The Holidays, with their seemingly blind obsession with being “Merry & Bright”, are supposed to be about joy and festivities. It’s like there are joy police hiding around every corner waiting to pounce on us if we dare voice distress over these days of over-crowded stores, traffic chaos, endless little (and big) moments of socializing, and the pressure to entertain and to be entertained.
Those of us living with anxiety and/or PTSD often find this time of year, this busy, bustling, unnervingly ‘happy’ time of year, to be especially tricky.
I know I do.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t live with anxiety. I must have been born with a racing heart and sweaty palms. A little over four years ago I developed PTSD. This has added multiple new dimensions to my life.
For example, I absolutely cannot stand grocery shopping right before a major holiday – there are so many more people than usual and they all seem incredibly rushed and stressed to be there. It’s just too much. It exhausts me.
And the pressure, both internal and external, to find the ‘right’ gifts and to receive my own gifts with joy can make the whole experience of Christmas fraught with decision making turmoil and stress. What if they don’t like their gifts? What if they think I must be off my rocker getting that coloring book of Bible verses and pretty flowers for my Mother-In-Law?!? Gah.
Over the years I’ve developed many coping strategies for not only surviving, but actually (sometimes) thriving during the holidays. I’m not saying I never find my PTSD flaring up, it always does as stressors increase. But I can say that when practicing intentional self-care around the holidays I find that my triggers are more easily managed, sometimes even avoided altogether.
With this in mind, here are 30 Ways to Honor Your Experience Living with Anxiety and/or PTSD During the Holidays:
1. Don’t try and tell yourself that somehow this year will be the year you don’t get anxious or triggered. That’s setting yourself up to feel even more anxious if your anxiety or PTSD symptoms do flair up.
2. Do tell yourself that if you experience increased anxiety or triggered you are capable of handling them and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re human.
3. If small talk wears you out the worst, avoid talking with strangers and those who only engage on that surface level.
4. If diving into deep conversations is too much for you, avoid those who insist on the deep dives, or refuse to dive with them when they begin – stick to small talk – you don’t owe anyone your private and deep thoughts.
5. If giving gifts causes your anxiety to soar, consider making donations in the recipients’ names instead.
6. Also, you have permission to consider declaring this a gift-giving free holiday for you.
7. If you find yourself at a holiday party or gathering becoming completely overwhelmed or triggered too much, leave. It’s ok to leave early to care for yourself.
8. Consider limited contact with friends and family members who refuse to acknowledge and honor your struggles living with anxiety and/or PTSD.
9. Take care of your body! Drink enough water, eat your veggies and practice good sleep hygiene – they will matter even more during this time of year.
10. Everyone has limits – respect and honor yours. You cannot be all things for all people so the best thing you can do is be the best you can for yourself.
11. Practice caution with alcohol – it may offer a temporary reprieve from noticing your anxiety, but in the long run it will not help and over-doing-it often makes things worse in the long run.
12. Check in with yourself regularly. Do you need an evening alone? A warm bath? Have you eaten enough today? Check in regularly, it’s too easy to lose touch with our physical needs when our anxiety gets pumped into overdrive.
13. Set realistic expectations for what you can do this holiday season. Resist the urge to add just one more thing to your To-Do list.
14. If driving increases your anxiety, consider taking a train, Lyft, or public transit to holiday events.
15. If driving calms your anxiety, volunteer to be the sober driver and enjoy some holiday music while you drive your friends and family home.
16. ¬When attending Holiday events, have an escape plan for if you get overwhelmed (i.e. drive yourself, alert your host/ess you made need to leave early, have taxi money in your wallet).
17. If you will be traveling by air, consider buying noise cancelling headphones to give you a buffer from the noise of airport travels.
18. Allow yourself to feel your feelings without judgment or shame.
19. Release any Holiday traditions that feel draining, feel forced, or feel like hell to even contemplate continuing.
20. Decide which Holiday events will attend based on your needs – NOT other peoples’ desires.
21. Stick with any routines that nurture your peace of mind. Routines are the foundation of thriving while living with anxiety and/or PTSD.
22. Be sure to remind yourself of the good things in your life, no matter how tiny they might seem to you. Find the good things, write them down, add to your list as you’re able throughout the season.
23. Give yourself permission to take breaks at holiday events and family gatherings. Even if it means sitting on the toilet lid while you play a game on your phone for 10 mins.
24. If you know an event will have people or things that will trigger your anxiety or PTSD symptoms, I strongly encourage you to consider NOT attending this year.
25. See a counselor. If you have a therapist you see regularly, consider adding an extra session or two. If you haven’t found a therapist that’s a job fit, try again – it’s worth it once you find the right one.
26. Journal when you’ve had an especially bad day AND when you’ve had a wonderful day. Document it all!
27. Let go of perfect. Make mistakes, offer yourself grace, try again. Perfectionism is one of the ways anxiety holds us hostage – fight it.
28. Remember, it’s ok to be happy, and it’s ok to be sad, anxious, afraid, disappointed. Give yourself permission to feel all your feelings this holiday season – without judgment.
29. Protect your privacy – no one is entitled to the nitty-gritty details of living with anxiety and/or PTSD. Disclose only what you want, to who you want to.
30. Be yourself, love yourself. In the end, you must be your own advocate and cheerleader – keep reminding yourself what you’re ‘getting right’ and offering yourself grace for the things you wish you could handle differently.
My holiday wish this year is that all of us are able to stay present, find joy and continue to provide soothing self-care to ourselves.