The holidays are full of joy and cheer — unless they’re not. For people with anxiety and depression, the holidays can be pretty miserable, leaving them looking for some kind of relief.
If you’re the type to suffer from the holiday blues, there are ways to get through the season without a great deal of suffering. Here are six tips I’ve found help me cope.
1. Lower your expectations
One of the main causes of holiday anxiety is high expectations. The media is full of images of happy families having perfect, joyous holidays, but for many people the reality might be a bit different. You know your family and what it’s capable of, so don’t worry so much about creating the perfect holiday or living up to someone else’s view of perfect. You can only do so much.
2. Stop comparing yourself to the “outside” of others
People with depression often struggle during the holidays because they envision others living wonderful lives, while they believe their own life is falling apart. Again, this is about perception. The life of someone else might seem perfect, but you don’t know what lies underneath. Comparing yourself to the “outside” of others is sure to cause disappointment.
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3. Have a strategy to deal with family strife
Family strife can also be a source of anxiety. If you aren’t around your family very much during the year but have to face them at the holidays, you can find yourself on edge, worrying about what topics might pop up.
Having a strategy to employ when someone says something offensive is always a good way to be prepared. You can face it head-on with, “Please don’t say that around me,” or “Let’s not discuss this at such a happy occasion.” Or you can just avoid it by changing the subject or leaving the room. If other family members want to fight, you can walk away. Go for a short walk around the block or just get in the car and leave. One psychologist suggests “collecting” rude comments, as if you’re making notes for a short story.
Take a few minutes to yourself. Even if you don’t meditate, take a little quiet time to clear your mind. Focus on your breathing and think happy, calming thoughts. Settling your mind is a great way to gather the strength to face the day or difficult family members.
4. Give out compliments
If you suffer from social anxiety, navigating large crowds at holiday parties can be daunting. Remind yourself that nobody is looking at you. They’re likely more concerned with how they look. Try giving out compliments to make others feel better, which will in turn make you feel better.
5. Enlist others as buffers and supports
Choose a trusted friend to go with you to parties where you know you’ll struggle, or have your friend on speed-dial in case you need to chat. Having an ally will make you feel safer and give you someone to lean on in an emergency. Your friend can also help you make an excuse to leave when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
6. Hang out with animal companions
When it comes to pick-me-ups, nobody can ease your anxiety like your dog. They’re your trusted pal who never judges you or cares what your outfit looks like. They’ll cuddle with you all day and can ease your stress just by being there.
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Playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of serotonin, your body’s natural anti-depressant. Also, taking your dog out for a walk will help calm your anxiety because exercise has been proven to ease the mind — and they’ll love it, too!
So take a deep breath and keep these suggestions in mind as you head into the fray that is the holiday season. Be mindful of what to avoid to keep your anxiety to a minimum, and don’t be afraid to look out for yourself. This can be a wonderful time of year, and you deserve to enjoy it as much as the next person.
[Featured Image: A photo of a person with light skin and short brain hair wearing a gray t-shirt. Their mouth is open in an expression of joy. They sit at a table and hold up a sparkler alongside other guests holding sparklers. On the table is a green wine bottle and wine glasses filled with red wine. In the background is what appears to be a Christmas or solstice tree. Source: Photos of the Past]