The holiday season is upon us. There are only seven days until Christmas, one of the most embraced holidays of our culture. It’s a season of joy and singing, of gift giving and baking, of community and merriment. And for many of us, it is also a time of stress and anxiety.
Christmas can be challenging for many reasons. Loss, loneliness, difficult relationships, along with so many other factors can make the holiday season, which is supposed to be filled with celebration and loved ones, a trying time.
Society pressures us to be happy and spend time with family. But for many of us, family exists somewhere in the spectrum from complicated to downright dysfunctional, which can present distinct challenges during the holidays. I have navigated dysfunctional family dynamics for the better part of a decade and have experienced just how stressful it can be. It can make you feel trapped because as a youth you often don’t have a choice but to show up and participate.
But even if you don’t have much of a say in family celebrations, there are still things you can to take care of yourself and alleviate some of the anxiety. Here are a few strategies that I have found to be helpful over the years:
- Go for a walk. Sometimes, it just gets to be too much emotionally. I have found it helpful to step outside and take a lap around the block to clear my head and get away from whatever stressors were causing me anxiety or sensory overload.
- Subtle self-regulation skills. If you don’t want to advertise your anxiety in a public situation, drinking something hot, taking deep breaths through the nose while counting to 10, and tapping yourself are all helpful ways to calm down without drawing attention.
- If anxious ask yourself, am I safe right now? If the answer is yes, practice self-soothing and emotional regulation. If not, because not all family is physically or emotionally safe, leave the situation. Exit the conversation, go to a different room, and ideally go somewhere else and be with safe people.
- Say no. Give yourself permission to opt out of some holiday commitments that feel like too much or you know wouldn’t be healthy for you. Just because you can handle something doesn’t mean you should put yourself in that position.
- Eat balanced and enough sleep. Physical health and mental health are interrelated. Make sure you are balancing out the Christmas cookies with some healthier options and maintaining a regular sleep cycle.
- Debrief. Confide in a trusted friend. Talk about what is hard. If you don’t feel like talking at the moment, journaling can be a helpful way to decompress.
And finally, it’s ok to not be ok. During this time of year, there is extra pressure to be not just alright but happy. If you’re not happy, that does not mean there is something wrong with you. Give yourself space to not be ok and to take care of yourself.
You do not have to survive the holidays on your own. If you are feeling overwhelmed, desperate, or hopeless call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741.