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Managing Holiday Anxiety

Written by Miranda Owen 

Miranda Owen is one of NAMI Wake’s work study students, helping us as a social media technician and blog contributor. 

The holiday season can be challenging for anyone, especially those experiencing mental illness, and can be a time of financial pressures, high expectations, and difficult social situations. The celebrations of the winter season is fun for many, but can be a time of sadness, self-reflection, and loneliness for others. This year’s holiday celebrations will present new challenges as most individuals experience more financial stress and a drastic change in their normal holiday traditions based on the pandemic. 

Holiday anxiety can be experienced by any individual, and a certain amount of stress during the holidays is normal. But, for people who experience an extreme amount of stress or who already suffer from mental illness, holiday anxiety can become debilitating and impact their normal lives. Holiday anxiety can present as anxiety symptoms including nervousness, restlessness, trouble concentrating, irritability, panic attacks, and more. Those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder may experience increased symptoms of depression during high-stress holidays and many individuals can experience mild depression symptoms which can also contribute to holiday anxiety. 

The pressure of the holidays and symptoms of holiday anxiety can lead to individuals participating in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as overeating and excessive drinking. The increased anxiety can also impact a person’s sleep habits and cause headaches or migraines. Following quarantine and travel restrictions will also mean this holiday season will be celebrated differently and some individuals may be unable to spend time with friends and family. Changes in holiday plans or having to be away from loved ones because of following COVID procedures can contribute to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and sadness. 

How to Manage Your Holiday Anxiety 

Luckily, there are many ways to manage symptoms of holiday anxiety and seasonal depression. Increasing your social circle in a safe way can help prevent feelings of loneliness and sadness. Consider spending time with friends and family through a virtual setting by setting up a video call. If you can’t travel to see your family, you can talk and celebrate from a distance through Zoom or Skype. Because you may not be able to attend holiday parties with friends this year, organizing virtual game or movie nights will allow you to connect and celebrate with friends despite being apart. 

Additionally, many counselors and therapists are offering virtual sessions which may be helpful for those suffering holiday anxiety and seasonal depression. Seeking help from a mental health professional can be quite beneficial especially during stressful times. 

If you believe you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, spending time in sunlight or under bright fluorescent lights can help alleviate symptoms. Holiday anxiety can also be mitigated through setting realistic expectations for yourself and your holiday experience, seeking inexpensive gifts and activities that allow you to enjoy yourself, and spending time with friends and family (even virtually) can help alleviate feelings of sadness and loneliness. In general, people suffering from anxiety can also benefit from healthy diets, regular physical activity, and a consistent sleep schedule. Always speak to a professional if you experience new or worsening anxiety or depression symptoms. 

Enjoy this holiday season and be sure to stay safe and follow local and state safety mandates. Remember that you are not alone and that many people in your life are likely also experiencing the same difficulties. 

The winter season can bring challenges including stress, anxiety, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Monitor your stress levels, mood, and mental health this season, and reach out to others if you see them struggling. If you or a loved one need to talk to someone during this difficult time, the NAMI HelpLine can be reached at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). NAMI’s 24/7 Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting “NAMI” to 741-741. 

Sources: I, II 

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