It’s the Holiday season! Thanksgiving is right around the corner and Christmas will be here before we know it. I personally LOVE both of these holidays, the family time, the traditions, and all of the memories! But I also struggle during the holidays because of my anxiety. My anxiety can make it incredibly hard to want to participate in any of the festivities. So what do I do then? If I want to take part in all of the Holiday traditions that I love but my anxiety has other plans?
There are three things that have helped me cope with my anxiety and be able to participate in the holiday traditions that I love.
1. Make a plan.
In 2016, I had panic attacks several times a week (sometimes several times a day) and I was struggling. During therapy one day I expressed my concerns about spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with family and wondering how I would be able to cope if I had a panic attack or if my anxiety got really bad. My therapist suggested I make a plan. She invited me to write out anything and everything that I was worried about, whether it was big like a panic attack or someone saying something that triggered me, or something that was in my head completely.
It didn’t matter if these things were actually probable in happening, I just needed to write them down. And then I needed to go through and write out how I would act or react if those things did happen. So I made a plan. I wrote down all of my anxious fears and how I would react. If I had a panic attack I would excuse myself, if someone said something triggering I would watch my favorite show.
After the holiday’s had passed I looked at my list and realized that none of the things I’d worried about had happened (and if they had happened, it had been on a much smaller scale) but I’d had so much peace of mind going into the holidays with a plan. I knew that even if my anxiety wanted to take over, I had a way to cope and work through my anxiety and that made all the difference.
2. Know that it’s okay to take a step back.
If you need a minute (or an hour or a few) to yourself, take it. You don’t have to be a part of every single thing. You can take a step back and fill your own bucket. Do something to help you feel calm or reconnect with yourself. For me, that looks like reading a book, snuggling with Von, watching an episode of my favorite show, and sometimes taking a hot shower. Over the years I’ve realized that whether we are with my family or my in-laws, I need breaks. I need time to myself so that I can feel calm and good when I’m around everyone else.
It’s okay to take a break and give yourself some self-love. Know your limits and take care of yourself
3. Enjoy the moment.
Having a mental illness is hard. It’s hard when it affects every part of your life, including the happy parts. But your mental illness isn’t all of you, it isn’t your entire life. You can enjoy the good parts, you can make happy memories and enjoy spending time with family.
I know that for a long time, whenever I felt happy or excited about something I almost always felt guilty afterward. I had it in my head that because I had anxiety it meant that I shouldn’t be enjoying life, instead, I should just be surviving and not happy. Honestly, I don’t know where this idea came from because it isn’t true! Hard things happen in life, you get sick (or your brain gets sick) and that’s just a part of life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t savor the good moments and good things.
And a bonus tip!
Get enough sleep! I know that I function so much better when I have enough rest. We try to keep our regular sleeping schedule (as much as possible) even when we are with the family so that we will be well rested. Even if that means going to bed a few hours before everyone else, it helps so much!
Do you have any other ideas for coping with your mental illness during the holidays? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!