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