The holidays can be anxiety provoking for everyone — and for the 40 million American adults who live with anxiety disorders, this means putting anxiety on top of anxiety. Holiday pressure often adds to the challenges someone is already dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

We asked our community what they wish other people understood about living with anxiety around the holidays. When you see your friend or family member who lives with anxiety step outside at a holiday party, this might give you a better understanding of what they’re going through.

Here’s what they want you to know:

1. “Just because you’re supposed to be happy around the holidays doesnt mean everyone is, and that’s OK. Not everyone can handle the stress of it all. We miss loved ones who are no longer here, we wish we could do more, we want to see and feel all of the joy and happiness you feel, but we just can’t. It doesnt mean we don’t love you or don’t care.” — Shelly Conner

A quote from Shelly Conner that says, "Just because you're supposed to be happy around the holidays doesn't mean everyone is, and that's OK."

2. “I may disappear for an hour from time to time. It’s just to take a breather. Don’t be offended. Don’t think I’m upset, and don’t take it personally. I need to catch my breath.” — Misty Hyndman

3. “Holidays make my anxiety worse. Just know that I do care — but sometimes I need a quiet place to try to reign in my anxiety.” — Shannon Trevino

4.When I go outside, it’s not because I’m trying to avoid the situation. It’s because I need a minute to calm the panic, reset my breathing and slow the thoughts. Parties can be sensory overload for me, so I just need a minute to refocus.” — Tricia Rathgeber

5. “I’m not a snob. I just get overwhelmed and shut down. Please understand it has nothing to do with you, and please be extra kind if you see me sitting alone or being quiet.” — Kristen Batdorf-Overbey

Quote from Kristen Batdorf-Overbey that says, "I'm not a snob. I just get overwhelmed and shut down. Please understand it has nothing to do with you."

6. “The worst part of Christmas is the expectation that everyone needs to be happy. For some, Christmas is a wonderful chance to be thankful for what you have. For some of us, the expectation from other people that we need to be happy is quite daunting.” — Autistic Not Weird

7. “If I freeze during small talk, let me off the hook. Nothing personal.” — Erin Nicole

8. “The obligation I feel to reciprocate gifts I don’t feel I deserve is absolutely crushing. And at the same time provokes humility and thankfulness. The push-pull of these extremes leaves me breathless and broken. For this reason I don’t celebrate the season and push people away lest they see my frozen reaction as heartlessness. Really I just don’t know what to do. I’m so torn between the good and bad stress of it all.” — Chriss Tate

Quote from Chriss Tate that says, "The obligation I feel to reciprocate gifts I don't feel I deserve is absolutely crushing."

9. “Do. no. enter. my. bubble. uninvited.” — Jenna Hennis

10. “If I’m there, I really want to see you. But please understand I may want to separate myself or leave early.” — Barbara Audacity Johnson

11. “As someone with anxiety and schizoaffective disorder, I feel a deep uncertainty as far as the holidays are concerned. Where others look forward to a celebration of the new year, I fear living another year in the company of a life-limiting mental illness.” — Syrena Clark

12. “The idea of Christmas makes me happy. I love lights and presents and food. It’s the execution that sends me spiraling. The shopping, preparation and parties overwhelm me.” — Jennifer Grant Warren

Quote from Jennifer Grant Warren that says, "The idea of Christmas makes me happy. I love lights and presents and food. It's the execution that sends me spiraling. The shopping, preparation and parties overwhelm me."

13. “As the number of people and noise increases, so does my anxiety. I may need to take regular ‘time outs’ to get away to somewhere quiet and calm to settle my anxiety a bit.” — Collette A. Smith

14. “I’m totally excited for the holidays, but when they arrive I’m mentally exhausted from being anxious. I seem unhappy. Even though I enjoy the holidays, I need to prepare myself mentally for them and make a plan to hide after them to calm down.” — Punki Munro

15. “If I leave your Christmas event early it’s not because I’m being rude. I have lots of events over Christmas and sometimes my anxiety beats me and I need to leave. Please don’t hold it against me.” — Vikki Rose Donaghy

Quote from Vikki Rose Donaghy that says, "Sometimes my anxiety beats me and I need to leave. Please don't hold it against me."

