It’s always around this time of year that I get this pang of anxiety that doesn’t really go away until the new year. I think, er, rather, I know, it has to do with all of the different social commitments and activities that coincide with the holidays. It doesn’t matter if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or something else, the month of December is usually smack-dab when kids come home from school and relatives many times removed make an appearance in your life.
Whether it’s traveling to see family you usually don’t see any other time of the year, work parties as a plus one where you don’t know any (or barely a few) people, or just the sheer stress that comes with trying to figure out what to gift someone who you don’t really know all that well . . . cue the holiday anxiety!
This year is probably the first year in a long time that I finally feel a bit more at peace with my anxiety because I have a plan.
In previous years, I’d try to roll with the punches with whatever people had planned, but that usually ended up with endless rounds of GI issues from food I couldn’t eat (but didn’t have any other options, so I ate it anyway), as well as countless panic attacks and other unpleasant symptoms from saying “yes” to situations I wanted to politely say “no thank you” to.
It takes a lot to be able to say, “sorry, I can’t eat that,” or, “I brought my own food,” or, “I already ate, thank you.” But in reality, I’d so much rather enjoy company and have already eaten something I know won’t cause a flare, rather than worry about the ingredients in something I didn’t make and play a guessing game of when the bouts of vomit and diarrhea will inevitably strike.
I wish I was joking, but I’m not . . . and up until this year I hadn’t really had the guts to literally put my guts first so I’m not a miserable mess for the weeks that follow all of this holiday madness.
So without further adieu, some of the tips I use to survive (and overcome) holiday anxiety like a pro . . . and by pro, I just mean someone who’s spent far too much time trying to please others at the expense of my health, and spoiler alert, it never ends up well for anyone involved.
1. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you know you can’t eat certain things, don’t try and be adventurous at a company party on a boat that you know only has one restroom for 100 people. Call the host ahead of time to see what food will be served, and if you aren’t able to find out, bring snacks/eat ahead of time/have a game plan to eat after the event.
2. TIME MANAGEMENT. You can do a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean you have to say “yes” to everything. Even if you don’t have health issues, it can be exhausting bouncing from one holiday party to another. Sometimes it’s nice to take a night or a weekend off from all the hustle and bustle. Prioritize commitments that you really want to attend, and then fill in your time as your schedule allows.
Sometimes time management for me means attending a family gathering for a few hours and then taking a breather to collect myself and coming back later (if it’s an all-day shindig). It can be overwhelming to spend time with a lot of people, or even a few people for an extended period of time.
3. GIFT WITH GRACE. Gift-giving is an art unto itself, but you don’t have to let that scare you when it comes to finding “the perfect present.” This year I tried to give gifts that were paired with experiences, or something that was meaningful to the receiver. I know there are a million gift guides circulating on the internet right now, but when it all boils down to “what to get someone,” really think about your relationship with them. Maybe making them something is better than just buying something at the store; but if you don’t have time to do something like that, do something with them like lunch + an activity together. You can make a donation to a cause that’s near and dear to them, too!
I also just found out about a company called Loop and Tie, where you can set your budget and send someone a gift that they can pick out from an assortment of options in your price range. Someone I helped with a project earlier this year sent me a gift on here, and it was the coolest thing, because I had all kinds of options to choose from; it had everything food and books, to decor and home goods.
4. BEING PRESENT IS THE BEST PRESENT. This year we’re driving almost two thousand miles to get to/from our Christmas destination. If it was a more accessible location, we would’ve flown, but alas, my tiny butt is spending nearly forty hours in the car because that’s what ya do for family. AMIRITE?
All silliness aside, don’t forget to take time these next few days to soak in who you’re with and what they’ve done to be there with you. Some people have flown across land and sea to sing carols around the tree, while others have braved the elements (hello, yes, the rain storm we drove through yesterday was HORRENDOUS) to deliver their carefully wrapped goods and treats.
5. WHEN IN DOUBT, STRETCH IT OUT. More likely than not, you’ll be doing a lot of sitting in the coming days. Don’t forget to stand up, stretch, take a break, and walk around. Between the irregular eating patterns, rich foods, and inevitable bouts of stress, it’s good to get that blood flowing. If I’m not mid-flare, lately I’ve really been enjoying a walk after meals. Not only does it help with the digestion process (which, my goodness I need ALL the help I can get), but it also switches things up so you’re not eating and sitting for hours on end after a meal.
Well, there ya have it! My best tips for surviving the holidays, even if you deal with situational, seasonal, or just good ‘ol regular anxiety. Instead of fixating on how stressed out you are right now or anticipate you will be tonight/tomorrow/etc., come up with a game plan of your own on how you think you can best deal with your own stressors.
Don’t overload on the alcohol to cope with stress – that never ends well for anyone. Also, don’t be afraid to speak up to your significant other or trusted family member if you need help out of a stressful conversation with a relative or friend. Be mindful of your sugar intake – crashes and crankiness are inevitable outcomes if you overindulge. And above all else, have fun. If you need me, I’ll just be over here rocking around the Christmas tree (metaphorically, of course . . . still in a fair bit of pain from my hospital “vacation” a few weeks ago . . . and no, I don’t know if there are more stones rolling around in my GI tract. I’ll find out more when I go for an MRI in the new year).
From me and mine to you and yours, Merry Christmas and happy whatever you do or do not celebrate.