For many of us, the winter holidays can add extra layers of anxiety to our lives. Although holidays that involve gift-giving can be a beautiful time of generosity and the New Year a time of renewal, they can also be filled with expectations (both internal and external) and triggers that can suck the fun right out of it for us.
In many ways, anxiety and worry are conditioned into our minds and bodies. Our anxious mind thrives on fear and can create huge, catastrophic stories that are no more real than back in the day when we daydreamed about dating Britney Spears or being a Backstreet Boys groupie (I know that wasn’t just me).
Unfortunately, if we are in the habit to listening to and giving too much weight to these anxious stories and the fearful and powerless way they make us feel, we can get lost in them for hours or even days. We can feel like hiding or numbing ourselves just to get through the day, and when you add holidays to the mix it can be even more challenging.
I believe that one of the most effective techniques for getting freedom from anxiety is to develop a relationship with the other, more empowering parts of ourselves in order to make them just as real as the anxious stories can seem. It’s important to develop practices that get us in touch with our compassionate, loving, and wise self that always believes in us and is always with us.
Here are a six tips for getting freedom from anxiety over the holidays around three big stress-inducing areas. Think of this time as a great opportunity to practice loving yourself and re-conditioning your mind to trust your compassionate self as much as you do the anxious one.
Area #1: Expectations of Family
This is a BIG one for a lot of us. Whether we are the black sheep of the family, the one providing the holiday meals, an only child or one with six siblings, we all face expectations from our families that can make us feel shame or fear that we won’t be able to meet them.
I have a friend who travels in from out of town for holidays and the exception of them is to spend every waking moment with their family. Another friend’s family indulges heavily in food and drink, and they would prefer to stay sober.
For me, I experience anxiety around maintaining my own identity and feeling empowered. I have spent a lot of time and energy on discovering who I am and developing self-love, and sometimes being around family can make me feel so small and afraid because some of them would like me to be different than I am.
Tip #1: Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries around what you are and aren’t willing to do is a courageous act of self-love, especially when you make them from a place of empowerment and are truly honoring yourself. This may involve renting a hotel room instead of staying with your sister, removing yourself from a painful or frustrating conversation, or asking for others’ help in preparing your home for big family gatherings.
What do you want for yourself through the holidays and how do you want to feel? Create boundaries that support you in accomplishing this. It may be a little scary to set and stick with your boundaries, but ultimately you are showing yourself (and your anxiety) just how strong and capable you are. It also helps you move one step closer to knowing that you’ve got your own back.
Tip #2: Self-Care Time
Whether it’s ten minutes of dancing in the kitchen to your favorite songs, heading to a yoga class, or taking the whole DAY off, giving yourself time to be recharge and be peaceful is essential. Not only does self-care give you a greater capacity to be with your family and their expectations of you, but it also can reduce your anxiety by calming your nervous system and shifting your perspective. There’s nothing like doing something just for yourself and just because you want to to help develop a relationship with that caring and loving part of you.
Area #2. Gift-Giving
Another anxiety-inducing area is around gift-giving. If your winter holidays involve this ritual there is much beauty to be found, but there can be a lot of pressure and expectations we put on ourselves as well. We may want to give the BEST PRESENT EVER!!! Or we may judge ourselves on how expensive the gift is or how much effort went into it. Either way, gift exchanges with family, friends, and colleagues can be a stressful prospect.
I definitely fall in the camp of wanting to find the perfect gift. A part of me feels like if my gift doesn’t make the person either jump up and down or cry a little, then I have failed. Who doesn’t want that kind of reaction, am I right?!
Tip # 3: Don’t Overthink It
What are us folks with anxiety so adept at? Overthink Things! Seriously, the other day I zoned out worrying and following some anxious story so long that when I came back to the present I had no idea how long I’d been in the shower or how I’d gotten there. It’s too much!
When it comes to gift giving some thought is required, but don’t let trying to find the perfect gift that meets all your high expectations suck all the joy out of the process. Allow yourself to get quiet and listen to your heart. Go window shopping and when something jumps out as reminding you of someone, go with it! Or even allow yourself to ask the person or someone close to them what they want or need. If giving a good gift is so important to you that it causes you anxiety, I’d say you’re a darn caring person and whatever you give will be wonderful!
Tip # 4: You Are Enough
Seriously, you absolutely are. You are a unique gift in the lives of people around you and you don’t have to do anything more to make that true. It is ALREADY true and it always will be. You are enough and you deserve to be treated that way, especially by you. Write it on your mirror, hang it in your office, put a sticky note on your dashboard: “I Am Enough. I Am Enough. I Am MORE than Enough.”
I have a friend who has a sweet picture of herself as a child for her cell phone lock screen. It reminds her to be good and kind to herself now, which means she is being loving to that little girl. Find a picture of yourself as a child and remember, that child is enough and so are you.
Area #3. Starting a New Year
This one gets me every year. I LOVE New Years. It feels like a fresh, beautiful start and it is one of my favorite holidays. But, depending on how we look at it, New Years can feel like a time to remember all the ways we disappointed ourselves and how “resolutions” aren’t always so resolute. We can think of it as “BYE 2017 and good riddance!” which robs us of the parts of the past year that were actually great and leaves us feeling like we’re trying to escape. That is no fun! And it stresses me out just thinking about it.
Tip #5: Celebrate!
We often spend all our time trying to achieve things, or get things, or prove things, but no time at all actually celebrating! Look back on 2017 and think about everything you’ve accomplished, and allow yourself to be proud.
Here’s a place to start: Just look back at the past week and make a list of everything you did. For example: grocery shopping, went to my kid’s recital, updated my website, took the dog to the park, finished War and Peace…Write down anything and everything, from the small to the huge! All of it matters. What do you want to celebrate about the last week? Month? Year?
Celebrating gets us in touch with the part of us that knows we are capable and powerful, and it quiets the critical mind. Practice celebrating yourself every day and see what happens!
Tip #6: Make Empowered Resolutions
Often we make plans for change each New Year that are fueled by shame or disappointment. We focus on what we don’t want to be: out of shape, broke, stressed, etc. but not on what we really want. It can sometimes be difficult to determine what our empowered dreams are, but one way to tell is how it makes you feel when you make the resolution.
For example, I want to make plans this New Year to get back in shape and lose weight. That goal would feel very different if I chose it because I hate my body, because I don’t think people will like me, or because I expect myself to be a super model.
However, when I come at it from the perspective that I actually enjoy being in shape and I just feel so much better when I’m strong and active, it has a totally different feeling. An empowered feeling. I want to be in shape because I love being strong, not because I’d hate myself if I didn’t.
When you go into the New Year, allow yourself to make resolutions from a place of empowerment, joy, and even fun! Know that they are goals that show you what really matters in your life, but not an evaluation of your self worth. You are always enough and you are always worthy.
I wish you so much peace, love, and joy over the upcoming holidays! Allow yourself to have some fun and practice giving yourself the gift of self-compassion and care. You are amazing and you deserve it!