Holidays can be rough, these tips will help you survive holiday anxiety.
Holidays can be SUPER stressful. Even if you don’t have a complicated relationship with your family of origin, it’s possible that there’s tensions between you and some of your extended relatives (an overbearing mother in-law or nosy great aunt perhaps?). Maybe you’re nervous about cooking and orchestrating a 5 course meal for 25 people or maybe your family is perfect but you’re just a bit of an introvert and family gatherings are just too people-y for your liking. Whatever the reason, sometimes we all deal with holiday stress and anxiety. I wanted to share with you some tips that I’ve found helpful when dealing with stress and anxiety, particularly around the holidays.
If you have a huge family, or they are pushier than the in-laws from Christmas Vacation, make sure you and your spouse (if applicable) set strict boundaries. Maybe that means you don’t have relatives staying the night at your house, maybe that means getting a hotel room instead of sleeping over at your great grandma Beatrice’s house. Maybe it means creating a plan ahead of time that no matter what, you have to leave right after dessert. Don’t feel guilty! Your mental health is important, especially if you have toxic people in your family or those who don’t respect your boundaries. Draw that line in the sand and stand by it.
Make an escape plan
This is related to the above, but always have an escape plan. Either a pre-set time to leave, or a handy excuse like you have to go walk your dog, or you promised to have coffee with your husband’s family, whatever you can think of that is polite, but allows you an out. It’s also wise to have a code word or phrase established with your spouse if things get too heavy, both of you know it’s time to leave. Holiday anxiety is a very real thing and can creep up quickly, so be sure you have a plan in place ahead of time.
Find a safe haven
If you are hosting, or if you’re a guest in someone’s home and you just need a breather, don’t hesitate to step outside for some fresh air, or find a quiet corner of the house to seek respite for a few moments of quiet meditation or deep breathing. If you’re comfortable confiding in your host and think they will understand, consider informing them ahead of time to avoid any awkward conversation or someone barging in to see if you are okay. Use these few precious minutes to decompress, take calming breaths or practice any self soothing exercises that you find beneficial. Steer clear of the drama to help temper your holiday anxiety.
Avoid hot button topics
Family gatherings are not the place for political rants, racist tirades or grand inquisitions into your love life, why you haven’t had kids yet, etc. Unfortunately some people aren’t considerate enough to stay in polite conversation anymore, so you’ll have to protect yourself. If someone engages you in one of these topics, feel free to change the subject and if they don’t get the hint, you can politely excuse yourself from the conversation or the room. Getting fired up and blasting back at someone, especially a relative, is not going to be well-received at a family gathering. Yes, they may be in the wrong, but this is not the time or place. If they aren’t smart enough to get the hint, that’s their problem. Don’t engage. If there’s someone you KNOW is going to get into that kind of discussion, avoid them, or make sure that you start the conversation and take charge in directing it.
Lower your expectations
No one but yourself is expecting your holiday to be perfect. If you’re hosting, don’t stress yourself out over the minute details. Some of the best holiday memories I have are just talking and casually playing board games with the family. Often the contrived, scheduled stuff gets messed up, or is so regimented that it loses it’s appeal. If using grandma’s antique lace napkins is going to make you twitch every time someone wipes their lips, don’t use them! Perfection does not exist, so no one is going to notice if something didn’t turn out perfect. Cut yourself some slack, holiday anxiety is enough without the added pressure. Remember that togetherness is the important part of holidays, not a Pinterest-perfect scene, ripped from the pages of Martha Stewart Living. Be realistic, focus on the people, which is the important part of the holidays.
If things are going to be really bad, either because of your own anxiety, or because of confrontations, toxic people or issues with your family of origin, don’t go. Despite what your mom might try to tell you, you are absolutely not obligated to anyone except yourself. If you have a genuinely complicated relationship with a relative, you might consider just not going. I spent too many years putting everyone’s feelings before my own and it led me down a dangerous path. While I’m not saying avoiding everyone forever is the best solution, I am saying that if it’s genuinely going to be too much, or there is someone who will be present that you have a traumatic history with (abuse, neglect, fights, etc) then don’t hesitate to do whatever you need to do in the name of your mental health.
After the festivities, take all the time you need to recharge. If that means unplugging your phone and curling up with a book the entire next day, or putting your entire focus into a video game or craft project, do it. Self care is important and sometimes we just need to start introverting after a lot of people time. If you need some self care ideas, you can check out my post on creating a self care survival kit, or my self care Pinterest board for some ideas and inspiration. If you can’t avoid holiday anxiety entirely, then it’s even more important to recharge afterwards.