How to Manage Anxiety Through the Holidays

Having anxiety can be tough on any given day, but it can be worse this season. The holidays create the perfect storm that makes you feel buffeted by emotions, overwhelmed by the mounting waves of to-do lists, and wanting to take shelter to avoid all the stress.

I’ve put together a list of things you can do to help you manage your anxiety and stress through the holidays and into the New Year. There are 30 tips, and you don't have to implement them all at once. If the idea of 30 stress reducing tips stresses you out and makes you want to close your browser right now, take a slow, deep breath. Over the next few weeks I will break these down into more manageable chunks, so that you too can enjoy a less stressful, more enjoyable holiday.

30 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

 stay organized to ease holiday stress

1. Create manageable to-do lists for the day or week. If your to-do list is 50 items long, it’s bound to make you feel more anxious. You want a list that you can actually get done.

2. Organize your to-do lists by location. If you have three stores to visit, try to group your errands so you’re going to places that are near each other.

3. Manage your expectations about how much you can get done each day. Remember, if you’re putting pressure on yourself to get way more done than you realistically can, you’re just adding to your anxiety. Allow yourself to let some things go.

4. Keep your regular sleep habits. Getting a good night’s sleep does wonders for your outlook on the day. It reduces stress and it’s good for your body.

5. Eat healthy. Your body will thank you. Eating junk food can make you feel lethargic, bloated and uncomfortable.

6. Ask for help. You might think your partner, friends or family can read your mind, but it’s not likely! Ask friends and family to help take care of the kids or your dog if you have a long day of working and running errands. Expressing what you need allows others to help out.

7. Let go of perfectionism. I love Pinterest, but having happy holidays doesn’t mean that you have to try every Pinterest idea to create that “perfect” holiday experience.

 take care of yourself during the holidays to reduce stress

8. Take time each day for self-care. Self-care can be as easy as taking the time to read for pleasure, just spend some time doing things that nourish your spirit.

9. Find time to relax. Calming your mind and body can help recharge you for the next task or challenge.

10. Budget your money realistically. You don’t want to go into extreme debt trying to create a perfect holiday, only to find you are totally stressed out later because of all the bills.

11. Budget your time. If you put off everything until the last minute, you’re only causing yourself more stress and anxiety.

12. Manage others’ expectations. Promising everyone everything they ask for will only lead to feeling more overwhelmed. Let your family and friends know your limits.

13. Allow yourself to defy tradition. Before you cave in to the pressure of “we’ve always done it that way,” ask yourself if that’s really how you want to do it or if there’s a simpler, less stressful alternative.

14. Say “no.” Saying “no” isn’t easy for many of us. We worry we’ll hurt feelings or make others mad at us, but saying “yes” to everyone usually leads to anxious, overwhelmed, resentful and irritated feelings.

15. Be okay with making some mistakes. Letting perfectionism go can be liberating, but we also need to be kind to ourselves. When you forget to order something or forget to be somewhere you were supposed to be, know that you are not alone. Thousands of us out there are forgetting things, too. Instead of beating yourself up, offer yourself some words of comfort and allow that you’re human.

16. Fit exercise into your to-do list. Burning off that excess energy and stress does wonders for anxiety.

17. Take time to enjoy the holiday. If we’re caught up in all that needs to be done, we forget why we’re celebrating.

 Pay attention to your surroundings during holidays

18. Practice mindfulness. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and sensations of the season and the holidays can be soothing. I know that frantic shoppers might not seem very calming, but if you take a deep breath and pay full attention to your senses, your body can relax and you might find something to appreciate in all of the craziness.

19. Try to de-stress while traveling. If you’re driving, instead of getting angry about the traffic, take the time have a conversation with your traveling companion, or listen to your favorite podcast, audio book or playlist.

20. When you’re stressed, take a moment to breath deeply a few times. Imagine a soothing presence as you breath in, and a letting go of the stress as you breath out.

21. Acknowledge that holidays can be SUPER stressful. Just allowing yourself to feel the frustration, or anger, or whatever it is you’re feeling can be liberating.

22. Manage your negative self-talk. If you find you’re constantly reminding yourself of all the mistakes you’ve made, try a little self-compassion. It goes like this, “Yup, I could have done that better, but it’s OK. I made a mistake but we all do and it’s OK.”

23. Be mindful that every family has issues. And your family’s stuff, whatever it might be, will not disappear just because it’s a holiday.

24. Each day, think of one thing you are grateful for and share it with a friend. Feeling gratitude can improve your mood if you’re feeling down.

25. Get a hug(s) each day. Hugs make us feel more connected with ourselves and others. If you live alone, you can hug yourself!

 Hugs can help you feel connected and reduce anxiety

26. Allow feelings, even the icky ones. Let yourself feel your feelings, and know they, too, will pass.

27. Focus on the task in front of you. Worrying about your entire to-do list at once can be paralyzing. As they say, “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.”

28. Communicate with those you love and care for. Telling someone you love them and feeling the love from them can be very nourishing.

29. Before you blow a gasket when stressed or anxious, pause before reacting. Slow down your breathing and think about what you want to say before you say it.

30. Check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “What do I need in this moment?” and pay attention to those needs.

If you feel like you might need some additional support to help you manage your anxiety so you can enjoy the holiday season, please call me at 410-340-8469 or email me.


Photo credits go to Luis Llerna, Toa Heftiba, Cecil Vedemil and Nathan Anderson for Unsplash.com.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis, Md counselor who helps high-functioning men and women manage their anxiety and stress. She owns and operates Progression Counseling.