I’ve noticed a theme emerging with my counseling and coaching clients in the last several weeks. The common thread I am hearing repeatedly is anxious thoughts and feelings over many things holiday related;” I worry I’m spending too much money”. “I can’t spend as much as others in my family because we can’t afford it right now.” I’m anxious that my family won’t appreciate my homemade gifts and think I was just being cheap.” I feel like I should be doing more and I can’t right now - I feel so guilty about it.”
In addition to money anxieties, I hear a lot of worry and anxiety around additional family members people will be encountering during the holidays, work parties where people’s social anxieties come into play, and worries around the holiday meal.
Other anxieties stem from people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, an issue for many, or really any loss. Often the loss of a relationship, a job or business, or even the loss of a dream can provoke grief. Often times people feel pressure to be “over it” or be happy because it’s Christmas.
That does not even factor the anxieties that befall us regarding things going on in the world that for some have caused increased tension and anxiety.
Anxiety can be mild, moderate or severe, so it is important to gauge where you are on that scale. Does your anxiety feel more annoying because the same thoughts keep coming up and you would rather do something else than listen to that little ruminating voice get louder and louder? Are you someone where your anxiety feels debilitating? Either way, it is important to pay attention because your anxiety is giving you clues what you may need to pay attention to.
Allow me to pause here to say if your anxiety feels severe or debilitating, please seek professional help. You do not have to suffer alone, and there are some really good tools and ways to help you manage this. Not all treatment has to involve meds either, so be sure to do your research and seek out a provider who is in alignment with your goals.
So, what do we do with all this holiday anxiety? Here are some ideas to help you enjoy the holidays with more joy and calm, and less stress and anxiety.
1. Acknowledge Your Anxious Thoughts and Feelings - You might even give them a name. While that can sound and feel kind of hokey, there is power in naming things. You might say, “oh look there’s Sam coming around again uninvited.” Naming our anxious thoughts can serve to lessen their power over us.
2. Start Keeping a Journal of Your Thoughts - It is challenging to address something that can seem so random, so the more you write them down you can start to see patterns in your thinking. Do your anxious thoughts stem around one person, your job, money, or a family member? Identify those thoughts so you can learn how to address them.
3. Notice what Anxious Thoughts Feel Like in Your Body. Our thoughts produce chemical reactions- in other words, if we envision a peaceful exchange with someone we love, we can already feel the happy chemicals in our body that get secreted with such thoughts. When we envision a situation turning out badly, whether that means blowing the budget, burning the ham, or having a conversation go sideways, then we pump out different hormones like adrenalin, and cortisol. That is going to feel very different in our bodies, generally producing anything from a racing heart, sweaty palms, tight muscles or even holding our breath or breathing shallow. Start tuning inward to notice your bodily signs that you need to intervene with yourself.
4. Begin to Practice 1-3 Interventions Daily. Starting to practice how you will tend to yourself when you feel anxious will require practice when you are not already feeling anxious. It’s a little like learning to play the piano because someday you wish to perform or play in a concert. You must practice every day to get really good. Managing anxiety is much the same. We must practice continuously the interventions that can help.
So what are some of the interventions that can help us manage our anxious thoughts and feelings?
1. Value and Celebrate What is Uniquely You. A lot of our anxieties stem from losing sight of this. We fall prey to thinking I should do what I see people doing on Facebook or Tik Tok. I should spend x amount of money on gifts, or I should make these 10 side dishes for the holiday meal. Instead of loading up on the” shoulds”, take a deep breath, and relax into the idea of exploring what you desire to do. What is most meaningful to your family? How do we simplify and make time together more special? Bring your unique ideas and talents to the table and enjoy the process. Celebrate the outcome as well regardless of how imperfect it may be.
2. Question Your Thoughts. When you have a pervasive anxious thought, write it down. Then ask yourself 4 important questions. A. Is my thought true? B. Can I know with absolute certainty my thought is true? C. How do I feel when I keep chewing on this thought? D. How would I likely feel without this pervasive thought? And then finally, the last part is an ACTION. Take the thought and flip it upside down. That is often where the truth lies.
3. Practice Grounding Techniques. There are many, but a quick one to explain: raise your hands palms up together while standing and raise your feet up to tippy toes at the same time. Say aloud, “I am” and then turn your palms over to face the ground as you lower your feet down and say aloud “here”. Repeat 5-10 times. This is a great way to stay present, to remind yourself and your brain to stay present and focused on the here and now. Since many anxious thoughts are future thoughts… “what if…” getting grounded and staying in a mindful moment can help.
4. Learn to Tap to Induce Calm. There is more than one way to do this. I often use breath work and bi lateral tapping with my clients to help them see how they have the power to help themselves feel calm fairly quickly. With that said, there are other methods of tapping that are also highly beneficial such as EFT, commonly known as “Tapping” which walks you through a specific protocol of where and how to tap. This also has numerous benefits, one of which is lowering anxiety and inducing calm. You can learn more about both of these by searching you tube videos or reading the book, The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner.
5. Practice Deep Breathing daily. The most effective way to breathe is with awareness and inhaling through your nose, and exhaling longer than your inhalation through your mouth. This is one more way to help your brain and nervous system talk to each other to communicate that there is no threat, and therefore we can choose calm. Practice several rounds of deep breathing in this way and ensure you are in a quiet private space whenever possible.
While having anxious thoughts can be no fun, it is important to realize we need some anxiety. It’s when we have more than what we feel we can handle that it becomes problematic.
It is important to realize that just because you have practiced having anxious thoughts and therefore anxious feelings, does not mean you have to stay stuck there.
By practicing some or all of these daily interventions you can help retrain your brain to begin to think more accurate thoughts, and to learn to feel good in your body again.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Start being honest with yourself and others around you. Cut yourself some slack that not everything is going to be perfect or even pleasing to others.
That alone is a great start as you make your way towards feeling freedom from the anxious thoughts that have held you hostage. You are enough. What you do is enough. Go relax and enjoy.