I love the holiday season. I love the music, the lights, and the decorations. As a person who lives with bipolar disorder, I appreciate the subtle “backwardness” of the season: We bring live trees inside, put electric lights outside, and tacky is the goal rather than an unfortunate lapse in taste.
However, as a person who lives with anxiety and panic disorders, there is a lot to trip on. It’s a busy time of year, and all of the festivities can become overwhelming. Add in visits from family and friends, holiday travel, and the desire for perfection and a perfect storm of anxiety can easily happen.
Here are four simple steps to survive the holidays, no matter what they have in store for you.
1. Take breaks
Everyone at this time of year is trying to accomplish a lot. Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean we can stop living our daily lives — and those lives are already taking up all of our time. So, with the extra things that pop up during this season, it’s easy to see how anyone can become overwhelmed.
Allow yourself to take breaks. There is no shame in accomplishing a task and then taking a rest. Go for a walk. Read a book. Play with the dog. Remember, the holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. Set a reasonable pace and don’t overdo it.
2. Involve family and friends
This tip has two parts:
a) Ask friends and family for help in completing goals. During the holidays, people are generally willing to lend a hand. Ask those you love for help, advice, or ideas on how to lighten the load.
b) Educate the people around you that sometimes you need a hand from them to help manage your anxiety.
For example, if you visit with family or friends, let them know in advance that sometimes you need to step outside (or into another room, if you live in the snow belt) to gather your bearings. If you’d prefer a hug when you get anxious, let them know in advance that you may be asking for one. Whatever you would like them to do for you, talk to them before you need them to do it.
3. Celebrate your success
If you spend the entire holiday season focusing on things that didn’t turn out the way you planned, you’re in for a pretty crummy December. By not celebrating what you’ve done right, you’re unintentionally tipping the scales to see more of the negative.
Life is a balance of success of failure, and it’s okay for things not to turn out how we intended. Be flexible and allow yourself to be less than perfect. Because, nobody’s perfect and that’s okay.
4. Be realistic and don’t overdo it
The most important tip that I can share is to keep your plans realistic and to not bite off more than you can chew. It’s easy to plan on spending four days with our parents, decorating the entire outside of the house so it can be seen from space, and preparing an elaborate Christmas dinner.
But after you plan it, ask yourself if it’s reasonable for astronauts to know you have holiday spirit. It’s okay not to do it all. And it’s OK not to live up to what other people think you should be able to accomplish. If you can only visit with your family for an hour before you head back to the safety of home, then praise yourself for that hour.
There is no correct way to spend the holidays. If I had to declare any holiday rule, it would be to be merry and joyous and promote goodwill toward our fellow humans.
And spreading goodwill means we have to be nice to ourselves, as well.
Season’s Greetings, everyone, and have a safe and happy new year
Gabe Howard is a professional speaker, writer, and advocate who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is an award winning blogger and the creator of the official bipolar T-shirt_. (Get yours now!) Interested in working with Gabe or learning more? He can be reached on Facebook, or on his website, www.GabeHoward.com. _