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'Tis the season to be... stressed? 6 ways to cope with Christmas anxiety

Counsellor Catherine DiNuzzo, author of a The Catholic Guide Through Anxiety, shares six tips to help prepare your mental health for the holiday season

The Christmas holidays – including the preparation and the burden of expectation often associated with them – can be overwhelming
The Christmas holidays – including the preparation and the burden of expectation often associated with them – can be overwhelming The Christmas holidays – including the preparation and the burden of expectation often associated with them – can be overwhelming

Mental health is a vast topic, and it can become very challenging to navigate it at this time of year. For those who have experienced anxiety, the upcoming holiday season can be anything but 'the most wonderful time of the year'.

Here, I hope to unpack for you six tips to help empower you to have a holiday that is founded on healthy mental wellness, helping you enjoy all the good the season has to offer.

1. ACCEPT THAT THIS IS A STRESSFUL TIME OF YEAR

Give yourself grace and know that there are real and reasonable stressors added with parties, family time, gift shopping, work obligations, travel, weather concerns... and the list goes on.

Acceptance is a good starting point to prepare your mind for triggers that will likely make your anxiety flare up. Being ready for the stress, anxiety, and concerns will likely help you to make your way through the difficult times ahead.

2. DON'T BE A BULLY TO YOURSELF...

Once you accept the reality that the holiday season will bring challenges and anxiety, the next step is to give ourselves grace, and we do this by not being a bully to ourselves.

Each and every one of us has been told over and over again that we should not be a bully and this is a widely accepted truth. However, we are often our own worst bullies and don't even notice it.

Frequently, we say terrible and nasty things to ourselves that we would never say to someone else. I challenge you: the next time you are going through a hard patch or are feeling anxious and you start to have negative self-talk, ask yourself: "Would I say the same thing to a friend?"

If not, then stop and give yourself the same grace, kindness and love you would give a friend.

The Christmas holidays – including the preparation and the burden of expectation often associated with them – can be overwhelming
The Christmas holidays – including the preparation and the burden of expectation often associated with them – can be overwhelming The Christmas holidays – including the preparation and the burden of expectation often associated with them – can be overwhelming

3. ALLOW YOURSELF TO HAVE MORE THAN ONE FEELING AT A TIME

Often, people struggle to allow themselves to feel more than one emotion at a time. Especially during the holidays, you're likely to feel many simultaneous emotions, such as happiness, sadness, excitement, fear, trepidation, or self-conscious feelings, to name a few.

Feel them – it's okay to look ahead at spending time with extended family and know that although you're excited to see that favourite aunt or cousin you're perhaps not as excited to see another particular family member. Or, you know that you're tired from the past year and want some quiet and alone time but attending your company Christmas party is a smart career move...

There are countless scenarios where your emotions might seem in conflict – and they probably are – so be prepared that this is coming and allow yourself to have more than one feeling at a time.

4. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO HAVE BOUNDARIES

Boundaries are good and healthy, and preparing boundaries ahead of time is a good approach to mental health. Many people believe that boundaries are unloving or unkind, but boundaries are safeguards against ongoing hurt, trauma, and toxicity. You have permission to set boundaries.

5. KNOW THAT ANXIETY IS A NATURAL RESPONSE OF THE HUMAN BODY

When you experience anxiety, your body is merely responding to a perceived danger. When that danger is real, your body responds with a life-saving response, often called the 'fight, flight or freeze' response.

But when your body perceives a danger that isn't real, your body is responding to what I call the 'anxious response', when you feel anxious about being anxious, which makes you more and more anxious.

Spend time acknowledging how your body is responding and determine whether your body's response to the perceived danger is rational or irrational ("If everyone doesn't like the present I get them, they will hate me and I will have no friends"). When the dangers are irrational, don't allow them to have control over your mental health, instead work through them, especially with the next suggestion...

6. CREATE YOUR NET

A net – which I typically refer to as a hammock – is a healthy tool to create for yourself so that you don't struggle through your mental health alone. There are people in your life that you can trust and rely on.

Take the time to identify these safe and reliable people (family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, etc.) that can be your hammock, and allow them to wrap you in their care and support just like a hammock wraps the body and supports you.

The holidays can be a really blessed time, and they can be an overwhelming time – hopefully following these six tips can help yours to be a good season ahead.

Read more:

  • Christmas stressed? How to thrive mentally and physically through the festive period
  • Stress-free Christmas dinner? Seven festive chef mistakes and how to avoid them
  • How to use mindfulness to stay sane this Christmas

:: Catherine DiNuzzo is a licensed professional counsellor, living in Kansas, USA, and has been travelling to Ireland since 2016 speaking, teaching and running retreats. She operates her private counselling practice as well SacredHeartMentalWellness.com, an online resource to help people live mentally well. Her bestselling book The Catholic Guide Through Anxiety (available on Amazon or EWTNshop.com) offers a simplified method to understanding anxiety and some methods, tools and strategies for overcoming it.