The Holiday Scaries

Recognize holiday anxiety and help yourself do something about it.

· Mike,Couples Therapy,Anxiety,Holiday Anxiety,Family

If you are one of those people who struggles every holiday with trying to make a decision as to how and who you want to spend your time with, and sometimes you feel like you are a donkey being forced to move —- I’m here to tell you, that you are okay.

If you are a person who desperately tries to make sure that every wish, every vision, every joy of holiday magic happens for everyone —- I’m here to tell you, that you are okay.

Most of us fall somewhere between the two. Some years you may dread all the holiday festivities and the responsibilities that come with them. Some years you may be very excited for the festivities and all of the nostalgia they bring.

The holiday season is a time of the year, that forces all of us to confront underlying anxiety, whether we want to or not. Yet, holidays are exactly that… a moment in the calendar. Don’t let your anxiety shut you down to this time of the year.

The Two Anxieties

In family therapy and psychoanalytic thought, there are two types of anxiety, acute and chronic. Anxiety is about threat. Your body and mind are trying to understand and make sense of whatever possible threat is looming on the horizon (even if its intention is good). Anxiety is future oriented. Sometimes that threat is temporary, like having the Sunday scaries the night before you have to go to work. This kind of anxiety is what we refer to as acute, mainly that it is temporary and we can usually adjust or adapt to it pretty easily.

Chronic anxiety, however, is very difficult to cope with, and may even be anxiety that you are unaware or unconscious of, and may take a long time to understand. It interferes with your ability to process and think clearly about an issue. You may also become very sensitive to chronic anxiety. Sometimes society refers to this experience as being “triggered”. Namely, your fight or flight response is sensitive to even the slightest experience of chronic anxiety.

As an example, maybe growing up you would easily feel misunderstood by your family, and so to cope, you would come up with justifications to try and be understood, but they were often too vague. Well now, as an adult, any situation in which you feel misunderstood causes you to talk too much, too loudly, and you accidentally push people away, which may cause you to feel embarrassed all over again.

Individuality, Togetherness, Turkey, and Santa

All of us have a metaphorical yo-yo between our desire for individuality, and our need to be together. You might be able to think back to moments where you really craved closeness, and other moments where you really just wanted to be left alone. This yo-yo push and pull is directly related to the experience of anxiety that we just discussed, as well as the context of your life as it truly is right now. Holidays force this unconscious yo-yo between individuality and togetherness to happen all at the same time, even if you don’t realize it.

Maybe right now, you just welcomed a new baby into your home, and it has been both a great joy, and a ton of stress as you adjust. Now, your extended family is planning all the holiday festivities and are giving very little flexibility around you being there. They are so excited to meet the new little one that they do not see the discomfort this causes you. Suddenly, the more they pressure, the more you find yourself feeling anxious and pulling away, i.e. demanding individuality.

Maybe right now, you’re juggling work and kids, but a grandparent died within the past year. You find yourself longing for the togetherness you used to experience with your grandparent and family. Now you are the one who is pushing that the holiday menu includes all the items your grandparents made sure to have every year, even if everyone else is ready to let go of the seven layer mayonnaise “salad”.

Having Awareness and Creating Boundaries

The biggest challenge to this dance between anxiety, individuality, and togetherness, is recognizing and holding everyone’s boundaries all at the same time. If you find yourself experiencing anxiety about the holidays, and not sure why, or are very aware as to why, take a breath!

The holidays are just a moment in time even if they force us to notice the unconscious anxiety that is already sitting there. You are not going to solve everything this year. Once you are able to be aware of the anxiety, try reflecting on these thoughts:

  1. Ask yourself what is happening right now? Context is key. Ask what is happening in your life that is causing some of this chronic anxiety to bubble to the surface. Sometimes it might be very obvious, like a new job. Other times, it might be really tough to notice. Like all the kids in the family have gotten older and the family might need to start to pivot away from the kids table. This makes you sad, and you are struggling to transition into this life stage. Regardless, name the facts, so you can begin to deal with the feelings.
  2. If you feel yourself avoiding, what is one better but successful way to stay engaged, even if you feel like you are being forced to do something that you do not want to do? There are a lot of reasons why you feel forced, and those are extremely valid. But that experience of pulling away probably makes the pressure louder. So, is there a small way that you can stay engaged, hold your boundary for individuality, and be successful at it?
  3. If you feel yourself clinging to a vision and demanding/controlling the holiday expectations, stop! Take a breath. It might be really hard to admit that the whole experience of holiday magic might still happen, even if it doesn’t happen the way it is “supposed” to. Is there a BETTER way to think of your holiday vision, that is actually BELIEVABLE? It might not be the perfect vision you have in mind, but it allows the space for others to connect with you.

This holiday season - is just that! It is a moment on the calendar. Even if right now, you are noticing anxiety about the holidays, remember that January is just around the corner and that you are okay! Take a hike, talk with a friend, play some games. You are okay.