As a child, the holidays were always a magical time for me, full of family, food, sparkle lights, Santa, and presents. But as I grew up, and mostly when my parents split up 15 years ago, the holidays became trickier, and new emotions crept in along with the excitement. I still love the holiday season but certain aspects of it can be overwhelming at times.
I wrote about how to survive the holidays with divorced parents here, but wanted to touch on holiday anxiety in general because I’ve realized, after many conversations with friends and family, that almost everyone I know suffers from it to some extent. The tips listed below have helped me a lot during a time that can be difficult for many people, especially those who suffer from anxiety.
Some of my triggers during the holidays are: Pleasing everyone in my family and feeling guilty if I don’t, overcommitting throughout the season, getting off of my regular routine, eating more sugar which always affects my mood, and spending too much money. These action steps have helped me survive the holidays and enjoy this time of year even more!
FYI This was a post from 2018 that I updated with more tips and insight.
1. Don’t overextend yourself. There are so many exciting parties and events and tree trimmings and Friendsgivings happening right now. Why would you want to say no to fun activities that are full of good food, good drinks, and good friends? But too many parties, plans, and late nights can make you feel burnt out and exhausted during the workweek. I know that when I feel that way, my work suffers and I end up eating badly. Remember that it’s ok to say no even if you don’t have an excuse. And it’s ok to need a night at home with a cup of tea and a good movie. Even on a (gasp) weekend!
2. Stick to your regular routine… whenever possible. I’m a creature of habit, and I’ve learned in therapy that when I get off of my routines, everything gets thrown out of whack and anxiety creeps in. With all of the travel and events going on during the holidays, I’ve found it to be super important to stick to routines when I can. For example, while we’re away for Thanksgiving next week or Christmas next month, I’ll stick to my bedtime routine and try to work out and move my body during the day.
3. Set up a gift-giving budget. Giving people I love presents that they love is one of my favorite things in the whole world, but the financial strain it brings is not. For the last three years, Anel and I have sat down and made a budget for how much we can spend on holiday gifts including how much we spend on each other. While that might not sound very romantic, it helps set ourselves up for success come January when business slows down for both of us every year. And it gives us guidelines that make gift buying less stressful.
To get even more specific, I have a Google Doc spreadsheet where I keep track of everyone we shop for, what we bought, the cost, whether it’s arrived or not, and if it’s wrapped. This spreadsheet is incredible and I love it and yes it’s probably insane but I don’t even care! Also, don’t buy anything full price if you can help it. Everything is on sale pretty much from now until Christmas, with the best sales happening next week for Black Friday.
Speaking of gifts, don’t forget to check out my holiday gift guide if you haven’t yet.
4. Eat and drink in moderation. My 80/20 rule for health usually ends up getting bent during the holiday season and I always regret it because I feel bloated, tired, and generally icky. I’ve already started feeling that so whenever I can, I try to implement my post-travel detox, or just parts of it, even when I’m not traveling. A day or two of this in between the madness can really help.
I never condone depriving yourself, especially with all of the amazing goodies laying around this time of year, but I also know that if you overdo it, you won’t feel so hot. So eat and drink the things you love but don’t use the holidays as an excuse to go totally bananas. Read my post on how to stay healthy during the holidays here. It touches on physical, mental, and home health.
5. Get rid of guilt. This one is easier said than done but I know that I personally feel guilt during the holiday season because I can’t be with everyone for every holiday. With divorced parents and a set of in-laws, that’s three different whole groups of people that we want to make sure that Amalia gets to see.
But last year we decided to make our own plan for Thanksgiving. We’re heading to Bermuda as a family of three with no pressure, no cooking, and no real traditions. Making that decision felt very empowering. Anel and I decided to banish our guilt and do something that made us feel happy and excited. We made an effort to see everyone in our families over Christmas to make up for it.
This year we’re spending Thanksgiving with my family and, for the first time, Christmas with his. Even though his parents don’t celebrate Christmas, they have become a huge part of Amalia’s life and we really wanted her to share this magical holiday with them. We also really wanted to wake up on Christmas morning in our new home. Telling my family that we would be apart on Christmas was really hard but it was also really important. I’m definitely going to miss them but we picked another weekend in December to celebrate together so that we won’t miss out on some of our favorite Christmas traditions together.
6. Don’t play the comparison game. Once Halloween ends, our Instagram feeds are covered in tartan and twinkle lights (that would be a good name for Mrs. Claus’s blog!) and it’s easy to feel like your home needs to be an overly-decorated winter wonderland right away. But this year I’ve made the decision to stop looking at Instagram so much on the weekends, and if I see something that makes me feel less-than, I skip right over it. Remember that things aren’t always as they appear and try not to compare your holiday decorations or holiday wardrobe or holiday fun to anyone else’s.
7. Practice gratitude. Whenever I’m feeling anxious, especially during this time of year, I take some time in the early morning or after Amalia is in bed to make a cup of tea, sit somewhere cozy with a blanket, close my eyes and feel thankful for everything good in my life. If you don’t have time for that, close your eyes at your desk at work for 30 seconds, take a deep breath and name 3 things you’re thankful for in that moment… in your head, unless you want your coworkers to think you’re losing your marbles! You can do this in line at the grocery store, while you’re driving (with eyes open, obviously), or before you fall asleep.
8. Allow yourself to enjoy it. Take a step back and enjoy the great parts of this year. If you have kids, soak up their excitement. If you love holiday music, play Christmas carols while you cook. If you love egg nog, drink some damn egg nog!
9. Talk to someone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed or anxious, talk to a friend or your partner about it. Sometimes it helps to get another perspective on your feelings. My friend and I have a new system where we text each other our “micro anxieties” throughout the week just to get them off our chest. It has been helping a lot just to put them in writing. What we call micro anxieties are the silly little things that don’t warrant a full conversation with anyone but build up to create anxiety in both of us (we’re both medicated and in therapy too). She might text me that her kids refused to get dressed for picture day at school and I’ll text her that I’m worried about Boots while we’re away. Sometimes we’ll offer help or advice but mostly we just answer with an “I hear you” or a heart emoji. It’s just about someone else knowing what you’re going through in that moment.
So those are a few of my tips for combatting holiday anxiety! I hope they’re helpful. Let me know how you handle stress and anxiety around the holiday season below.
Photos by Julia Dags.