Holiday Anxiety (3 of 5): Increased Demands and Activities
by Reneau Peurifoy

A third source of holiday anxiety is lack of self-care. A good way to avoid this is to keep in mind is that your body is a machine with a limited supply of energy. On days when you are rested and feeling good, your energy tank is full. On days when you are ill, stressed or experiencing lots of anxiety, you tank is empty. Because the demands of the holiday season cause you to have less energy than normal, you need to prioritize your activities and focus on those that are most important.

While this seems like common sense, it’s amazing how often people ignore this simple fact. One reason for this is that when you are stressed, small things tend to take on major importance. Take time make a list of all the things you feel you need to do. Then, decide what is really important and what you can either let go or leave until after the holidays. Making a list on paper often makes things seem more manageable than just running through them in your head.

When an upcoming event is going to be stressful, such as an office party or a family gathering with difficult relatives, avoid doing chores or activities that can be delayed or ignored just before and after the stressful activity. Instead, plan things that you find relaxing or pleasurable so you can decompress after a stressful event. You can also, schedule quiet evenings at home between stressful activities so you can recharge.

Another way to apply the idea that your body is machine with limited energy is to make sure you do things that give you extra energy. One key area is sleep. In fact, there is a link between lack of sleep and anxiety. Make an extra effort to sleep the full amount of time that is restorative for you. This is especially true before and after attending parties or other events that are energy draining. Along with sleep, it is very helpful to make any exercising you do a priority.

Because the holidays can be very busy with many opportunities to eat rich foods and deserts, it’s easy to abandon healthy habits that leave you with even less energy. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Make an extra effort to eat healthy meals before and after holiday meals. Enjoy a slice of pie, but not three. It’s also helpful to drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks or skip alcohol altogether. When going to a party, have a healthy snack before you leave so you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.

During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s easy to forget to take medications. Make sure that your refills are up-to-date and make an extra effort to take medication as prescribed.

There are two things that cause you to be more vulnerable to colds and flu during the holidays. Stress tends to lower your immune system while at the same time, you’re around more people in close quarters. Washing your hands before eating and after social events is a simple way to reduce your chances of getting sick.

Holiday travel can also be very energy draining. Take your time driving and plan to take longer because of the increased holiday traffic you may encounter. If you are flying, schedule flights during off peak hours, check with the airport for scheduling changes, and give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and through checkpoints. When you encounter delays at the airport, remind yourself that they are normally either due to bad weather or minor repairs being done to make sure you remain safe during your journey. Take a book, crossword puzzle or something else you enjoy to pass the time.

Holiday Anxiety (2 of 5): Increased Demands and Activities
by Reneau Peurifoy

During the holiday season there are increased demands on you along with many activities that only occur at this time of the year. These make it easy to over-commit yourself. Since the holidays last for several weeks, make a deliberate effort to pace yourself and limit the number of activities you do.

One way to do this is to ask yourself the following three questions when you are considering whether or not to participate in some activity.

  • Do I have the time and money to do this?
  • Would it be enjoyable, or if not is there some compelling reason to do this?
  • Do I really want to do this?

Unless you can say “yes” to each of these questions, this is probably an activity you can skip.

As you think about activities that you plan to participate in, identify the people and situations that trigger stress. Then, figure out ways to avoid or minimize them. For example, if visiting a particular relative triggers lots of stress, tell them you can’t make it this year, or, if you feel you must visit them, just drop by for a few minutes, say hello, and explain that you have other engagements.

Likewise, if you find parties and large family gatherings stressful, limit the amount of time you spend there. How much time you spend at the party is usually not as important as being there. Come late and then excuse yourself early. Showing up is often all that matters. You might also find that bringing a friend can make an event less stressful.

Because the cost of holiday shopping adds up quickly and can make you feel out of control and anxious, draw up a budget before you start shopping and stick to it. One easy way to do this is to make a list of the people and things you want to spend money on along with the amount you want to spend. Make sure the total is within your budget. After you’ve calculated the total, place that amount of cash in an envelope. Then, restrict your holiday purchases to money from this envelope. When the money is gone, you stop your holiday spending.

One final idea is to avoid the inconvenience, crowds, and horrors of the mall parking lot by doing the bulk of your shopping online. When you do choose to go out, plan ahead, and as best as you can, avoid shopping trips and activities during times of peak activity. Avoid last minute scrambling to get gifts or buy supplies for cooking. Make lists and have a purpose for shopping trips.

In part three of this series, I’ll discuss the importance of self-care during the holidays.

Holiday Anxiety (1 of 5): Unrealistic Expectations
by Reneau Peurifoy

Since I’m launching my new website as we approach the end of the year, I thought it would be helpful to start my new bi-monthly posts on something that is commonly called ‘Holiday Anxiety’. This is a term used to describe increased anxiety that many people experience from early November through the first week or two of January. For some it can start as early as the beginning of October.

Holiday Anxiety can be caused by any one or combination of the following:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Increased demands and activities
  • Lack of self-care
  • Difficult family gatherings
  • Emotions triggered by painful childhood associations

In this article I’ll talk about the first cause, unrealistic expectations, along with some practical steps you can take to reduce holiday anxiety caused by it. In the articles that follow, I’ll look at each of the sources of holiday anxiety along with practical steps you can take to quiet the anxiety generated by each. If you come from a troubled family, the last two will be especially important.

It’s easy to get caught up in what you think the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. If, in the past, you’ve run yourself ragged trying to live up to old holiday traditions, consider breaking with tradition and doing something different this year. So what if you don’t get the lights on the roof or don’t buy that special Christmas ornament for the kids? And do you really need to find the perfect gift for everyone on your gift list when most enjoy a simple gift certificate or gift card?

Instead of becoming focused on trivial things that cause you to miss the true purpose of the holiday season, take some time to think about what you want the holidays to be for you. For many this is simple the opportunity to reconnect with friends, family and be good to each other. Others also see it as a time for focusing on spiritual things. There are many ways to do this without exhausting yourself with what you think you should be or do. Take a few minutes to make a list of simple things that bring you joy so you can focus on them.

As you consider things to put on your list, decide whether it may be time to try something new and abandon traditions that you have long ceased enjoying. For example, let someone else prepare the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner or have a potluck where everyone brings a dish. It may even be time to think about buying a pre-made dinner or going out to a restaurant. Instead of getting the entire extended family together, you may want to just spend time with friends or relatives you feel close to.

In part two of this series, I’ll look at ways to manage the increased demands and activities that occur at the end of the year more effectively.