Stay in the moment. Sometimes anxiety is amplified by the anticipation of something bad happening in the future. Instead of enjoying the present, we’re already worried or sad or angry about something that may or may not happen at some point in the future. Staying present can help downgrade the rollercoaster of emotions. I like to say to myself, “I am in THIS moment” over and over and over.
Feel compassion for others. Holidays can be especially difficult when you’ve lost a loved one. Sometimes the events that are supposed to be the “happiest” are truly the saddest because you’re loved one isn’t with you. Remember that those who appear judgy or rude with you may, in fact, be dealing with their own sadness from missing a loved one during the holidays. Just like nobody truly knows what you’re thinking or feeling any given moment, neither do you know what they are thinking or feeling. Compassion and understanding of others go a long way toward holiday harmony.
Identify your best refueling and uplifting activities. Take an honest account of what you enjoy (fuels & excites you) and what you dread (drains & exhausts you) about the holidays. For instance, if yoga classes, 80’s music, and alone time fuel you, be sure to plan ahead and take breaks for those activities if at all possible.
Eat well for your mental health. Overindulging in comfort foods may temporarily make you feel good, but can lead to an increase in emotional and physical symptoms. Try eating lots of protein and veggies, while avoiding foods you know make you feel terrible. This will improve your mood, your patience, and your sleep quality.
Sleep. Avoid binging on social media or Netflix to the point of missing sleep. Sleep provides your mind and body a chance to rest, refuel, and regroup to improve mental clarity and physical energy for the following day. During the holidays, when tensions and expectations are both high, getting enough sleep is critical. Exercise and fresh air can help reduced cortisol and adrenaline levels as well as increase melatonin, which can also improve your quality of sleep.
Seek out social support and interaction. During the holidays, it’s more important than ever to actively seek out time with people who leave you feeling supported, safe, and happy.
Don’t feel much like laughing with friends? Force it if necessary. This may sound silly, but it works. Think of a book or movie that always gets you belly-laughing – this is huge for your biochemical balance. Seek out time to listen, read, or watch content that makes you smile and laugh. I highly recommend “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson, “Bossypants” by Tina Fey, and reruns of “Parks And Rec” on Netflix.
Volunteer. Doing something for others is a great way to minimize your sadness and anxiety. However, take care to chose an activity or cause that doesn’t elicit more sadness or anxiety. For instance, if you love animals and join a cause where you help dying dogs, this may be too much to handle. Go easy on yourself, there are MANY causes that can be inspiring, therapeutic for you, and helpful to those involved. Check out www.volunteermatch.org or https://www.justserve.org/.
Take your meds. If you’re on medication, be sure to have it with you at all times and plan out how you’ll deal with time-zone changes if you’re traveling far during the holidays. Also, be careful not to change medication, begin a new medication, or stop an existing medication during the holidays (unless absolutely necessary). This is not the time to be switching things up.
Watch the alcohol consumption. Be careful about increasing your alcohol consumption during the holidays. Instead, try a walk outside, a phone call to a supportive friend, or a 20-minute drive with some great music playing to reduce stress for an emotional break.
People love compliments. To alleviate tension and anxiety in a group situation, it’s always useful to have some questions ready for folks. Most people love to talk about their hobbies, their children, or their careers. Questions, a genuine compliment, and a smile go a long way. Find one item you can compliment honestly and say it aloud – people will appreciate it and the focus moves away from you, which can also help to alleviate stress and overwhelm.