16. “Sometimes I really want to help with whatever it is everyone’s doing, but there are times where I can’t. There is too much pressure to do things ‘right.’ Don’t judge me if I need to step away and find a quiet spot. Let me be for a little and I’ll come back.” — Kendell Sierra Karissa Blunden

17. “Everything, including anxiety, gets ramped up during the holidays. Whatever your vulnerability is will become super-sized.” — Karen Capucilli

18. “It’s utterly and completely exhausting playing all possible scenarios and conversations out in your mind for weeks ahead of time.” — Mia Sweet-Thurman

19. “Please understand I can’t do everything.” — Kallie Kieffer

Quote from Kallie Kieffer that says, "Please understand I can't do everything."

20. “Anxiety is a 24/7/365 ordeal, but it’s amplified during the holiday season. I cannot and will not step foot into a shopping mall.” — Eric B. Pollock

21. “I can’t just magically get rid of it forever by thinking positive.” — Sally M Senft 

22. “The greatest gift of all would be patience and understanding in such a chaotic and stressful time for us.” — Savanna Smith

Quote from Savanna Smith that says, "The greatest gift of all would be patience and understanding in such a chaotic and stressful time for us."

*Some answers have been edited and shortened.

Related: 6 Things You Don’t Have to Do During the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’

RELATED VIDEOS


At my house, we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. The kids love it; twice the parties, more gifts and more fun. But for me, this means twice the stress and more anxiety. And while most of the severe symptoms of my mental illness are under control, it can be harder to manage my anxiety as the holidays approach.

But I’ve learned little adjustments can make a huge difference. Here are some things that help reduce my anxiety over the holidays:

1. Take two cars to a holiday party.

It’s easier to relax when I know I have an exit plan. If my husband and I take separate cars to an event, I know I can leave at any time.

2. Find a “safe space.”

When we’re at a holiday party or family gathering, I make sure I find a quieter room or place outside to get away from all the noise. Or I spend time with the animals if there are any pets. It just needs to be a space where I can recharge.

3. Give yourself permission to walk away from upsetting conversations.

There’s always that one person who wants to argue about politics or compare achievements. I used to dread holidays mainly because of these uncomfortable interactions. Now, I know I don’t have to listen. I can walk away or not participate.

4. Keep it low-key.

In my house, we don’t feel pressure to entertain guests or worry about buying the “perfect gift.” There’s so much going on already, we don’t want to add to the stress by holding unrealistic expectations. We try to keep it low-pressure and enjoy what we have.

5. Know it’s OK to say, “No.”

Around the holidays there are lots of opportunities to help others, but if making that batch of cookies or running that errand is going to cause me too much stress, I have started saying no. The holidays are a time to give, but it’s important to know your limits.

6. Accept help.

On the other hand, if people do offer me help, I’ve learned it’s OK to accept it. I try to remind myself they wouldn’t ask if they weren’t willing.

7. Remember to actually enjoy yourself.

As much as there are parts about holiday gatherings I don’t enjoy, there are things I like. Certain foods, smells, people and seeing the children’s excitement. I try to enjoy those special moments — it keeps the holidays in perspective.

The Mighty is asking the following: As someone who lives with — or has a loved one with — a mental illness, what’s one thing that’s particularly challenging around the holidays? Why? What advice would give someone going through similar challenges? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


As we begin the “eligibility” process to classify my son who will turn 3 in a few short months, I’ve never felt such feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety and a desire to fight.

My son was born at 35 weeks and has been fighting since day one. He is diagnosed with “failure to thrive,” low tone cerebral palsy, global developmental delay and possible seizures, and there’s a diagnosis yet to be determined. We go to countless hours of therapy, which he always takes like a champ, and every week he learns something new or perfects a skill. He’s constantly making progress and eager to be independent.

