travel anxiety

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

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.

The Anxious Traveler

Anxious traveler

Vacation Anxiety

My family recently took an overseas vacation and it got me thinking about the effects of travel on anxiety. Travel is stressful. Many things are beyond our control, and this can trigger anxiety and stress.

Humans And Life Are Messy

The reality is that we can’t control much of anything in our lives except ourselves. We have even less control over situations when traveling with others to an unfamiliar place. Here are a few things that can take control of our vacations in a hurry:

  • Each person has a unique travel agenda
  • Hunger
  • Being tired and cranky
  • Getting lost
  • Stuff is closed
  • Getting caught in the rain and no rain gear because the Weather Channel said there was only a 10 percent chance of precipitation (this happened to us)

During our trip, when it seemed like all of the above messy issues were in play, I began to feel a looming anxiety. My anxiety usually starts in my chest. I feel tightness and then an increased sense of danger or fear. It is uncomfortable, and my first response is to try to figure out how to make it go away. I started thinking of things I could say to make everyone laugh, and to ease the tension. I wanted to try to accommodate everyone’s needs, in order to make them all happy.

How Our Body Reacts to Anxiety

When we’re in a situation that makes us anxious, our brain then goes into protection mode and gets us ready to fight, flee or freeze. The bodily functions that work to keep us safe, and have been around since forever, start cranking. Our heart races, skin gets flushed, breath quickens and muscles tense. Once the process starts it’s harder to get back to an emotional and physical balance.

If you want to know more about the physical affects of anxiety you can read more about it here

And here is an infographic on the body’s response to anxiety.

Using Mindfulness When Life Gets Uncomfortable

Practicing mindfulness can help us to take a step back and check in with ourselves when the anxiety begins. Mindfulness allows us to notice those physical symptoms and gives us a chance to interrupt the cycle.

If we can learn to calm ourselves before the anxiety kicks into high gear, we can maintain emotional balance even in stressful situations.

Allowing your thoughts to come and go like waves on the ocean, mindfulness calms the anxious mind

Allowing your thoughts to come and go like waves on the ocean, mindfulness calms the anxious mind

7 Steps to Help Recognize Anxiety Before It Takes Over

  1. Take note of situations that make you anxious
  2. Ask yourself, “What is the first sign of my anxiety being triggered?” Often it is a physical response.
  3. Pay attention to your physical symptoms, especially if you know the situation would trigger anxiety.
  4. When the physical symptoms appear, STOP whatever you are doing.
  5. Take a slow deep breath. Take another… and another.
  6. Ask yourself in a kind, non-judgmental way, “What’s going on for me, right now?”
  7. Acknowledge the situations that are beyond your control.

So, while we were walking down a beautiful street, filled with shops, people and sights I had never seen before—which I was totally missing because I was so caught up in how to make everyone happy—I noticed I was anxious and took a slow, deep breath and asked myself what was going on for me.

In that moment, I realized that although my family was cranky, hungry, and everyone’s needs were not being met, it was not up to me to make each person happy. Not only was it not up to me, but also it was an impossible task!

Learning to Accept the Things We Can’t Control

As I said, our anxiety is triggered by situations where we feel powerless. In reality, we don’t have the power to control most of the stuff in our lives, and that means we have the potential be anxious a lot. The key to managing the anxiety is to be able to acknowledge that we have no control, and that this is OK.

If we can acknowledge that life and humans are messy and imperfect, and understand that we can’t control a lot of what happens, then we can allow events to unfold naturally and this can reduce our anxiety. By letting go of the need to “fix-it” or control it we can be there fully and appreciate what is happening in the moment.

For the rest of the journey I worked to let go of the need to take charge of everyone else’s experiences. To recognize the value of being together as a family, in a beautiful country, and to take note of the good and the stressful times together allowed me to enjoy each moment as it came along, and made for an incredibly memorable experience.

I will be leading mindfulness groups for women beginning in October. If you're interested in signing up, or learning more please drop me a line.

This blog post was featured in the Health & Fitness section of the Severna Park Voice.

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, is an Annapolis therapist helping people manage their stress and anxiety. Progression Counseling, offices in Annapolis. 410-340-8469