Ways to Combat Holiday Anxiety: Show Gratitude

Dr. Kleiner Health Guide
  • It’s holiday time. That means food, cheer, preparation and company. Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. We enjoy family, guests, food and we express our Thanksgiving. It also means anxiety. Some of us play host. Others are guests. Still others have more solitary affairs.


    Remember our formula: anxiety = (uncertainty) x (poor sense of control).


    Being host to a large gathering is like planning a wedding. One has control, but where do the details end? Will they like my basted Turkey? Will the company get along? How late will they stay?  People with a tendency toward perfection may have yet more anxiety as their sense of control is evaluated against an even higher bar.

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    Guests, on the other hand, have neither control nor certainty. From “what gift shall I bring?” to “what shall I tell them when they ask about our son Bobby?” Guests are just that – guests. As guests, we are not in our own home, not in control of events and not able to retire to the couch at our pleasure. It also means that you have to be “on.” Get ready for the small talk and the obligatory compliments to the host about “how delicious” everything is. Americans have been at this for a long time, so hopefully it will be heartfelt.


    Some of us are alone for Thanksgiving or the coming holidays. Often, when we are alone we feel as if everyone else is enjoying a celebration together. We can even feel that the whole holiday season is one big party that we are not invited to. In some ways, being alone allows us both certainty and control. No sweaty palms, obligatory compliments or small-talk. Yet it can be an anxious affair. When alone, we may have more “future fright” or anxiety about the future. Will I be alone for the rest of my life? Why aren’t I part of the hustle and bustle that everyone else seems to be enjoying? This can lead to sadness and anxiety, and many people do often feel emotionally worse during the holiday season.


    Whether we are host, guest or doing it alone, Thanksgiving is not always full of happiness and cheer. So, what to do? My answer is decidedly simple: let’s get back to the basics of this holiday: practice gratitude. This is not an abstract platitude. Rather, recent research shows that people who practice gratitude in their lives can lead happier, less stress-filled lives. But as Robert Emmons in his book “Thanks” points out, gratitude is not simply an aspiration to be thankful. Rather, it is a detailed practice of everyday living.  Easier said than done? Of course. But let’s make it our point of departure for this holiday weekend. Anxiety is animated in part by the uncertainty over things we do not have. Let us be grateful in a detailed way for even the small things that we do have. Choose three concrete, small things that you are thankful for. Write them down. Think about them for 48hrs. Then, thank the person or being who gave them to you. You will be surprised at how much this can help with holiday anxiety.


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    Oh, and one last thing. By reading this, you have given me the gift of your attention. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to express my ideas. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving.        

Published On: December 02, 2008