We have had multiple, what I call, “bang your head against a wall” conversations with our school district. I was informed my son “will be considered truant” if I pull him out to go his outpatient therapy. When talking to the social worker about alternative placement, she assured me their schools and staff are “trained to handle all kinds of children and disabilities, and they are not outsourced until they fail within their program.” And then the incident that began feeding my doubts — I observed other preschoolers yelling at my son to hurry up and get out of the way during an evaluation on the playground.

Based on these experiences, I believe this school district is not an appropriate place for my son to attend. Every time I step foot on the campus or see the phone number of the social worker come up on my phone, or anyone asks how the process is going, I start having a panic attack. A proper tour of the facility could probably ease some of this anxiety, but I’ve been denied this. I can pinpoint where my anxiety starts to come out and take over. And yet, I can’t stop it.

I’m defensive about what’s best for my son, whether I’m conversing with a friend, professional or most importantly, my husband. I want to apologize to the people who are willing to listen to me, and to my husband, who I feel like I’m alienating. But I don’t think it’s me. I think it’s my anxiety. The anxiety of being a special needs parent, and the fear of what the future could mean. I know most parents worry about their children, but I think there’s a special anxiety that comes along when you have a child with special needs. The fear that you don’t know where their life will lead. The fear that you can’t be in control constantly. The fear that no one can do it better than you. And ultimately, the fear that tomorrow is never promised.

I realize I probably sound neurotic to some people, but I pray someone else reads this and says, “No, I totally get it.” I go to therapy and I’m on medication, because Lord knows what I would be like if I didn’t get this out or have help to keep most of it at bay. But to anyone else feeling this, please know this: You aren’t alone. The anxiety doesn’t define us, and our kids are lucky we care so much we would move heaven and earth and fight to the death to get them everything they need and deserve.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


A lively discussion popped up on Reddit when someone posed the question,”What’s your best anxiety relieving technique?” to the site’s “Ask Women” subreddit. Reddit users quickly began submitting the tactics they use to self-soothe, and we loved hearing about the unconventional ways they practice self-care.

We decided to compile some of our favorite out-of-the-box responses to see if any resonate with you, too. Take a look:

1. Coloring books for adults are seriously amazing.”

A close-up of someone coloring. Accompanying text: [Coloring books for adults are seriously amazing.

2. “Audiobooks. [They give] my mind something to focus on instead of the repetitive thoughts I get when I’m anxious.”

Headphones on a book. Accompanying text: [Audiobooks. [They give] my mind something to focus on instead of the repetitive thoughts I get when I'm anxious.]

3. “Knitting. Usually my anxiety is triggered away from home, so I bring a small knitting project with me everywhere I go. I consider it on-the-go self-care.”

A basket of yarn and knitting needles next to the text, [Knitting. Usually my anxiety is triggered away from home, so I bring a small knitting project with me everywhere I go. I consider it on-the-go self-care.]

4. “I clean. Seriously clean.”

Two sponges stacked on top of each other under the text, [I clean. Seriously clean.]

5. “Puzzle games. My mom’s technique!

The text [Puzzle games. My mom's technique!] over a background of colorful puzzle pieces

6. “I take a big fluffy makeup brush and stroke my hand or my face with it. So soothing. I keep a small size one in my purse for emergencies. It helps a lot if I’m out.”

A photo of makeup brushes of various sizes next to the text, [I take a big fluffy makeup brush and stroke my hand or my face with it. So soothing. I keep a small size one in my purse for emergencies. It helps a lot if I'm out.]

7. “If I find that I’m freaking out over something, I have to distract myself. Optional ideas are to try to name all of the U.S. presidents or recite the prime numbers backwards from 100, or to count things like light posts or street signs or the number of vowels in a paragraph.”

A photo of dice and board game pieces next to the text, [If I find that I'm freaking out over something, I have to distract myself. Optional ideas are to try to name all of the U.S. presidents or recite the prime numbers backwards from 100.]

8. “The act of taking my hair down and then braiding it always soothes me. So does someone else braiding or brushing my hair.”

A photo of a pink hair brush on top of a blue hair brush. Accompanying text: [The act of taking my hair down and then braiding it always soothes me. So does someone else braiding or brushing my hair.]

