Anxiety During the Holidays

As a culture, we tend to idolize and idealize holidays.  The food has to be just right.  Everyone has to get along.  The decorations have to be creative and fun, and the house has to be spotless.  You better come up with some good stories and some exciting news to tell your family.  There’s some serious pressure to do everything right and to not mess it up.  After all, you don’t want to be the one ruining the holiday.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for several years, and the holidays have gotten progressively harder for me.  My anxiety tells me that I have to be perfect, that I can’t mess things up, and it literally ruins the holiday for me.  All I ever want to do on the holiday is stay home and do nothing.  But that’s not the way the world works.  I don’t get to call in sick to Christmas.

When I started dating my husband, I actually confessed this to him.  I was nervous about being around his family, especially since I was meeting a lot of them for the first time.  What if their first impression of me was not good, and they hated me for the rest of our lives together?  They also had their own set of rules that I was afraid I would ruin.  But if I went back to my own house, I felt like I was walking on a tightrope, and that anything I said or did could cause everything to go off balance.

I am fully aware that all of this is irrational, but it does not shake the feeling that I get whenever the holidays roll around.  What I’ve learned after letting this happen is that, if I let anxiety win, I miss out on a great day.  Since I’ve been praying and having the support of my husband holding me accountable, I’ve been conscious about not letting my anxiety get the best of me.  I intentionally focus on what I look forward to, not what I anticipate going wrong.  And for the last couple of years, I’ve actually been able to laugh, talk, and relax with both sides of my family instead of being overcome with anxiety.

If you are like me, here are some practical tips that I have discovered to at least avoid the panicking feeling:

  • Watch what you eat/drink.  People tend to indulge on sugary snacks and drinks during the holidays.  Sugar causes your heart to race, which in turn causes your anxiety to increase.  Alcohol may calm your anxiety, but it may also give you acid reflux.  Be aware of how certain foods affect your body.  If you’re feeling anxious, drink some water or some peppermint/herbal tea to calm down your body.
  • Remember the true meaning of the holidays.   As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas, the time of year where we remember Jesus our Savior coming to Earth.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the one who reconciles all people to each other as well as to God.  When I am anxious, I can remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  When I am nervous about upsetting someone, I can remember that my identity is in Christ and not in what people say about me.  If you’re feeling anxious, remember that God is with you.  One of God’s names is Emmanuel, which means God With Us.  God is with you, even in your time of weakness.
  • Guard your heart.  Not everyone believes the same things that you do.  Some people might mock you for trusting in God.  Do not let their negativity, complaining, or criticizing keep you down.  If you need to separate yourself, find another family member to talk to.  If someone wants to chew your ear off about how wrong you are, don’t let it get to you.  Just take a deep breath and let it go in one ear and out the other.
  • Breathe.  The holidays are meant to be a time for relaxation, reflection, and fun.  Don’t let your anxiety get in the way of the rest that you deserve.  You work hard all year, so you are allowed one free day where you don’t have to do anything.  You can be anxious any other time this year; give yourself a break just this one day.  Literally, close your eyes, breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth, until the anxiety is gone.  The anxiety will pass; you just have to let it leave.

Merry Christmas to all!  I pray that the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, meets you all in a special way this year.  I can’t wait to hear what He does in your life!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


The Thrill of True Hope in a Holy Night

“You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout; I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.”

On Christmas Eve, my sister and I would run up the steps and bang on the front door to Grandma’s house. Grandma would open the door to her warm, carefully-decorated house, and as we thawed from the wintry cold she would click her tongue and regretfully inform us that, just like every year, we had just missed Santa Claus.

We little girls knew that even if we missed him, he had brought us presents. After dinner, we would rip open our presents and enjoy the thrill and anticipation of each new box. My hope was in knowing that there were still plenty of boxes to unwrap.

All around me, cameras would flash and conversation would erupt over the latest news and the funniest jokes of the season. My family members would coo over the gifts I received.

