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How to Help a Loved One With Anxiety This Christmas

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It’s officially wintertime. ‘Tis the season of anxiety. While the holidays can bring feelings of anxiousness to many folks, but for those of us with anxiety disorders, it can be especially triggering. When you love someone with an anxiety or panic disorder, it can be a catch-22. You want to enjoy the holidays with your loved one and the very activities you’re participating in with them may cause them to experience anxiety attacks.

As someone who lives with anxiety and panic disorder, I have a few tips for you to remember as you embark on this holiday season with those you love who may be triggered with anxious thoughts as you go about your festivities.

1. Less is more.

While it can be difficult to go against the majority, authentic gifts and gatherings that involve intimate interactions and thoughtful conversations mean more in the long run and are easier for those living with anxiety to manage.

2. It’s never personal.

Sometimes, it’s necessary for people with anxiety to say “no” to certain events and activities to avoid certain triggers and practice self-care. It’s never personal, but boundaries can be a challenge for those of us with anxiety. So, if we beg off a certain event or activity, it’s not that we don’t love you, but it is done with the aim toward creating a manageable holiday season we can enjoy, not just endure.

3. Create a safe space.

In the same vein of setting boundaries, it’s important for those with anxiety to feel like they have a safe space to decompress from the stress of the holiday season. This space can take many forms, from being a safe person for your loved one to vent to, or providing time they can use to practice self-care. Communication is key here in finding out what your loved one needs. But, by telling your loved one you’d like to create a safe space for them this holiday season, you’ll give them the best gift they’ll get all year.

4. It doesn’t make sense.

Anxiety can happen for many “reasons” or for no reason other than a chemical switch is turned on in the brain. It’s vital to remember that it doesn’t always make sense. It’s essential for your state of mind to stop expecting it to. I remember holiday shopping last year. I had enough time, so wasn’t in a rush. I had stayed within my budget, so had enough money. And yet, I was suddenly struck with such a strong feeling of panic, which felt like I was going to crawl outside of my skin. I began to sweat and became afraid I would pass out. I ended up leaving the cart where it was and fled to the safety of my car.

5. It’s OK.

This last one may be the hardest to remember, but it doesn’t make it less true. It’s OK. It’s OK that your loved one has anxiety. It’s even OK if they get triggered this season (and we probably will). The stigma surrounding anxiety tells us the opposite is true. However, just like physical conditions, anxiety too is a chronic condition requiring care. With proper preparation and care, it’s possible for those of us with panic disorders to manage the situations that trigger us. It just takes practice and perseverance.

Managing anxiety and panic is a marathon, not a sprint. Finding the right prescription of measures that work to help cope with anxiety may take time, but in the end, it will help our loved ones with anxiety not only survive the holidays, but thrive.

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Getty Images photo via Emilija Randjelovic

Originally published: December 23, 2017
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