Note: this is a newsletter I sent to my subscribers last month. I’m sharing it here because I’d like for it to reach anybody who needs it.
October is nearing its end. The holidays are almost here, with their cheerful extra-helping of anxiety and, for many of us, increased mental health issues.
You can’t magically make it all disappear, but you can make a plan to take care of yourself the best way you can, and minimize the struggle as much as possible.
This is not easy, but the first thing you need to do is figure out what are the things that stress you, and make a list.
Triggers & Stressors
If you feel like it would be good or helpful for you, ask a friend to do this exercise along with you, so you can support each other.
- Decide on what you’re going to do, once the list is complete, to ground yourself.
- For example: take a walk or a bath. Message or call a friend. Meditate. Do some yoga. Watch a silly TV show. Anything to decompress and bring you back to the present.
- Prepare anything you may need for your decompress activity.
- Set aside half an hour to work on this.
- If at all possible, it’s best to do it sometime when you’re not too tired or already stressed.
- Schedule it on your calendar if you have to.
- When your scheduled time comes, get a cup of your beverage of choice, preferably something comforting.
- It can be something alcoholic, of course. Just don’t go overboard with it. You need to be able to think clearly about this stuff.
- Set a timer – half an hour should be more than enough.
- Write down your stressors.
- Ordinary, small things that stress you (like holiday music at the grocery store). These are not much on their own, but they can have a cumulative effect, especially when you start dealing with the bigger, more complicated stuff.
- The evitables: participating on Secret Santa Exchanges, last minute shopping, spending money on gifts, drinking or eating too much, accepting invitations you don’t want to, etc.
- The inevitables: things you’re dreading but probably can’t get out of. Parties you don’t want to attend, work or study deadlines, relatives you don’t want to visit, etc.
- Things that may send you down an anxiety or depression dive. What are the things that are really triggering for you? This is very personal, but some common examples: being alone on certain days. Attending events where you have to listen to bigoted people, be it relatives or co-workers. Being responsible (especially if you’re the sole organizer) for a party or event. Traveling. Anything that reminds you of past trauma.
- Ping! Timer is saying this is enough.
- Take a deep breath or several.
- Do your grounding activity. You can pick this up again later, or another day.
How To Minimize Your Stressors
Once you have your list, it’s time to see what you can do about it.
- Once again, think about some grounding for when you’re done, since reviewing your list may stress you.
- Get your beverage, and set the timer for another half-hour.
- Go through the list, item by item, and think about what can you do to avoid or minimize them.
These should be the easiest. Examples:
- Events and invitations – Just say no, even if it’s hard. Think about all the stress, anxiety and pain you can save yourself.
- Spending money on gifts – Hear me out: tell people you’re not going to receive or give gifts this year. I know it sounds weird and impossible, but I’ve done it and after the initial shock, people are usually on board (shopping is stressful for many of us) or at least cool with it.
- Last minute shopping (or last minute anything) – Plan in advance. There’s still time to get things done before December arrives.
And if you’re thinking “But I wont’ have money until December 20” or anything along those lines, you have two options to make things easier on yourself:
1 – Don’t spend money.
Be creative and make things, or offer your time instead of objects.
2 – Do everything else in advance.
You can start the process now: window shopping, looking for options on line, figuring what you want to buy. So when the money arrives, all you have to do is actually buy the stuff.
Starting now also allows you to set a budget and stick to it, since you’re not in a hurry and wading through a pile of “this is all that’s left”.
Ordinary, Small Things
This can also be easy to figure out. For example:
- Holiday music – you can wear headphones and listen to your own music almost everywhere, or at least some nature sounds or white noise.
- Crowded stores – try to plan your trips for times when there’s less people. I know that’s not always possible, so think of it like a challenge and give yourself some prize after you have braved the Inhospitable Plains of Walmart or the Cursed Target Dungeons.
For the things you can’t get out of – work parties, family celebrations, etc – think about what can you do before or after the events to minimize your stress.
- For a work party, try to find a coworker who’s equally not happy about it and team up to keep each other company during the party. Or make a plan in advance to avoid people who stress you too much.
- Family celebrations can be the toughest to deal with, so take sometime to really make a plan. At what time are you arriving, and when can you leave? Do you really need to spend three days cooking, or can you buy, order or simplify stuff?
- Also, think about the questions that always make you uncomfortable, and come up with a couple of possible answers to end or redirect the conversation. Get some ideas & strategies here and here.
And remember: if you feel up to it and it’s safe for you, saying “I don’t want to talk about that” is always a legitimate option. You have a right to set your boundaries – you don’t owe anyone information that you don’t want to share.
Things That May Trigger a Mental Health Spiral
This is a really hard one, and I’m sending you all my support (and hugs if you want them). 💜
So, take a deep breath and let’s see how you can take care of yourself to the best of your ability.
1 – Being alone
If being alone on certain dates is really hard for you, how about finding some place you can be with people?
- See if any of your friends would like to get together. It doesn’t have to be a big thing – a cup of coffee and a movie is a great way to pass the time and keep each other company.
