One of the worst things about this time of year are all the articles I see about how to deal with anxiety during the holidays. Somehow these authors presume that I usually eat really well and exercise diligently, and they just need to remind me to keep doing so during the holidays. Likewise, they assume that even if I can’t set appropriate boundaries with my family the rest of the year, I will figure out how to say “no” during the holidays. Also, if I take a hot bath or go to a spa, my normally anxious self will be holiday ready. Have these folks ever met an Anxiety Sister?
We in the Sisterhood understand that this time of year is especially anxiety-provoking due to all of the travel, family gatherings, office parties and general expectation of “joy” that overwhelms us (not to mention the sensory overload we feel every time we enter a mall or store). So we are offering real-world help for real-world anxiety sisters:
(1) First and foremost, we want you to know that you have no obligation to “be happy” or even to like this time of year. In fact, give yourself permission to get through these holidays however you are able (or ignore them as much as possible). If getting away for a solo week in an isolated cabin sounds like the best Xmas ever, by all means, do it! Just because December is a culturally-mandated celebration, doesn’t mean you have to partake in it.
(2) Don’t leave home without your Spin Kit. In a nutshell, a Spin Kit is a collection of things that help soothe you when you start to get that “spinning” feeling that often accompanies anxiety. Here’s what’s in our Spin Kits: lavender lotion (aromatherapy and moisturizer), lemon drops and peppermints (strong tastes are great anxiety distracters), noise-cancelling headphones, soft fabric (think of petting a really soft rabbit), instant ice packs, pictures of beloved pets, Tums (acid stomach), worry stones and, of course, Xanax. You can read more about Spin Kits here.
(3) Escape! We recommend sneaking out of anxiety-provoking situations for a walk, bathroom break, or just some quiet time alone as both a reward for hanging in there and a method of soothing your anxious brain. We know an Anxiety Sister who gets to her family’s annual Christmas dinner, immediately says hello and hugs her relatives, then leaves and goes to a local park where she watches a movie on her iPad. She then goes back in time for dinner and escapes again shortly thereafter. She asked us if she should feel bad about this behavior. Our response: NO! This is how she practices self-care and we fully support her efforts and ingenuity. (And we wish our families were big enough for us to do the same!)
(4) When you have to do something that feels difficult, bookending is a really great technique to use. The idea is that you do something to soothe yourself before and after an anxiety-provoking event. For example, if you are anxious about going to a party, call a friend you enjoy talking with on the way. And don’t forget to schedule a “reward” for yourself for getting through it! (we like ice cream, but it can be anything) You can read more about bookending here.
(5) Talk to yourself. Even if you feel that nobody listens to you, your brain actually does! Some of our favorite mantras are “this too shall pass” or “I’m okay” or “breathe in, breathe out,” or anything else that will feel helpful to you. Let yourself know that you have the capacity to get through the challenging events this season.
If all else fails, you can always go to https://anxietysisters.com and push our Panic Button at the top of our website. When you click on this icon, you will hear a five-minute recording of Abs talking you through your anxiety. Our Panic Button is free and you can push it as many times as necessary.
Let us know if you have another strategy that works so we can share it with the Sisterhood.