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How to Get Through the Holidays When You Struggle With Anxiety

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The holiday season can be pretty difficult for those who battle mental illness. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I know firsthand the amount of dread this time of year can bring. I hide that dread behind a smile, just like I do year-round in an attempt to make sure the people around me don’t feel the weight of my illness. I want more than anything to look forward to the season and feel the joy others are feeling, but it doesn’t always happen.

Holidays usually mean spending lots of time with friends and family with little opportunity to take breaks and recharge, especially necessary for those with anxiety. The intention of making sure no one else is affected by what you’re feeling sometimes means  you ignore your need to take care of yourself. The days leading up to those family gatherings or parties can be filled with increased anxiety due to the anticipation of the exhaustion you know you will feel.

To decrease anxiety levels leading up to and on the day of holiday celebrations, make sure you have a plan in place to manage your symptoms. Here are a few things I plan to do this year to alleviate some of the negative thoughts and increased symptoms I may experience during the holidays:

1. Write it down

If you don’t already do this, I’d suggest you start now. Writing down your feelings can help you to stop them from swirling around in your head and pin them down. This can help you think more clearly and not feel so weighed down. Here are some questions to consider asking yourself if you don’t know where to start: What is the loudest thing I am thinking right now? What is bothering me the most? Get out all the negative first, and then focus on the good. Write down five positive/enjoyable things about the holidays (hot chocolate, anyone?).

2. Come up with a plan

Are you going alone, with a friend, or significant other? Talk to them, let them know how you’re feeling, and come up with a plan for the day. Sometimes it helps to know the details of the gathering ahead of time. What time is everyone meeting up? Where are we meeting? Is there somewhere I can go while I’m there to recharge for a few minutes? Who else will be there?

Most people don’t think about these types of details, but if you have anxiety all of these questions are probably feeling like a whirlwind in your mind, so get answers and plan accordingly.

3. Do what’s best for you

If you need to leave the party/gathering early, do it. Don’t let anyone make you feel shame for choosing to take care of yourself. If they really love you they’ll understand.

4. Be honest

Many people don’t know what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder or depression, so only if you feel comfortable with it, share a little bit about your struggle with your close friends and family if they ask you if you’re feeling OK. Tell them the hustle and bustle of the holiday season can be a bit much for you at times but that you’re trying your hardest to enjoy yourself.

I know all of these things are easier said than done, but not everyone enjoys the holidays the same way, so do your best to find a way to make it work for you!

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Thinkstock photo by aaron007

Originally published: December 21, 2016
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