- Look for volunteering opportunities. Being part of a group of people who’s trying to make the world a little bit better can be very helpful sometimes.
- Going to a cafe or restaurant for a few hours is an option, too. It may be hard to be among strangers, but there will be things to distract you, to keep you focused on something other than your own thoughts.
- If you can’t or don’t want to leave your house, look for online events, or organize a virtual get-together yourself. You’re not the only one feeling lonely and looking for company, I assure you.
2 – Ignorance, bigotry and prejudice
If your main trigger is attending events where you have to listen to bigoted crap – be it from relatives or co-workers – the first solutions is not attend.
Seriously. I know it often feels impossible, but you can just… not go. Stay home. Go somewhere else. Some people will be pissed or offended, sure. They’ll probably get over it eventually. (And if they don’t, you may want to consider if you really want these people in your life in the first place.)
The thing is, what’s worse? To piss off a few people, or the downward spiral you’ll have to deal with, after you attend this event?
If you can’t avoid attending, think of ways you can at least avoid listening to prejudiced bullshit. Walk away, go to the bathroom, offer to help in the kitchen or to watch the kids…
If it happens during dinner or other situation when you have no option but to sit there, try to tune it out and think of something else. I know it’s hard, and it may not work, but if you can’t walk away or say anything, zoning out and focusing on your breath or something that makes you happy (like your latest book obsession or a movie you’re looking forward to) can help to blunt the effect this crap can have on you.
And remember: this person is ignorant and they’re wrong. Anything they say is not about you – they’re just showing their ass, and you’re a convenient target.
3 – Hosting
Hosting a big reception or event (or even a small gathering) is not easy, and it can be very, very stressful. If you’re the sole organizer/host, it’s even harder.
If this is you, and you can’t or don’t want to cancel, how about asking for help? It may feel like a failure, but it’s not, I promise.
People are usually happy to help, and it may even make the event more fun. Just be willing to let go of perfectionism, don’t get attached to any particular outcome, and don’t micro-manage everything.
4 – Traveling.
Any kind of travel during the holidays is complicated and more stressful than usual. More crowds, weather trouble, even the prices are usually up.
For some us, packing, leaving home, staying at someone’s house or a hotel, or the prospect of going back to our parents or relative’s homes are big stressors.
If you don’t want to go, you should definitely cancel your travel plans, if that’s an option for you.
Otherwise, it’s time to think about what specific things you can do to make it all easier on yourself.
- Packing – make a list (or find one online) in advance, and try to pack in advance as well. You can start putting things aside (or directly on your suitcase) weeks before your trip – anything that you won’t need for your day-to-day but you’re taking with you.
- Tickets – If at all possible, book your tickets in advance. The earliest, the best. It will give you better options and less stress.
- Documents – figure this out ASAP. You don’t want to be running around trying to find your passport, health insurance card or whatever is you’re going to need, the day you’re leaving.
- Comfort – what do you need, to feel safe and comfortable? Headphones, books, crafts like knitting or crocheting? Your own soap, a small blanket or travel pillow? Fluffy socks and your favorite sweater? Some snacks may not be amiss. Think about these small details now, and you’ll be happy you did, when you most need them.
5 – Anything that reminds you of past trauma.
I’m not list any examples here, because trauma is a very personal thing. Only you know what’s triggering for you, and (hopefully) what helps you when you are triggered. So, write those things down, and add ways you can give yourself these things during the holidays – which is a time of the year that can exacerbate or bring out our trauma responses.
Good things to include are:
- Support – who can you call to ask for help or a kind word? Better yet, ask them to check in on you from time to time, to make sure you’re okay. You can return the favor, too.
- Meds – if you take any, try to make sure in advance that your supply is enough and up to date. Set up reminders to take them if you need.
- Therapy – if you’re able to, schedule a session or two in advance. Especially if there are certain dates that you know are going to be very hard.
- Coping exercises – breathing, meditation, going for a run, yoga, journaling, whatever works for you.
Okay, take a breath. That was hard. You’re okay, you’re very brave and I’m proud of you. 💙
And I know it’s not fun, to go through this exercise. But if you do, you’ll be setting up a system to protect yourself, and make things easier for you during a time of the year when everything feels more raw and difficult.
The Practical Stuff
Set aside some time to work on this, and give yourself space and time after you complete the process. It’s normal to feel tired and emotional when we take a look at the dark side like this.
A Notion Template
I’m a big fan of Notion, so I made a template to make the process more simple for me – and for you, if you’re a Notion user as well. You can get it here: Holiday Anxiety Manager*
* My subscribers got the template and this guide first, for free. If you’d like to enjoy future offers and get stuff like this delivered directly to your inbox, you can become one of them by joining the list here: Anxiety Toolbox. 😉
Next time, we’ll look into the other side of the coin: how to find and protect our joy during the holiday season.
See you then!
And that’s it for today. I hope it’s useful for you. If it’s not, there’s always next time. 🙂
Have questions, or something you’d like me to write about? Hit reply and let me know.
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