Managing anxiety during the holidays


I love the holidays. I enjoy going to visit family I don’t get to see very often. Making side dishes and desserts to share with others. I actually enjoy the hustle and bustle of shopping for others and smiling at strangers. The holidays are fairly stress free for me. And I feel fortunate for that.

I have a close friend who does not experience the holidays as I do. She becomes extremely anxious at the thought of crowded stores and making meals. I have personally watched her experience an anxiety attack. Fortunately, I was able to help her through it. But it opened up my eyes to what some of my counseling clients experience. And it was terrifying to watch.

For those who suffer from anxiety, it’s important to know that you’re not alone and that there are things you can do to help calm yourself during those difficult times. I would like to discuss those and hope that I can help at least one person manage their anxiety this holiday season (or at any other time they may experience an anxiety attack).

There are several types of anxiety disorders, including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and general anxiety disorder (GAD), just to name a few. Once an individual can pinpoint what type of disorder(s) they suffer from, they can begin to explore what techniques work best for them.

For those who suffer from severe episodes and have a difficult time getting their anxiety under control, seeking a counselor is the best option. There are many medications out there to help those who suffer an attack get their anxiety under control; but these do not offer long-term solutions. It is always recommended that those who are on medication also consult with a therapist to help them get the appropriate therapy. Most commonly, cognitive therapy or behavioral therapy is used to give individuals the tools they need to help calm them before medication is necessary. I would like to provide some of these tools with hopes that those of you who do suffer from anxiety (or to provide some information for those of you who have a loved one who suffers) can get some relief during this time of year.

Stick to a routine. It gets busy during the holidays. You’ve heard me say this time and time again, but taking care of you is so important. Don’t get down on yourself if you miss a workout or eat unhealthy for a day or two. It will all be ok! But do try to stick to as much of a routine as you can. Exercise helps reduce anxiety significantly. It reduces our resting heart rate and we breathe slower and more steadily, which in turn keeps anxious feelings at bay.

Acknowledge your feelings. This is particularly important if you have had a loss or if it is difficult without a loved one around. Allow yourself to be sad and grieve, no matter how long it has been. Also, allow yourself to say “no” when you need to. Do not feel like you always have to say “yes”.

Meditate. Am I sounding like a broken record? Meditation is a must for those who suffer from anxiety. When I have clients who have an anxiety disorder, the first homework assignment I give them is to meditate. We start during sessions and they are asked to meditate at home, as well. If you feel an attack coming on, using that meditative breath can be very beneficial in calming down the anxiety and re-focusing.

Journal. By journaling emotions regularly, you can get onto paper what causes your anxiety. While there may be a particular individual that you may feel causes your anxiety (as with my friend, for example), understanding the specific behavior that brings it on is important. By identifying this behavior you may be able to talk to the individual or build some tools to change your behavior and the way you respond to them to help ease your anxiety.

Reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine can increase anxiety levels and cause more frequent episodes. By reducing or eliminating as much caffeine from your diet, you may be able to reduce the anxiety you experience.

Seek help if needed. If you have a difficult time getting your anxiety under control, it is important to seek the help of a professional counselor. As I mentioned above, there are therapies out that there we have been trained in to help those who suffer with an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are not something to be ashamed of. Studies have shown that the brain of those who suffer from anxiety disorders are biologically different than those who do not suffer from them. So there is no shame. It is not something you can always control. It is something you can learn to reduce and manage with the appropriate guidance.

If you are already anxious about the holidays, or if you suffer from any type of anxiety disorder, allow yourself to prepare for the holidays. By being prepared you’re more likely to see a reduction in attacks. And that is a wonderful thing!



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