not stuck in a stressful situation can make you feel a lot better.
2. Have a person.
A year ago, I was dealing with really intense anxiety, so my boyfriend and I made up code words that I could text to him if I was starting to feel overwhelmed at a social gathering or if I was about to have an anxiety attack.
We made a plan for what to do if I sent him either one of those code words. Being able to text him just one word and have him know what I needed was so much easier than sending a long explanation.
If possible, take a person who makes you feel safe and calm to your holiday events. Let them know ahead of time how you’ll communicate with them if you’re feeling too stressed and what they should do if that happens.
3. Don’t Over-Commit Yourself
This is one of the most common holiday stress culprits. It may feel tempting to RSVP “yes” to every social gathering you’re invited to, but when you find yourself hosting two parties and attending three in the span of one week, you’re not setting yourself up for success or enjoyment.
When considering all of your invitations, you should take a few things into account. First, how many commitments have you already made? How close together are they? If you know that attending more than one or two holiday gatherings in a week is going to stress you out, don’t do it! It’s okay to say “no”. This is a busy time of year; the host will understand.
Second, you should consider how meaningful each invitation is to you. Think about how well you know the host and how likely you are to spend time with them outside of this holiday party. If you’re stressing about attending a required office holiday party, a small gathering thrown by a close friend, and a blow-out hosted by an acquaintance that you mostly interact with via Facebook, just go with the first two.
Again, “no” is your best friend this time of year so that you can say “yes” to parties and small moments that truly represent the season for you.
Gatherings in Progress
Now that you know what gatherings you’re attending and have a plan in place, these tips can help you work through in-the-moment stress.
4. Bring aromatherapy with you.
It’s amazing how much engaging our five senses can help to relieve anxiety. Aromatherapy is a discreet and portable stress reliever. Wear an aromatherapy necklace with your favorite calming scent inside, or keep an essential oil roller in your pocket in case you need to roll an anxiety-reducing scent on your wrists or behind your ears in the midst of a stressful moment.
5. Keep a special object with you.
Touch is another way to engage your five senses in order to reduce stress. One of my favorite stanzas of poetry is from Maya Angelou’s “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me”:
I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.
I don’t think that Angelou was writing literally about a magic charm, but I do think that keeping a special object with you can help remind you of your strategies for fighting anxiety.
I often wear a rose quartz mala to remind me to open my heart to other people and new situations. It might also be helpful to keep a worry stone or an encouraging note from a friend in your pocket.
6. Keep meditations on-hand.
Especially if you’re going on a trip with some special stress factors for you, download a meditation app or save some of your favorite meditations to your phone. When you have a moment (or when you really need them), step away to a quiet place, put on your headphones, and engage in a meditation practice.
Here are some of my favorites:
7. Listen to calming music.
Hey, another sense to use in reducing stress and anxiety! Apparently, this song has been scientifically proven as the most calming in the world. The video is pretty amazing as well.
How do you combat holiday stress and anxiety to make this time of year as joyful as possible?