9. “Cooking. I can really lose myself in cooking; it’s great.”

A photo of prepped baking ingredients (flour, butter, egg yolks, sugar, milk, wooden spoon and roller). Accompanying text: [Cooking. I can really lose myself in cooking; it's great.]

10. “Making a cup of tea, adding cream and watching the clouds rise.”

A photo of a teapot and tea cup filled with steaming tea. Accompanying text: [Making a cup of tea, adding cream and watching the clouds rise.]

11. “Making lists. I start with the huge stuff I want to accomplish, then list all the little individual steps I need to take. It gives me a starting point for getting big stuff done, and checking little things off feels so good.”

A spiral notebook on a wooden table with the text, [Making lists. It gives me a starting point for getting big stuff done, and checking little things off feels so good.]

12. “Telling myself a story to get my mind back on track.”

Image of a journal open to a written entry and a pen. Above the image is the text, [Telling myself a story to get my mind back on track.]

13. “Wiggling! When I feel anxiety in my chest [and] it’s really bad, I’ll put on a song and literally dance it out. I pretend that I’m physically pulling the anxiety out of my chest, pull it or shake it out of my fingertips and slam it on the ground. This method has gotten me out of a lot of panic attacks.”

A woman in a white shirt and hat dancing next to the text, [Wiggling! When I feel anxiety in my chest [and] it's really bad, I'll put on a song and literally dance it out. This method has gotten me out of a lot of panic attacks.]

14. “Totally counterintuitive, but [listening to] death metal… I listen to other genres of metal all the time, but don’t really enjoy death metal unless I am anxious.”

A pair of headphones. Accompanying text: [Totally counterintuitive, but [listening to] death metal... I listen to other genres of metal all the time, but don't really enjoy death metal unless I am anxious.]

15. “Building a blanket fort.”

An image of two kids under a blanket fort with pillows. Accompanying text: [Building a blanket fort.]

16. “Playing “Candy Crush” on the toilet (with the music). Seriously.”

An image of two hands holding a smart phone with Candy Crush on the screen. Accompanying text: [Playing 'Candy Crush] on the toilet (with the music). Seriously.]

17. “I sit down and sequentially tap each finger of my right hand to my thumb to a 6/8 beat, and I match my breathing to every time my index finger touches my thumb… And Taylor Swift has dragged me out of more than a few panic attacks.”

A photo of Taylor Swift singing in concern. Accompanying text: [Taylor Swift has dragged me out of more than a few panic attacks.]

Do you have an out of the box technique for relieving anxiety? Tell us about it in the comments.

*Some responses have been shortened and edited.


People who live with anxiety often have the pleasure of hearing unsolicited advice and words of wisdom from others. Even when people have the best intentions, this can be somewhat annoying. The Mighty decided to ask people who live with anxiety two things: 1) What’s something you’re tired of hearing? And 2) What’s something you’d like to hear from others?

Here’s what they had to say: 

1. Don’t say: You can’t control what is going to happen, so why are you anxious about it?

Instead, try this: “I understand that you are anxious because you can’t control this situation, but maybe you could try to focus your energy on what you can control.”

Meme that says [I understand that you are anxious because you can't control this situation, but maybe you could try to focus your energy on what you can control.]

2. Don’t say: What do you have to be anxious about?

Instead, try this: “Wow. You’re suffering from anxiety disorder? What exactly is that for you, and what does it mean to be anxious?”

Meme that says [Wow. You're suffering from anxiety disorder? What exactly is that for you, and what does it mean to be anxious?]

3. Don’t say: Get over it.

Instead, try this: “Are you OK?”

Meme that says [are you OK?]

4. Don’t say: It’s all in your head.” 

Instead, try this: “I’m here for you with whatever you need right now.”

Meme that says [I'm here for you with whatever you need right now.]

5. Don’t say: It’s not that big of a deal. Stop worrying too much.” 

Instead, try this: “What can I do to help?”

Meme that says [What can I do to help?"]

6. Don’t say: Don’t worry, things will turn out fine.

Instead, try this: “It will pass. Just keep breathing.”

