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Family and friends enjoying a meal can also be a source of holiday anxiety.

Holiday Anxiety

They’re baaaaaack! It’s hard to ignore the holidays when we’re constantly reminded of them by the music, ads, and store displays all around us. But this season of gratitude, togetherness, and joy can also be a hectic and stressful one. For some, that stress is felt as an increase in anxiety, ranging from stress headaches or muscle tension to problems sleeping at night. Read on to learn more about what drives that holiday anxiety, and some tips for managing it.

Unrealistic Expectations

For some, it starts with the holiday cards. Family photos must be taken while the trees are still green and the sun hot enough to make you sweat in your holiday best. But that’s only the beginning. There’s the Thanksgiving meal to plan, the travel arrangements to be made, and the holiday decorating to do. And don’t forget all the holiday parties and those can’t-miss family entertainment options that only come along once a year! There’s an awful lot to pack in to these few weeks, and there’s a lot of pressure to pull it all off without a hitch. If you’re stressed out by the demands of creating the perfect holiday:

  • Make it YOUR holiday. Find out what’s most important to you and your family by talking about favorite holiday memories. This will reveal your “must-do’s,” and help you prioritize the most important things. Pour your heart into those few things instead of spreading yourself too thinly over many.
  • Be a critical consumer of social media and advertising. Remember that those scenes of holiday perfection aren’t so often found in real life. But if you still feel like your holiday doesn’t measure up, consider limiting time spent on social media, or taking a break from it altogether.
  • Practice gratitude. If you are on social media, you’ve probably noticed a recent trend in the month of November where folks share one thing each day that they’re thankful for. The candid nature of these posts is quite refreshing: one day the writer might be thankful for veterans who risked their lives for our country, and the next for dinner delivery kits that make life easier on busy weeknights. Such an everyday expression of gratitude, whether for things great or small, can ground us to what’s really important in life.
  • Give back. Never are volunteer opportunities more plentiful than during the holidays. Whether it’s sponsoring a less-fortunate family during the season, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or spending time talking with the elderly at an assisted living facility, seeing beyond our “first-world” holiday expectations can keep things in perspective.

Stressful Family Situations

“My family is not normal.” I’ve heard this from clients countless times over the years. And family relationships marked by a history of maltreatment or even outright abuse should never be considered normal. But many families simply have longstanding strain that, having gone unaddressed for so long, creates tension when everyone’s together. Throw the stress of the season into the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for one awkward, uncomfortable holiday. Consider these tips when you’re just about ready to walk out on your family celebration:

  • Have a game plan for awkward family discussions. Unfinished business between family members has a way of rearing its head when everyone’s together. Or someone might bring up a hot topic such as the recent election, or politics in general. Regardless, it’s worth giving some forethought to how and what you want to say should these delicate issues come up.
  • It’s also not a bad idea to plan a few escapes from too much family interaction. Locate a quiet place you can retreat when conversation goes south. Or plan an activity to do together instead of just sitting around the house talking. Unresolved family issues will still be there to work on after the holidays.

Household Guests & Changes to Routine

No, you’re not just old and set in your ways. We all benefit from structure, and the holidays are prime routine-disruptors, particularly if you’re hosting houseguests or are one yourself. Whether it’s college students returning home for an extended break or out-of-town guests just staying a couple of nights, most people bring their own preferences and routines right along with their luggage. To avoid extra stress from attempting to accommodate everybody’s needs:

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss some general house rules and expectations up front. College students, for example, frequently have later curfews than they did when they still lived at home. On the other hand, small children staying with you may need quiet for bedtime a lot earlier than you’re used to. Upon arrival, talk with your guests about their needs, as well as yours, to avoid after-the-fact misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
  • To maintain some sense of normalcy within your bustling holiday inn, pick one or two pieces of your daily routine that you’re not willing to part with. Maybe it’s your daily workout, meditation, or devotional. Or maybe it’s your bedtime. What do you do normally that grounds you, relaxes you, or rejuvenates you? The holidays are no reason to give those things up, and in fact, may actually call for a little more of them.

These are just a few ways you can reduce some of the inherent stress at this time of the year. But if you find that your anxiety seems to be out-of-proportion, or if it lasts beyond the holidays or interferes with your functioning at home or on the job, reach out to a trusted professional for more support. We at Brentwood Counseling Associates are ready to help.

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