How do I handle my anxiety about the holidays? (Thanksgiving)

How do I handle my anxiety about the holidays? (Thanksgiving)
November 24, 2015 David Shanley, Psy.D.

With the big holiday just days away, are you feeling stressed, anxious, or worried about Thanksgiving Day?  Are you worried about the pressure of putting on a feast, hosting friends and family, or talking to or seeing friends or family who you haven’t seen for a while? Maybe you have anxiety about making sure everyone has a good time, or that events unfold in a predetermined “perfect” way (as if that’s even possible).

The key to overcoming anxiety during the holidays is to first determine exactly what it is that makes you anxious. Maybe you’re not always an anxious person, but you find that your anxiety spikes when you are in certain situations (i.e. at home or around a specific family member). This would make sense, since anxiety is rarely a global feeling or experience, but rather is context specific. So take a hard look at your upcoming holiday and figure out who or what is making you anxious.

Once you know the situation, ask yourself this: What is the worst thing that could happen that I am so afraid of? And if “x” happens, what will that mean to me? For example, if you are anxious about hosting a dinner party, are you fearful that people are not going to like the food and therefore judge you? Or is your mind telling you that you’re going to forget a key ingredient or dish and therefore mess everything up? It is natural for our minds to predict negative outcomes like these so that we can plan ahead for them. However, if you’re stuck in your head about all of the possible negative events that could happen, you’re likely going to miss out on all of the fun, value, and meaning that the holiday can bring. Therefore, it may be helpful to you to challenge these negative predictions in your mind for accuracy, or simply remind yourself that this is what your mind does (catastrophizes future situations), and return your focus back to the task at hand in the present.

Similarly, take a hard look at the meaning you are making out of these possible negative outcomes – i.e. will your family and friends really change their opinion about you if you forget the cranberries? If something doesn’t go perfectly, or even doesn’t go well for that matter, will everyone really judge you for this and hold onto it the rest of their lives? Chances are, the people you are afraid of potentially disappointing, looking stupid in front of, or feeling awkward around, have a deeper relationship with you than the tastiness of your turkey. Thanksgiving is about being around the people you care about in your life, and showing appreciation for them, not judgment. And remember, that includes you too! So try to relax, be yourself, give yourself a positive affirmation about something you are proud of, and stay in the moment this year. Don’t get caught up in the thoughts about trying to make sure everything goes exactly according to recipe, because life rarely does!

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