Meme that says [It will pass. Just keep breathing.]

7. Don’t say: Just trust God. You should have more faith.

Instead, try this: “I’m sorry you are struggling with this.”

Meme that says [I'm sorry you are struggling with this.]

8. Don’t say: You don’t know what will happen so stop freaking out about it.” 

Instead, try this: “It sounds like you’re having a hard time. I’m here if you want to talk, or I’ll just stay with you.”

Meme that says [It sounds like you're having a hard time. I'm here if you want to talk, or I'll just stay with you.]

9. Don’t say: It’s all in your head.”

Instead, try this: “It’s OK to feel this way.”

Meme that says [It's OK to feel this way.]

10. Don’t say: I know, I worry about things too.

Instead, try this: “I don’t know how you feel right now, but I can tell you’re overwhelmed. What can I do for you, or do you need me to do anything?”

Meme that says [I don't know how you feel right now, but I can tell you're overwhelmed. What can I do for you, or do you need me to do anything?]

11. Don’t say: It could be worse.

Instead, try this: “Just don’t give up.”

Meme that says [Just don't give up.]

12. Don’t say: Think happy thoughts.

Instead, try this: “That’s got to be tough.”

Meme that says [That's got to be tough.]

13. Don’t say: Just calm down.

Instead, try this: “What do you need?”

Meme that says [It may have conquered my body, but it shall not have my soul or my mind. Those remain mine.]

What do you like to hear when you’re dealing with anxiety? Let us know in the comment below.  

Related: 31 Secrets of People Who Live With Anxiety 

For more resources on anxiety disorders, or for more information about getting help, visit Mental Health America.



13 Things People With Anxiety Are Tired of Hearing, and What You Can Say Instead

“Just eat the food. All I am asking you is to try it,” my father badgers me as I stare at my food. I’d consumed my noodles, and there was a bowl of strawberries dangerously close to my plate.

I raise an eyebrow, an internal dialogue going on in my head. Part of me (the part I call Eddie) is telling me I will only get sick and gag if I try to eat the strawberries. I will only get sick the moment that strawberry touches my tongue. The other part of me is saying, “Just taste it, you won’t gag.”

Every single time I’m faced with trying a new food, this internal dialogue runs through my head. I’m hypersensitive to the taste and texture of foods. It is paired with my eating disorder known as selective eating disorder, also known as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. The short version is ARFID. Those who have ARFID can’t just “try new food.” A dialogue, similar to the one I described above, might play through their heads. Imagine going to a restaurant with a five-page menu and finding none of your safe foods. Safe foods are foods people with ARFID feel comfortable with eating because they are familiar with them.

The exact cause of ARFID is unknown. Some believe it is born out of a fear of choking or vomiting. For me, I believe it came from my birth circumstances. Before I was adopted out of Russia at a very young age, the baby food given to me wasn’t good. My parents told me that I was pasty and in general not healthy-looking.

ARFID has only officially been recognized as an eating disorder recently (the DSM-5 addition). It’s not simply “being a really picky eater.” I’m well aware of starving children and am not trying to be “selfish” with my eating choices, so please don’t try to guilt or shame me into eating. I’ll sit there at the dinner table for hours just staring at the food. I’m hungry, but my eating disorder has so much control over me that I simply can’t eat. Picky eaters typically outgrow their picky habits by the time they’re in their twenties. For someone with ARFID, this problem might persist beyond that age range.

From my own experience on social media with groups dedicated to selective eating disorder and ARFID, some people report hypnotherapy works wonders. Some psychologists and psychiatrists also treat this more like an extreme phobia to try to help their patients. It’s possible to get help, but it requires a lot of hard work from the person with ARFID.

I hope people understand that selective eating disorder/ARFID is not just someone being picky. It is a legitimate eating disorder that’s only now getting the attention it deserves from both the media and scientific communities. I also hope someone reading this has a light bulb go off in their head and realizes they, too, are not alone in their eating disorder.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder and needs help, visit NEDA.org.

Want to end the stigma around mental illness? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Real People. Real Stories.

8,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.