How To Manage The Holidays If You Have Anxiety, According To Experts

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The holidays bring with them a flurry of emotions — excitement at the prospect of giving and receiving gifts, joy from seeing family members, and anticipation at getting some much-needed time off work. But on the flip side, the holidays can also be anxiety-provoking for many people due to the additional expectations that often accompany them. Whether it’s the time crunch of hunting down gifts, dealing with financial strain during an expensive time of year, or just coping with the heightened pressure to socialize through the holiday party circuit, facing increased anxiety during the holidays is totally normal.

If you’re struggling to manage your anxiety, know that you’re not alone; around 40 million Americans are affected by anxiety disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depressions Association of America. While there is little concrete data documenting how the holidays affect people with anxiety disorders in particular, scores of anecdotal evidence and experts agree that it is an phenomenon.

One of the first things you can do to manage the anxiety is try to identify the source of your anxiety. Having high expectations for the holiday season or feeling an immense lack of control over the situation can often amplify anxiety, Dr. Jacob Goldsmith, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, tells Bustle. He explains that having a concrete plan is critical to managing anxiety throughout the season.

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For example, one common source of anxiety for people is the thought of attending family engagements. “If you know you’re going to have to spend time with family and you struggle with that, take care of yourself by getting enough sleep [and] regular exercise,” Dr. David H. Rosmarin, founder and director at the Center for Anxiety, tells Bustle. Basically, make self-care a priority.

While setting aside time to relax and take care of yourself are great for managing anxiety, it’s also important to surround yourself with support. Making sure you have a close friend that you can rely on or keeping your therapist in the loop, if you have one, about how you’re feeling are additional important steps. “If you can’t count on emotional support from family, make specific plans to have contact with trusted friends and loved ones to help get you through,” Dr. Goldsmith says. “Even a short phone call with a friend can help.”

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If all of the socialization at parties and with family is making you anxious, Dr. Chloe Carmichael, a New York-based licensed clinical psychologist, suggests prepping a cheatsheet to mitigate some of your stress. Think about the people you’ll be interacting with and write down a couple of things that are going on in their lives that you can use as talking points. “You don’t have to do this, but if you want the anxiety to stop, it’s worth it to carve out 15 minutes ... so you have something to talk about with them,” Dr. Carmichael tells Bustle. It's also alright to say "no" to things if you feel overwhelmed.

Ultimately, the holidays can be a stressful time for everyone. Be mindful of how you’re feeling, find a support system, and plan ahead to help manage your anxiety levels — it might just be the most important gift that you can give to yourself.