Finally, my hands would grab the final gift under the tree. I would slowly rip off the paper, savoring the last bit of excitement of the evening. I would open the box, and the fun would be over.

With the last present opened, the party would cease. Family members would rub their eyes and call it a night. We would all hug each other, pack up our cars with new stuff, and go home.

Each year, I would go home feeling empty. Did we really wait all year just to go over Grandma’s house, open a few presents, and that’s it? After all that anticipation, I didn’t even get to meet Santa Claus.

“He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.”

I did the best I could to be a good child. If I really thought about it, I didn’t know what was good or bad, and I didn’t know what Santa Claus really thought of me. I just did whatever my parents told me.

The fact that I received presents every year confirmed that I was doing something right. Still, I didn’t think a few nice presents were worth following a bunch of boring rules.

What I really wanted was some love and attention. I wanted to be noticed not just for what I did, but for who I was. I wanted a reward that satisfied me. Santa Claus could only offer me toys that made me happy for a few days.

“He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake.  He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” 

Someone, somewhere, was watching me. I had a perfect image to uphold. If I made a mistake, that would be the end. And that someone watching me would remember my mistake forever.

Around Christmastime, kids care if Santa Claus is watching. But ONLY during Christmastime do they care. I have never gone to the beach on a hot July day and heard a parent threaten her kids with the notion that they may not get Christmas presents.

All year round, kids need constant attention and tender loving care. They don’t need a list of rules to follow; they need a loving protector who will watch them and guide them.

At the age of twelve, I met the One who I needed. For my whole life, I had thought that this someone was like Santa Claus, waiting for me to mess up so he could stop giving me presents. I thought He was distant and that He hated me. I thought He could never love such a stupid worthless failure like me.

But I was wrong.

“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.”

As a child, I knew that story of Jesus coming to Earth. That was all it was to me, a story. As I learned the Christmas story in church, I didn’t know that one day this story would change my life.

As I entered into my tween years, I tried to control my life. In the end, I developed an anxiety disorder and lost complete control of my body and the world around me. Looking back, everything was chaotic.

I tried to make sense of it all.  I tried to express how I felt. I was surrounded by people, but I was all alone.

I desperately needed help. I would sob alone in my room, looking up at the stars brightly shining in the sky, begging someone to hear my prayers.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

When I was twelve, my dad dragged me to church to attend youth group with people my age. On that night, I heard the Christmas story in a way that I had never heard it before, in a way that completely transformed my life.

The story went like this: God humbly left His heavenly throne to become a small baby that would grow up and learn about human struggles. He would heal people and share about how much God loved them. He would die a death that He did not deserve so that we could have access to God again. He would rise from the dead to prove that He is stronger than death.

Jesus came to Earth to show how much He loved us, not to show how high and unattainable He was. On that night, I accepted Jesus as my Savior. My pastor taught us a prayer, and I believe God heard it.

God showed me who He really was. He cared about me and looked out for my well-being all year round. He forgave my sins, and even though I still make mistakes, he reminds me every day that He loves me too much to hold my sins against me.

After choosing to follow Him, I’ve learned that I am valuable. Since He appeared, my soul has felt its worth.

“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Since I made the decision to follow Jesus, each Christmas means something to me.  We exchange gifts, and I remember the most special gift I have ever received.

Instead of feeling empty, I feel complete. Instead of feeling alone, I know the ever-present God is with me. Instead of longing for more, I remember that God is everything I need.

The past broke me and made me forget my worth, but today is a new day, a new and glorious morning.

“Fall on your knees, and hear the angel voices: O night divine, O night when Christ was born.”

What if Christmas meant more than opening gifts and waiting for Santa Claus to show us whether we have been good or bad? What if God really did come to Earth? How would your life be different if you truly believed that Jesus came to this Earth to give you hope, to fill you completely and to show you your true worth?

God came to your world to show you how much He loves you. He is offering you a free gift that will satisfy your soul. You have a choice: will you accept it, or will you be content with that small thrill of anticipation year after year?

Photo by on Unsplash