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Manage Anxiety During the Holidays with These 5 Simple Strategies

It’s no secret that the holiday season can be incredibly stressful and trigger anxiety for many of us. Managing the symptoms of anxiety can be challenging when we’re also trying to get through our to-do lists and take care of our kids. Instead of reacting to symptoms of anxiety when they happen, you can plan ahead to prevent them in the first place. Though you might need to invest a little time now, it can save you from unnecessary stress and anxiety right in the middle of your holiday celebrations.

Make Sleep a Priority

Managing anxiety or any other mental health condition requires sleep. A lot of sleep. None of us are at our best when we’re exhausted and lack of sleep will only make anxiety worse. It can also lead to or intensify symptoms and feelings of depression.

Most moms are already tired and running on empty, and the holidays only add to the never ending list of things we think we have to accomplish. As a result, sleep often falls to the bottom of the list. This season try to prioritize your sleep and create the right conditions for getting restful shut eye.

Try to get in bed at the same time every night. Also make an effort to get up around the same time in order to help regulate your circadian rhythm. Another consideration is to create a relaxing bedtime routine that when done regularly, will act as an internal cue to your brain and body that its time to sleep.

This could include things like diffusing essential oils that promote sleep (lavender is always a great choice), journaling, reading for 10 minutes or listening to music. Whatever you decide to do, try to stay away from screens, bright lights and big conversations before bed.

Keep To-Do Lists Reasonable

Anxiety can easily creep up and become overwhelming when we push ourselves to get more done. Unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves to create the perfect holiday for our kids and families are often the main culprit.

Take time now to decide what really is important and of value to you over the holidays. Is it showing up to preschool with hand decorated sugar cookies that took you 5 hours to make or will buying a package at Costco on your way to work do the trick? Do your kids need the latest and greatest toy under the tree and if so, is it worth you driving all over the city to find it?

Try not to over commit to activities, parties and other events that will keep you out late. Do as much of your shopping in advance as you can (and set a reasonable budget – overspending can cause a lot of anxiety) and let your fingers do all the work. By this I mean shop online, take advantage of retailers offering free or discounted shipping and even spend a little extra to have them gift wrapped.

Plan Ahead as Much as Possible

Feeling overwhelmed and anxious over the holidays can often be tied back to trying to do too many things simultaneously. When we’re caught up in the busy rush of holiday preparations and managing conflicting priorities anxiety can rear its head and stop us cold.

If you’re traveling over the holidays take time to think through what you need to take care of your basic needs. What can you start putting together now that will make your travel time feel more manageable? How can you keep your toddler entertained during your 5 hour layover in Chicago?

If you’re running errands with your kids, plan to bring along water, snacks, books and toys to keep them happy and entertained. Avoiding a meltdown in the food court at the mall or waiting in the car pool line because of some extra planning is a life saver. Make lists, leave yourself sticky notes, and set reminders on your phone to help keep you focused.

Set Realistic Expectations of Yourself

All of these suggestions may seem reasonable if your goal is to get a lot done and be more productive. But what if you took the time to evaluate your expectations of yourself and the holiday season in general before jumping head first into planning and prep work?

As moms we’re bombarded with pressure to create magical memories for our families. This often leaves us feeling guilty and anxious when we can’t live up to the hype that we see from our favorite bloggers or influencers on social media. Do yourself a giant favor, stop scrolling and evaluate where you’re at – right here, right now. If you’re at home with a newborn and can’t find the time to shower or brush your teeth consistently, this probably isn’t the year to try and host a dinner party.

If you’re being honest maybe the best gift someone could give you is meal delivery service. Perhaps a few hours of free babysitting are what you need so you can get out of the house alone. Find time to carve out space for you to catch your breath, focus on the present, and mindfully readjust your expectations.

Talk to Your Family About Your Needs

Anxiety during the holidays can be caused by family and the pressure we feel to live up to their expectations. Whether it’s driving across three states to be at your mother-in-law’s farm, or bringing cookies, salad and dessert to your sister’s annual New Year’s Eve party, there is always someone who wants something from you.

Make this the year that you decide what’s best for you and clearly communicate your needs. This might mean that you have to decline last minute invitations or shake up family traditions. It may also mean you leave early from events to keep with your kid’s nap and bedtime routine. You might also find yourself in the place where you just end up saying “no, that doesn’t work for me this year.”

Also look for ways that your family can support you. Lean on your partner to help with preparations, last minute trips to the store or late night gift wrapping. If your family isn’t nearby, consider asking your friends or other social support for help over the holidays. Provide them with specific, tangible things they can do to lighten the load, or that allow you the necessary time to take care of yourself.

Finally, remember that the holiday season is short and it will be over before you know it. With a little planning and giving yourself permission to adjust your expectations, you can reduce the stress and anxiety you feel. If your anxiety feels unmanageable or out of control, talk with your health care provider as soon as possible.

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Shannon Hennig is the Program Director of the Maternal Mental Health Research Collaborative.