For most of us, the holiday season is a joyous time of year spent with family, friends, and loved ones. It gives us the opportunity to step away from the hustle and bustle of regular life and to reset ourselves, often in over indulgent meals and hearty celebration.
But if you struggle with anxiety, the holidays might just present an entirely different experience. Rather than looking forward to time spent with others, an anxiety sufferer can instead find themselves afraid of being immersed in such a hectic environment.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of adults in the United States alone, which totals to approximately 40 million people who may find being merry this Christmas season a difficult task.
As a former anxiety sufferer myself, I know just how consuming anxious thoughts can be, and there is nothing I'd like more than to help you put an end to them before your holidays kick into full swing.
Embrace the Power in Saying "No"
One of the most frequent triggers of anxiety is being immersed in an environment or setting that the sufferer feels uncomfortable in. Attending holiday gatherings, more so than other annual get-togethers, often feels like an obligation rather than a conscious and desired choice.
But are they really? In the grand scheme of things, these days on the calendar are just like any other, and if they are meant to give us a break from ordinary life, should we not have the freedom to spend them as we choose? If going to a scheduled gathering really doesn't feel in the cards for you this year, then embrace the power in saying "no."
It may raise some eyebrows and trigger some judgemental remarks, but that too will likely pass just as quickly as the days off always seem to.
Know When to Say "No"
I need to follow up the above section by further clarifying when saying "no" to certain holiday festivities is acceptable and when it probably isn't a good idea.
No, I am not going to get into the specifics of each of your families to identify whether or not the drama is worth triggering, but I am going to get you to do some honest self-reflection. We need to identify whether saying "no" would feel like an empowering act that accurately reflects your desires, or if it would simply be you running away from a potential problem.
If it happens to be the latter, then I strongly suggest thrusting yourself into whatever it is that you currently have scheduled. You may feel anxious going into it, and may even need to battle it at several points throughout, but nothing shows anxiety that you are still in control of your experience more than refusing to let it dictate your agenda.
Attack It With Gratitude
No matter what form of anxiety you suffer from, I'd be willing to bet it thrives in an environment filled with negative beliefs and victimhood. Knowing this, one of the most simple and profound ways to challenge anxiety's existence within your life is to directly attack it with gratitude.
Make a point of starting and ending every single day this holiday season with 10 things that you are grateful for in your life. Say them to yourself, write them down, heck, even shout them out loud. Just make a point of reminding yourself of the many things you are still grateful for despite anxiety's attempts to bury them deep within your mind.
It can be as simple as "I am thankful to be alive" or as specific as "I am thankful for the way my dog Sparky looks at me when he is tired." Come up with anything and everything that you are grateful for, and you'll be amazed by how infrequent your anxious thoughts will become.
Keep Your Vitals in Check
Despite being a "vacation," the holiday season has a tendency to actually take a toll on our health rather than improve it. We usually overindulge in heavy meals, cut ourselves short on sleep, and drink far more alcohol than our bodies are accustomed to.
While I certainly do not mean to put a damper on your holiday fun, if you struggle with anxiety, treating your body poorly is not going to do you, or the problem, any favours. Make a point this holiday season to eat as well as possible, get plenty of sleep, and at least balance any alcoholic beverages with ample water.
The healthier your body feels, the less likely it is to accept the toxicity of anxious thoughts.