Holidays Have You Feeling Anxious? Tips to Cope with the Season

It is that time of year again, when shoppers flood the malls and stores eager to find the best deals of the season and families large and small gather round to celebrate the annual holiday traditions.  For many this is a time that is eagerly anticipated; whether it be the line of stuffing and sides that populate many tables or the stacking of gifts around a celebrated tree.  Some, however, dread this season as it can lead to immense levels of anxiety.  Social anxiety is more than just pure nervousness; it can have long-term health impacts on lifestyles, self-esteem, and social relationships.  So if the holiday season has you feeling the anxiety bug, here are some strategies to help navigate these busy few weeks.

The first strategy is to prepare in advance.  Knowing beforehand that you’ll be surrounded by friends and loved ones you haven’t seen in months or years, and undoubtedly a few new faces of girlfriends or boyfriends, it is a great idea to practice some mental and practical preparation.  You may want to practice beforehand by doing something relaxing and enjoyable beforehand such as breathing exercises or meditation.  Several studies have suggested that meditation and mindfulness techniques are effective in reducing stress and worry. Research has suggested that people with social anxiety tend to focus too much on the impression they might leave on someone else.  Switching the focus to others by preparing topics such as what they’ve been doing, what they enjoy, what they plan to do come next weekend can help disperse some of the heavy self-consciousness.

The next tip would be to try and turn anxiety into excitement. When you feel a wave of panic coming on, try to imagine that you’re excited instead.  You can make this a general statement such as repeating, “I’m excited” to yourself.  Or, you can make it more specific, fooling your mind that you’re hyped about a coming situation.  By doing this, you may be able to trick the brain into thinking that your anxiety is actually a feeling of intense anticipation felt in the lead-up to a good thing.  Scientifically, this technique is known as “reappraisal.” A recent study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology suggests that reappraising your emotions can be helpful, at least in the short-term, in tackling situations that cause anxiety.

Being mindful and being “in the moment” can be helpful in reducing anxiety, which brings us to the next tip: trying to be curious.   According to Todd Kashdan, a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, curiosity is often key to turning anxiety into excitement, and daring to try out things that normally make you nervous.   Another study, which was published in the journal Neuron, found that curiosity engaged with our brain’s reward circuitry: when we’re curious about something, we get pleasure by investigating it further, as the brain releases the feel good hormone dopamine.

At the end of the day remember that it’s vital to take every holiday this season in stride.  If you start feeling overwhelmed you can always make a retreat and go home.  The Anxiety and Depression Association of America advise “stepping back” and “taking a time-out” if your emotions become too intense.  Just doing your best is enough, and it’s important to be able to recognize when you’d best spend some quality time on your own. Hopefully this article helps you feel empowered during this holiday season.  Social anxiety can be part of your life, but shouldn’t stand in the way of your happiness and enjoyment.