8 Ways To Deal With Holiday Anxiety

Tips to make your festivities a little more festive — or at least a little less terrifying.

This is Day 5 of The Establishment’s 12 Days of Holiday Self Care series. You can read Day 1 here, Day 2 here, Day 3 here, and Day 4 here.

I f you suffer from anxiety or panic disorder, like I do, the holidays can leave you immobilized in a fog of fear and despair. I’ve dedicated a lot of time the last few years to coming up with solutions to deal with anxiety during stressful situations, and I’m here to share some tips with you! Hopefully, some of them will make your festivities a little more festive, or at least a little less terrifying.

Download an anxiety app. When my anxiety is going into overdrive, I often find myself turning to anxiety apps to get to sleep at night. My favorite is Calm, which has really effective anxiety-relieving and sleep-inducing meditations that give you a brief respite from the nonstop mental chatter.


Eat what you know. Our bodies are incredibly sensitive to what we eat and during the holidays we send our bodies a lot of mixed signals. Tons of sweets at night. No breakfast and huge dinners. Alcohol and eggnog. It’s enough to throw off what little remaining balance we have. I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge over the holiday (in fact I think you should indulge every single day of the year without apology), I’m saying that you want to keep at least one meal a day as something your body is used to. Maybe a nice bowl of oatmeal before you commence to eat all the cookies. It will calm your body enough that you will be able to enjoy those cookies without the painful crash later in the day.

Get some alone time every day. If you have anxiety, you absolutely cannot spend all day with a bunch of people without it taking a serious toll on your well-being. Make some time for yourself every day. Personally, I’ve gotten used to just saying, “I need to get some alone time right now.” It was awkward at first, as there’s so much pressure to want to spend all your time with family over the holidays, but the truth is — NOBODY really wants that. Everybody secretly wishes they could just say “NO I DON’T WANT TO GET OUT OMG I CAN’T BREATHE WHY ARE YOU ALL HERE I HATE YOU I’M GOING TO GO WATCH NETFLIX IN ANTARCTICA WHERE YOU ASSHOLES CAN NEVER FIND ME.” You’re the only one brave enough to do something about it.

Listen to your body’s signals. Your body is usually warning you of an upcoming anxiety attack far before you’re gasping for air or breaking out in a cold sweat. Try to be alert to those quiet signals that you are reaching your limit. If you can pick up on them, and get yourself to a quiet space right away, you can prevent an anxiety attack altogether. For me, the warning sign is a ringing in my ears and a general tiredness. If I feel these symptoms while getting ready for say, a dinner party, and I don’t take some time to calm myself, or even reconsider going to the party at all, there’s hell to pay later on.

Bring your best weapons on your holiday flight. Not real weapons, I’m not trying to get anyone arrested. But have your anxiety arsenal at the ready for those times you need to be 30,000 feet in the air. You need a travel pillow, you need to dress in layers so you can adjust your body temperature, you need your Xanax if that’s your thing, you need your headphones, you need your calming music playlist, you need your audiobook, you need a window seat so you can close the shade and lean your head against the wall and pretend you aren’t flying, you need to pee before getting on the plane, you need snacks. Bring these things in your carry-on, and arrive early. Early enough that you can sit and catch your breath, have a glass of wine if you want, or read a book for a few minutes. You don’t want to start an already stressful experience with running through the airport trying to make your flight.


Remember: gifts don’t matter. Stressed about finding the perfect gift? Stressed about being able to afford a decent gift? Remember this: nobody gives a fuck about gifts. Yes, we all enjoy opening presents, but three weeks later, we’re hard-pressed to remember a single present we received. Even kids — especially kids — have forgotten what gifts they got within a week. The truth is, half the gifts you receive will be broken or tossed out within the first 6 months. The other half will be lost. One day, we’ll all get wise and just buy ourselves the gifts we want and just text each other pictures of what we got and we’ll all be better for it.

Top-off with your therapist. If you have a therapist, try to get in a quick visit or call before you find yourself in a room with all of the reasons why you need a therapist in the first place. Can’t get in before the holidays? Get a follow-up on the calendar so that you know you will have the opportunity to unload all the baggage that will be piled upon you.

Make sure your medications are refilled. So many people I know have found themselves out of town, surrounded by passive-aggressive relatives, without their medication. Get those refills in advance and bring more than enough pills to get through the holiday, in case you drop some or end up staying longer than originally intended. We often get very busy during the holidays and put off going to the pharmacy, but those little pills are going to make getting everything else done a lot easier.


All images: freeimages.com

Like what you read? Give Ijeoma Oluo a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.

The author has chosen not to show responses on this story. You can still respond by clicking the response bubble.