As winter approaches so does the holiday season. It gets darker a littler earlier, the weather begins to get colder, and we prepare for the end of another calendar year. Some holidays are celebrated through quality time with loved ones, parties, decorations, gift giving, shopping, and special seasonal foods and drinks. This can be an exciting time for some and a more challenging time for others. Regardless of one’s anticipation for the holiday season, most can probably relate to an increase in stress and anxiety.
Anxiety is a natural response to real or perceived stressors and everyone experiences this feeling at one point or another. Anxiety can manifest as a physical or emotional response to stress. Symptoms of anxiety might include a racing heart, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, an upset stomach, changes in appetite, feeling fidgety or increased worry. It’s good to remember that anxiety and stress aren’t always negative. They might occur in response to positive life events, like attending a holiday party or planning a big event.
The extra pressure may help get that last big of holiday shopping completed. Anxiety is the body’s way of responding to or coping with a situation. These common anxiety states in response to stress tend to be short-lived and manageable. When physical and emotional symptoms of unmanaged anxiety become so overwhelming that they interfere with the completion of daily tasks, an individual is at risk for the development of an anxiety disorder. Some anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and agoraphobia.
Understanding what anxiety is can be an important first step to its prevention and management when positive or negative stressors occur. Unmanaged stress and anxiety are associated with a number of poor health outcomes, like high blood pressure, skin rashes and sleep or appetite disturbance.
Another good way to prevent worsening anxiety is to learn specific strategies to manage stressors. Here are some helpful tips for coping with the stress throughout the holiday seasons. Practicing stress and anxiety reduction can help to make more time to appreciate the changing weather, times with friends and loved ones and all of your favorite traditions throughout the rest of this year and the next:
- Exercise: Aerobic exercise (e.g. running, swimming, walking) and yoga have been shown to reduce stress, elevate mood, and improve sleep
- Take deep breaths
- Take a break from the stressor. Engage in a hobby or leisure activity, listen to your favorite music, or enjoy a warm drink.
- Laugh. Look for the humor in situations, watch a funny movie, joke with friends, or be silly.
- Talk to a friend about your stress.
- Practice acceptance. You might not be able to make the stressor go away but you can do things to reduce the associated stress and anxiety
- Volunteering is a great way to cope with anxiety and stress, with the added benefit of helping others
- Do your best to eat healthy, consistent meals
- Limit alcohol and caffeine
- Make yourself a schedule of everything you want to get done. Don’t forget to schedule time for yourself.
- Remind yourself of what is truly important to you when you begin to feel overwhelmed by holiday ads, conversations about shape and weight, or all of the things you “need” to do. If negative conversations or disagreements occur, change the tone of the conversation to something more positive, in the spirit of the holidays, like thankfulness or gratitude.
- Aim for progress, not perfection. Expect that all of your plans may not always go according to plan.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, please reach out for help. You can contact Fairmount Behavioral Health System 24-hours a day for a mental health assessment from a team of multi-disciplinary professionals. We can be reached at 215-487-4100
Erin Hopkins, M.A.
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
PsyD Clinical Psychology Student