Managing Holiday Anxiety

‘Tis the season to be… anxious fa la la la.. ahh. Ordinary anxiety and stress are normal and to be expected, however, anxiety may be higher around the holidays for a variety of reasons. There are typically two groups of people who prepare and those who don’t. You may be that person who shops for deals before or even on Black Friday… or you can be similar to me this year and start shopping a week before or even the day before Christmas. Eek! A little self-disclosure, I am a new mom to a (very) beautiful almost four-month-old baby girl. I haven’t worked since August. My short term disability funds have been long gone and whatever money I have left in my bank account is going to bills. My partner and I decided that I would stay home taking care of our little angel. While I am absolutely thankful for this privilege (yes, it truly is a privilege), I am personally struggling with how I will afford presents, have time to shop, create or wrap (she is sleeping while I write this). I have to remind myself of the reality I am living in. My family doesn’t care about presents. They are aware of my financial situation. I have been completely honest that they are all getting hand made gifts this year (thank you Pinterest). Look, life is just not like the Hallmark or Disney movies that are shown on television. Many people are just not hanging ornaments around their tree listening to Mariah Carey. They are not roasting chestnuts on an open fire (what are those anyway?). Folks are not dressed up like Eskimos snuggled up and going to sleep stress-free with smiles on their faces. Before I go into some main triggers, it may be helpful to briefly clarify what “anxiety” is. Anxiety is known to be future-focused. What if this goes wrong, What will they say when I show up (or if I cancel), How am I going to afford presents for everyone? Sound familiar? Anxiety becomes problematic when it begins to bring significant impairment with your everyday life such as with work, school, and relationships. This is where it becomes a dysfunction. There are several types of anxiety disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Phobia-related disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of anxiety may include; feeling restless or “on edge”, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep and appetite, easily fatigued and even muscle tension as this stress begins to manifest in our body.

The five main triggers most reported among my clients:


It’s the end of the month and the end of the year. Money is usually very tight for most people around this time. It is such a challenging decision to make if you should spend your money on practical or necessary items or spend out of guilt as you have a particular face spinning in your head. It’s also a time where impulses kick in. When this happens, take a minute and ask yourself is this a “need” or “want.” Also, I recommend writing out a list of your bills and budget from there. There are a lot of excellent apps to help with budgeting. There are also great deals online where you can save gas and headaches to the mall and get free shipping too. Here’s a tip: Look for coupon codes or don’t be afraid to ask for any discounts if you are purchasing from a small business.


We all know that traveling is a notorious trigger for anxiety. I am picturing the airport scenes from both “Home Alone” movies. The weather, the airports, the millions of travelers on the roads (Here in South Florida drivers are by far the worst). Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to leave whichever way you are traveling. Set your alarm, look up directions, print tickets, or book your car service the night before if you can.

Family/ Strained Relationships

This one gets me every year as my family and my in-laws both have Holiday dinners around this time. Speaking honestly, I had to cancel on my mother this past Thanksgiving as it was too late and too dark for us to drive with the baby. I felt truly terrible and I know my mom did too. Anxiety can be present as you may have a family member whom you do not have a close relationship with and may see at a gathering. Anxiety may also be present if you are worried about topics or comments that may be made such as politics, your relationship status, eating habits, body image or even how you are raising your children.

Expectations with gifts and plans such as appearances/hosting

There may be realistic or unrealistic expectations for gift-giving, appearances or even hosting parties. You may have completely forgotten that you said last year you would host the Christmas Eve dinner or you may also have remembered at 3:00 am that you need to step up your gift idea for your boss or mother in law.

Maintaining Recovery (or other met goals)

This is a big one that I feel like is rarely discussed outside of the treatment industry. The holidays can certainly awake and challenge impulse control. With most Holiday parties comes alcohol. According to the 2017 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older had “Alcohol Use Disorder.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, an estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The holidays can bring a great deal of anxiety to people in recovery and not just recovering from drugs and alcohol but with food, shopping, and other addictions. If you are in recovery, I recommend checking in with your sponsor, therapist or friend who can hold you accountable. You may want to have a plan of what you will say or do when offered an alcoholic beverage. To be honest, most people do not really care why you do not have a drink in your hand or say no to dessert.

Healthy Strategies to Cope:

It is essential to remember when stressed we go with what we know. This means it is crucial to begin practicing and implementing healthy coping skills now. If you are not practicing new strategies now when you are anxious or stressed it will just not be familiar to you.


This acronym is well known for people in recovery. It stands for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.” Usually, one of these is the catalyst for anxiety and/or stress. Do not complicate it, stop (halt) and check-in with yourself if you may be experiencing one or more of these. If so, then eat a snack or even some water may be helpful, use a healthy calming strategy you know works, make contact with someone or take a nap if you can.

Mindfulness (or Breathing techniques)

If you can slow down your breathing, you can also begin to slow down your thoughts. There are so many fantastic apps you can subscribe to Calm or Headspace are two I often prescribe and utilize. See links below. One breathing tool I typically teach is called the “box” or “square” breath. It is easy to remember. You will count to four (as a box or square has four sides). Here we go. Inhale for four counts, hold for four counts (no air in or out), exhale for four counts and hold again for four counts. You may repeat this about eight to ten times. One or two rounds will not be enough to slow down your heart rate.

Boundary Making

Establishing and remaining consistent with boundaries is not an overnight task. It takes time (and courage if I may add). I suggest thinking about the boundary before you implement it. Is this a boundary you want to create regarding comments of your body or about people hugging your children? Perhaps you might want to discuss beforehand your plans with your partner for when it is time to go. An example may be something like this; “Please do not say that to me. It is not okay to comment about my weight” or “I prefer you to not speak about this topic in front of my children as they have little ears.” With boundary making it is important to be clear with what you want. Make sure you are calm and clear. If this is your first time setting a new boundary, you may even want to try rehearsing it in the mirror or with your partner. Lastly, you may need to create boundaries with yourself. This includes spending money, agreeing to attend a party or hosting a dinner if you are not comfortable. Here are two articles if you want to read more. 1,2

Music or Exercise

Music and movement can be excellent ways to reduce anxiety. You may want to think about creating a special playlist for when you are feeling anxious. Public places like the mall or grocery store at this time are packed with frantic shoppers. The lights and sounds can also become overstimulating. If you can, try shopping with earphones and listening to your music. Exercise is another wonderful way to cope with anxiety. A simple walk outside or stretch may also assist grounding you when you most need it.

Practicing Gratitude

I just love this one. It is simple, free and you can literally do it anywhere and at any time. Coming back to what you already have may help remind you of how come it is not worse. You may want to try thinking of three things you are grateful for before you get out of bed or before you close your eyes. I also invite clients to create a gratitude list where they can see it. This could be on a piece of paper taped next to the bedroom light or make a list on your phone. Seeing the people and things you are grateful for may allow you to remember how wealthy you already are. Check out this article for inspiration.

Recovery and the Holidays:

Published by designsbymas

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