How To Survive The Holidays With Anxiety

The holidays are a stressful time of the year, but especially for those with anxiety disorders, introverts, or highly driven people who can’t take a breath once and a while. I don’t know about you, but once Halloween passes and I’m faced with the idea of having to socialize throughout the months of November and December, I want to just take a bunch of sleeping pills and wait until the new year comes. Or course, I can’t do that because I need to pay the bills, so I’ve learned ways to cope with the intense pressure of the holidays and I hope some of these tips will come in handy for you.


1.) “You don’t have to get a present for everyone“. I’m a generous person. I love giving people gifts, even when there is no occasion for it. I tend to go above and beyond during the holidays and every year I tell myself that I won’t get EVERYONE a gift at my work Christmas party. I only have to bring one gift for the Dirty Santa gift exchange, and that’s it. But, what do I do? I end up finding something on Pinterest and think “Wow! Amber would love this!” or “Tracy could use this!” or “This is a fantastic idea for the warehouse crew!”. After a trip to AC Moore and Walmart, I end up spending nearly a hundred dollars in craft supplies to make them gifts instead of buying something premade that would have sufficed.

So, I’m here to tell you that you DON’T have to get something for everyone. Get a gift for your spouse, something they have wanted for a while. Get a gift card for your parents that they can share. That’s the key to couple-gifts. Give them something that they can share instead of individual gifts for each person. If you have a Christmas party you’re going to and they have a gift exchange game like Dirty Santa, Secret Santa, or a White Elephant style thing, just bring ONE gift. Even if you’re going to the party with your spouse. Just get one. Now, when all is said and done, you’re still spending a fair amount on gifts for the holidays, depending on how many parties you’re going to. But, you won’t be racking your brain, thinking of what to get the mail man, the obscure and quiet secretary at the office, your pharmacist, your boss, your cousin who is twice-removed and stuck in jail, or anyone else who may have even the tiniest influence on your life. Just breathe and figure out who is the most important. If you really want to get something for those marginalized people, you can’t go wrong with a nice store bought Christmas card.


2.) “If you’re cooking, stick to what you know.” Along with a gift, sometimes you feel obligated to bring a dish to a Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering. Now, if they verbally say you can bring a dish, then you probably should. No one likes that eccentric uncle who brings a roll of crackers and devours half of the Thanksgiving spread. I’ve always heard the old saying that “If you don’t bring a contribution, you don’t eat.” It’s a little harsh, especially if you have no cooking skills whatsoever, and it’ll cause quite a bit of stress for the anxious person who doesn’t want to bring something for fear that it won’t be liked. If they don’t like it, there will be more for you to eat at home and it’s their loss.

These gatherings can also be a time for the over-achiever to show off by bringing six or seven different dishes to the party, hoping to impress their critical relatives. Now, my relatives are no critical at all, but when I was on my own for the first few years of my young adult life, I tried to legitimize myself as an adult by really turning out during the holidays. I remember making several different dishes in my tiny, cramped apartment galley-style kitchen, spending long nights and many days slaving over a hot stove to make these nice dishes from a Better Homes and Garden magazine. Yes, I impressed people, but it was an empty victory when only half of the dishes were eaten at the gatherings and I had to find a way to fit it all in my refrigerator. I have since learned that it’s not important to bring the whole feast, but one should at least put some effort into bringing something if it has been requested.

My advice is that if you are expected to bring a dish, bring one. But – and here’s the key – make something you know. All those dishes I made were brand new to me and it was extremely irritating to try and figure out how to “soften butter” when I never knew how to. If you make an amazing stuffed mushroom dish, bring that. If your in-laws love your potato salad and you can practically make it in your sleep, bring some of that. There is no reason to stress yourself out over cooking something completely foreign to you just because you think it’s expected. Once you free yourself of that false sense of expectation, the happier you will be.


3.) “Take time to yourself.” Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to attend every Christmas party you’re invited to, especially if you have already been to six of them in the past two weeks and you’re burned out. You don’t have to attend every dinner, luncheon, breakfast, after-work drink parties or whatever else people invite you to for the sake of celebrating the holidays. You have an obligation to yourself and your sanity. If you’re an introvert and can’t handle being around a crowd for too long, then just say “no”.

Now, if you absolutely have to go to a family gathering because your momma said so, then that’s a different story. Go to those to avoid an argument, but as soon as you’ve had enough of the conversation, eating, and gift exchange, leave. Leave when you want to instead of when someone says you can go. Also, try doing some enjoyable activities before and after the gathering/party to help charge and recharge yourself so you don’t bottom-out.

Furthermore, if someone tries to coerce you into having a party at your house and you don’t want to, learning the simple answer of “no” will come in handy. No one can make you do anything. If you want to host the party and you feel you can handle it, do so. If not, or if you feel you have too much on your plate this holiday season, then don’t. It’s as simple as that. And if anyone tries to guilt trip you into hosting the family party, ignore them and their negativity. If you give a perfectly good reason for not attending or not hosting and they get upset, that’s on them and not on you. You need to take care of yourself first, then worry about everyone else.


4.) “Don’t compete with the Jones’.” I touched on this when talking about bringing too many dishes to show off or compete with your family and friends. The same concept goes for decorations and “Christmas Spirit”. I see this all the time. Neighbors will compete with one another on who has the most lights up or who has their yard cluttered with Nativity and Santa decorations. Or, perhaps you know someone who has to say “Merry Christmas” to every person they pass on the street or goes over the top with their Christmas spirit by wearing a Santa hat everywhere they go. I know I’ve already seen some cars decked out in reindeer horns and Rudolph noses stuck to the grill.

If you feel led to do these decorations because YOU want to get into the spirit, that’s fine. But, don’t feel like you’re obligated to have the prettiest tree on the block shining through your living room window, or have so many lights along your roof that passengers on airplanes can see it from the air. The only reason you should put up decorations is to satisfy your own need to be festive, not to compete. We didn’t even set up a tree this year because we would be out of state for the holidays and there was no point in decorating if we weren’t going to be around to enjoy it on Christmas. As a result, I didn’t have to yell at my husband to get the tree down and I didn’t have to waste an evening decorating. Instead, I was able to spend that free time writing and doing the things that matter to me. It wasn’t a big deal to have the tree not there, because the holiday spirit doesn’t revolve around an object to me.


5.) “Celebrate the holidays your way.” There are thousands of different traditions out there and of course, we grow up with a certain routine that we may or may not keep into adulthood. Marriage can prove a little complicated as you two try to merge traditions. In my family, Christmas and the holidays were a major deal. You made the rounds to all the grandparents’ house, you eat everything that was on your plate, watched Christmas movies all month long, you were patient and got tons of presents. My husband, on the other hand, was raised very differently. He got maybe one or two gifts from his parents, a card from his grandparents that may or may not have money in it, drove around singing Christmas carols while looking at the Christmas lights on the neighborhood houses. They had a very low-key Christmas, while my family was big into tradition and centered around aspects of the holidays that everyone knows.

So, when navigating exactly what you will or will not be doing for the holidays, don’t stress. If you want to count down the days by opening one gift each day of the month, then do it. If you want to simply light a fire and roast marshmallows on Christmas Eve night, then that’s fine too. The holidays are what you make of it, not what others may expect of you or what society says you should do. Traditions are personal to each individual and the more you do what you want to do, the happier you will be. And if you forget or skip a tradition, don’t sweat it. Everyone gets busy and that’s a perfect excuse.


So, as I navigate through the hectic holidays, I hope my list helps to give you a little more insight on how to survive. Greet the new year with calm and joy, not craziness. Goodness knows we all need a fresh start after this kind of year.

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