Dear diary: tips for dealing with the anxious mind during the holidays

Nearly every holiday has its own set of signs and challenges. Here are four essential tips to navigate the most challenging time of year.

Keep anxiety in perspective

You may not remember but there was a time when you were cool with festering fears and discomfort. Now, you run the risk of sounding like a stressed-out version of Aunt Bertha who screams “It’s OK, it’s OK” on Thanksgiving morning.

However, know this: You will feel worse than you did in the middle of your panic attack during a general anxiety attack, when your internal voice is screaming abuse at you: “You’re nuts; you’re overreacting!” Here’s an update: You are scared. Anxiety is a normal bodily response to those responses – to you. I hope this article doesn’t put you off from broaching those difficult feelings, though. It may be too late for you to recover from anxiety. Let this slide. You deserve to be out in a new world with lights on again.

Remind yourself of what your responsibilities are during holidays, instead of them being your responsibility to you. Share your holiday adventures with friends who you can now confide in when you can’t feel like sitting in a crowded local shop at 3am, keeping a journal for best ideas and having a healthy serving of beignets.

There is always a way out

Decisions are generally good; there is no correct choice, right? If you spent the day and then a half-day with similar people, you will already agree on where you want to be next weekend, even if it’s not the same city. Similarly, there is no wrong answer in a trivia game. This will be an excruciating headache during the season because of the rounds, but will likely give you more of a leisurely experience. Furthermore, this meant going somewhere familiar, which freed you from those uncomfortable Christmas cards. And what if your friend didn’t care about giving you a gift or taking you out? The stakes of giving a gift were too high, and you too were far too drunk to make a decision. Somehow, you’ll not be able to pinpoint how you got through it; you will never be able to understand what led you here.

Two exceptions

You can’t just predict your problem. At some point, you will have to address the elephant in the room. At some point, you will have to either accept your awkwardness or shut up. If you are something of a moody recluse, you are probably well past any rational opening to socialize. At the other extreme, you are a woman you likely know but fear with a fear of heights and dislike of loud music. Hopefully, you will be a day late for your closest friends and family (and I personally don’t wish this on any woman I know), because then you’d find yourself with a mad group of people who will overwhelm you at every opportunity.

See other people

Me: “What’s the holiday mood?” Guest: “Always jolly”

This is a real problem for social anxiety sufferers because some social situations can seem too zany to be fun, while other times you’ll just have a blast. For some, what you should do when you feel anxious is just take a break and do an activity for an hour or two that reminds you of the soothing forces that help ease your mood. If you’re close to your parents, just sitting down and watching a holiday classic can calm you down (Crown Jewel is one I always watch at my parents’ house).

Spend time online at social-reading, meditation and mindfulness sites. There are plenty of learning apps geared toward social anxiety disorder and you can even look at what apps there are for those who suffer with gender dysphoria. Most people are likely to be able to leave the holiday feeling better than they did, even if it’s that you won’t experience that loneliness during your meal at that lonely table.

Not ready for the holidays? Check out Celeste Willmore’s Running for Fear podcast and interview with Masu Hyakubatsu, author of the Happier at Christmas bestseller.

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