We might enter the holiday season feeling wistful. We remember beautiful memories of holidays past, and have lots of ideas to make this year an amazing season. No matter how sincere our intentions are to be festive and jolly at Christmastime, it somehow doesn’t usually go that way. Partway through December the wheels come off as the To-Do list explodes and the calendar gets tighter and tighter.
All the efforts we make to participate in the seasonal fun can often turn south on us. We become overwhelmed as stress ratchets up, threatening to spoil the mood of the holidays. Stress and anxiety can become so intensified during this busy season that we might even find ourselves sidelined completely. Learning how to manage holiday stress is essential if we are to not only survive the holiday madness but also enjoy ourselves a bit, too.
Why the Holidays Stress Us Out
When we are little kids the Christmas season was all about waiting for Santa to bring us presents. Once we hit adulthood and have a family of our own, it comes as a bit of a shock how much work our parents must have done to make those holiday festivities so special. The season is rife with demands to shop and wrap gifts, plan holiday parties, decorate the house, and attend holiday events. It is exhausting.
When we feel overwhelmed, as if there are not enough hours in the day or enough energy in our bodies to keep up with the long list of holiday errands and demands it can lead to anxiety. Stores are more crowded, distracted drivers pose dangers on the road, and the closer Christmas looms the edgier people seem to be. Anxiety symptoms run amok as we begin to feel a loss of control over our lives and incapable of keeping up with expectations. Part of the dilemma is that we place excessive expectations on ourselves, attempting to manage all the spinning plates.
About Anxiety Disorder
We all feel stressed out from time to time, the normal response to situations that can push us out of our comfort zones or cause emotional distress. But when the symptoms of irrational worry and dread take over, even impairing daily functioning, it is time to discuss the symptoms with a mental health professional. Undiagnosed anxiety disorder can become more serious as time goes on, threatening to derail careers, relationships, and even cause health problems. With an array of treatment options available, there is certain to be one that fits the individual’s needs.
Anxiety disorder is the umbrella term for a collection of mental health disorders that share core symptoms:
- Excessive worry or fear
- Feelings of dread and apprehension
- Being perpetually on alert for danger
- Racing heart or palpitations
- Shortness of breath, holding one’s breath
- Stomach upset, diarrhea
- Feeling jumpy or restless
- Sleep disturbances
- Trouble concentrating, mental confusion, short-term memory problems
The predominant trait of all anxiety disorders is a sense of having no control over the fear-inducing situation.
Different Types of Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety can manifest in different ways. Any of the anxiety disorders can cause symptoms that can impair the ability to function in daily tasks. The types of anxiety that are included in the anxiety disorder spectrum include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD features intense and inappropriate worry for the situation at hand. The exaggerated and chronic worrying can result in impairment at basic daily functioning, as well as somatic symptoms, or chronic physical ailments, such as headaches, digestive problems, and muscle tension.
- Panic Disorder. Panic disorder is characterized by unpredictable and intense physical symptoms that resemble a heart attack, such as chest pain, racing heart, nausea, shallow breathing, dizziness, and heart palpitations. Because the attacks come on suddenly without warning, people begin to isolate themselves to avoid a panic attack, which could result in agoraphobia.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety related to an irrational fear. In response to the fear, individuals adopt compulsive behaviors to help manage the anxiety that the irrational obsession induces. Examples are fear of contamination or germs, fear of angry, aggressive, or sexual impulses, or an obsessive need for orderliness, cleanliness, or symmetry.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is related to the intense feelings of anxiety that follow experiencing or witnessing a trauma. An unresolved traumatic event, whether witness or experienced personally, leads to nightmares, hyper-arousal, and unwanted memories, which can lead to avoidance of any situations or people that might trigger the traumatic memories.
- Social Anxiety Disorder. Social anxiety is caused by a deep fear of being judged or harshly criticized, or publically humiliated. Social anxiety is characterized by sweating, trembling, shallow breathing, nausea, feeling faint or dizzy, and heart palpitations, which may lead the individual to avoid all types of social interaction and events. This can lead to social isolation and loneliness, as well as negatively consequences to career and relationships.
