Four shopping trips, three awkward chats, two crowded parties, and a dinner with your rude in-laws. Unsurprisingly, the holidays can bring about increased stress and heightened expectations. In addition to our everyday lives, the holiday season can come with pressure to host family get-togethers, attend extra work functions, and create holiday activities. Family dynamics, social anxiety, and already busy schedules can all trigger anxiety during the holidays. 

But fret not; you can get in front of your holiday anxiety. You can identify your triggers and develop solid coping skills like grounding techniques. With a practiced plan, you’ll be able to handle the five most common anxiety triggers during the holidays. 

Is it anxiety or holiday stress?

Holiday stress can be challenging to differentiate from anxiety. Stress is typically defined as an emotional strain resulting from demanding circumstances. Stress can accumulate from overwork or extending yourself socially with little to no self-care or downtime. 

Anxiety is the most common disorder in the United States. By its clinical definition, anxiety is a physical and/or mental reaction to a perceived threat. While 1 in 13 people worldwide suffers from anxiety, only 1/3 get treatment. If you suffer from anxiety, know that you are not alone! Nearly 30% of people experience anxiety at some point in their lives.

There are three common types of anxiety. Generalized anxiety is excessive worry in several areas of your life, such as your job, health, finances, relationship, etc. A phobia is an intense fear of something specific, such as a fear of spiders, And panic is an extremely anxious response, including panic attacks. You may experience one or more of these types of anxieties in your life. 

What can cause anxiety?

A few different things may cause anxiety. Since anxiety is the intense, excessive, and persistent worry of everyday situations, it can crop up on us at any point in our lives. Specific periods of our life when we experience additional stressors, increased health issues, or particular trauma may contribute to our brains developing anxiety. We experience stressors, and anxiety often bubbles up to protect us from the ongoing or perceived threat.  

Anxiety can develop from genetics, brain chemistry, and/or life events, including: 

  • A difficult childhood and or adolescence experiences
  • Stress and or trauma at a young age
  • Physical health problems
  • Stress, overwork, change, and financial issues

What are typical anxiety symptoms?  

Anxiety can lead to physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms. These symptoms result from our body’s response to a perceived threat. Some anxiety symptoms may include poor concentration, uncontrollable worry, sleep disturbances, muscle tension, excessive nervousness, increased heart rate, digestive issues, and/or avoidance of fear. 

Anxiety can materialize in different ways. Each person may feel or tell themselves something different depending on the situation and circumstances. Some people choose to externalize their anxiety to better separate themselves from it and handle the onset of triggers. Others embrace anxiety as a part of who they are while accepting and loving this part of them wholeheartedly. 

Manage 5 Common Anxiety Triggers During the Holidays 

Anxiety can be triggered at any time in our lives, even daily for some. When we have added stress, such as not getting enough sleep or not eating well enough, anxiety can become more commonplace or intensify if already present. During the holidays, we experience these added stressors more often, triggering our anxiety to be more consistent or intense. 

One of the best strategies you can employ for anxiety is to plan. Be sure to talk with your friends, family, and therapist about how to identify and address situations ahead of time in which you may feel triggered. When you regularly practice your coping skills, you can easily apply the coping strategies. 

Here are a few common anxiety triggers that may surface during the holiday season and coping skills you can try. 

1. Overcrowded public spaces

The scene: You’re wading through crowds of people in an overstuffed holiday market. 

Coping skill: Try deep breathing: breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 6 seconds, and breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds.

2. Choosing which family events to attend

The scene: Your great-aunt is hosting Christmas dinner and is expecting you and your family to attend. Your father has also asked you to visit at the same time. 

Coping skill: Utilize cognitive behavioral therapy to decide where to spend the holidays by listing the pros and cons of each choice (try this worksheet).

3. Holiday parties with lots of strangers

The scene: You attend a work party where you only know one or two people.

Coping skill: Craft a getaway plan for yourself. Identify when you’ve reached emotional capacity and give yourself the tools to leave when ready. 

4. Holiday shopping and spending

The scene: You’ve got a holiday shopping list longer than St. Nick’s and a limited budget. 

Coping skill: Discuss alternate ways to celebrate with loved ones. Reframe gift-giving as a token of gratitude rather than the amount of money spent.  

5. Extended family get-togethers

The scene: You’re part of a full-day family affair for the holidays, which includes a variety of personalities and political perspectives 

Coping skill: Take a walk. If conversations get tense, find physical space to clear your head. 

Bonus coping skill: Set boundaries. Know which conversations you’re comfortable with and how you’ll disengage from potentially triggering topics. 

Therapy Support for Anxiety 

While there are many anxiety coping skills you can work on individually, a therapist can significantly support your efforts. 

You can seek out cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT challenges and identifies unhealthy thinking patterns associated with anxiety, sometimes using relaxation skills or exposure therapy. Your therapist may also prescribe medication to lessen the symptoms of your anxiety. 

Our clinicians can help you address your anxiety. If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started.