Chances are, if you live with anxiety you’re already stressed about when you’ll get your decorations up, how you’ll find the perfect gifts, if you’ll get that holiday bonus you’re dreaming of, or how you’re going to manage this year’s family drama, I mean dinner. The demands you’re feeling in your mind are rapidly exceeding your ability to cope, and that equals stress.
The good news is, by incorporating a few positive coping strategies, you can find ways to meet the season’s demands without driving up your stress levels. Quite simply, coping strategies are personally-designed, creative solutions to help deal with all the stressors that arise. Being proactive now will ensure you’re feeling more joy later.
Coping Strategy #1 Manage Your Expectations
As you set about getting ready for the holiday, ask yourself some important questions. Is your expectation about something you want, or something someone else wants? For example, when your mom comes for holiday dinner, is she expecting the same 20-course meal she serves when she hosts? You’re never obligated to meet another’s expectations. Are your expectations based on history? What you did years ago may not be possible today due to any number of factors, such as finances, age, location drawbacks, and so on. Establish new goals where necessary. Do you have control over your expectations? You may be stressed about the family drama that comes with many holidays, but in many cases, nothing you can do can prevent those fall outs. If the success of your holiday depends on someone else’s behavior, there’s a chance you’re going to be disappointed. Don’t set yourself up to be let down. Focus on what you can control.
Coping Strategy #2 Lean on Friends
Friends do a body good. Studies have even shown that those with a strong social circle gain as much health benefit from the friendships as those quitting smoking. The holiday is a good time to surround yourself with friends. Enjoy holiday lunches at special restaurants. Co-host a cookie exchange so you’ll have holiday dinner desserts done. Or, even more low-key, enjoy a great fireside chat with a bottle of wine.
Friends of the four-legged variety are also huge stress relievers. In a recent survey, 98% of dog owners reported feeling happier after interactions with their dogs. Another 89% even enjoyed some rewarding one-way conversation to ease loneliness. Over the years, various other studies have shown that in less than one hour your pet can significantly reduce your anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious about the high demands of the season, take a timeout with your canine best friend.
Coping Strategy #3 Pace Yourself
Don’t plan poorly so that your holiday season becomes more like the Boston Marathon. “We go overboard to please others during the holidays: shopping, cooking, sending cards, and attending every event,” says George Pratt, a psychologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla in California. “Instead, take care of yourself by saying no at least once—and maybe more.” Focus on taking on only what you can manage. This means don’t buy extra gifts you can’t afford. This also means saying “no” to a third party. Or, setting a smaller number for your own party so you’re not overwhelmed.
Coping Strategy #4 Enjoy the Season
Too often we rush from one hurried holiday party to another, we plan our children’s school holiday party, we offer to host the special holiday book club meeting, and between all this we’re cramming every spare minute full by running from mall to mall shopping for the perfect gifts. Enough! Instead, take a moment and think about what makes the holiday season most magical for you. If it’s the beautiful lights, take an evening walk or an evening drive with a mug of hot chocolate. Maybe it’s the holiday music. Get tickets to the orchestra’s holiday concert, or join a local caroling group to deliver music in a nursing home or shelter. Find as many ways as you can to get into the holiday spirit.
As someone who suffers from anxiety, it’s easy to settle into the routine of another less-than-peaceful holiday season. You don’t have to feel this way. You can start now to create coping mechanisms that will take the stress out of this time of year. Slow down and feel the heart of the season, lower your expectations, and share valuable time with friends; by doing this, you’ll be experiencing the joy of the season.