- Phobia. Specific phobias pertain to the intense and exaggerated fear of a person, place, or thing. The object of fear can lead to irrational and obsessive behaviors as the individual attempts to avoid encountering or triggering the extreme fear that it provokes, leading to avoiding any potential exposure to the specific phobia.
- Agoraphobia. Agoraphobia involves intense fear that is triggered when the individual feels they are trapped, helpless, or may be publicly embarrassed, while on a train, bus, plane, in an elevator, or on a ship. This type of anxiety disorder may result after a series of panic attacks, and can lead to social isolation.
How to Cope with Holiday Stress and Enjoy the Season
We can still relish the joy of reuniting with friends and family over the holidays by relying on some helpful tips for dealing with holiday stress:
- Simplify the season. We tend to want to do it all, and then find ourselves struggling with stress overload trying to accomplish all the self-imposed goals. Whittle down the expectations to a few core things that make the season meaningful instead of trying to cram everything in.
- Remember the meaning of the season. It is nice to take note of the spiritual meaning of the holiday season and focus on that when stress threatens to overwhelm you. Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas for inspiration.
- Exercise. Keeping active during the holidays is a great way to manage the stress of the season. Exercise increases production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, both of which can help regulate stress.
- Limit sugar and caffeine. As tempting as it is to overindulge in sugary treats and rich coffee beverages during the festive season it is wise to limit these. Sugar and caffeine can cause heightened energy, which can make you jumpy, irritable, and restless.
- Change up the traditions. Even though we love holiday traditions, no one has to abide by a set script during the holidays. To help stave off excess stress, try changing things up this year. Maybe this year you pass on hosting the usual holiday party and pass the torch to someone else.
- Practice self-care. The demands of the season can exact a toll on wellness. Get enough quality sleep on a regular basis to be up for the challenges of the holidays. When stress ratchets up, go get a nice massage or taking a hot bath.
The Holidays Can Stroke Depression, Too
Even with all the holiday music and merriment, the season can cause some to become very depressed. Those who have suffered a recent loss in the family may be emotionally raw, and the season only reminds them that their loved one is no longer here. Others may suffer from feelings of loneliness and despair, as the season can make it appear that everyone has a loving posse surrounding them.
Depression symptoms include:
- Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
- Persistent sadness
- Slowed thinking and movement
- Changes in eating habits and weight
- Sleep problems such as insomnia or hypersomnia
- Feelings of shame or guilt that are inappropriate
- Trouble making decisions or concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts
If you are experiencing 5 or more of these symptoms for at least two weeks, it is possible you have major depressive disorder. It is important to be assessed by a mental health professional who can provide medication and therapy to help you stabilize.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
When holiday stress generates ongoing anxiety symptoms it is helpful to benefit from psychological support. Generally, anxiety is treated using evidence-based therapies that target dysfunctional thought-behavior patterns. Psychotherapy can help us identify disordered thoughts that lead to excess stress, and learn how to reshape those thoughts. Examples of evidence-based approaches include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines or antidepressants, can also aid in the management of anxiety symptoms. Medications are usually provided as adjunctive to psychotherapy and holistic therapies, and are not always necessary for managing anxiety.
Holistic therapies are ancient practices that can help relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety naturally. Using holistic methods to help achieve a state of relaxation can augment the overall therapeutic effects, and can be incorporated into daily life. Some examples of holistic therapies include:
- Deep breathing techniques
- Massage therapy
- Guided meditation
Taking control of your life again is possible through the use of a multi-modal anxiety management protocol. When signs of crippling anxiety threaten to derail your holiday season, reach out and get some psychological support.
Elevation Behavioral Health Offers Upscale Residential Mental Health Treatment
Elevation Behavioral Health offers evidence-based mental health treatment in a luxury residential setting in Los Angeles. At Elevation Behavioral Health you can focus your energy and attention on learning new ways to manage anxiety. For more information about our program, please contact Elevation today at (888) 561-0868.