How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety Over the Holidays

by Nirmala Raniga

While the holidays often call to mind images of joy and sharing, in reality, for many the season can be one of anxiety and stress. During this time, we often feel pressed to find the perfect gifts for family and friends; we can also feel sad and lonely, reminiscing about days gone by and wanting to connect more deeply with others, but perhaps lacking the opportunity or skills to do so.

For people who have experienced trauma in their lives or struggled with addiction issues, many of those challenging feelings can be intensified. When we adopt new, healthier lifestyles, as we work through recovery for example, old friends may not yet recognize and understand the new individuals we have become. There may be pressure to “join in the fun” by falling back on old, destructive habits.

During stressful times, it can be helpful for us to have a plan to follow in order to stay joyful. One of the most important aspects of that strategy is to establish a strong, healthy routine— the most beneficial aspect of which is a meditation practice.

By engaging in silent meditation twice each day, we access the stillness that exists in each of us. We then bring those peaceful feelings into our daily activities. However, when special occasions such as parties and other gatherings during the holiday season alter our day-to-day pattern, we can become distracted from our regular practice, just when we need it most. By remaining committed to our meditation practice throughout the season, we will reduce the stress this time of year can bring.

We can also do our best to remain grounded in the present. By simply closing our eyes and paying attention to the breath as it gently flows in and out of the nose, we begin to let memories of the past or worries about the future slip away, and we feel more at peace.

Self-care is also essential to maintain for our well being during the holidays. This includes understanding and managing what can be unhealthy triggers in our lives. It is also good to remain aware of those things that are not helpful to us. For instance, if we have challenging relationships, we can plan to limit the time we spend with those individuals or choose not to get together with them at all.

Developing a healthy perspective about shopping and giving gifts can also be very helpful. Although, the momentary excitement of giving material objects can be fun, we can make people far happier by being together and sharing an experience. Therefore, consider getting together with friends and family for a day of hiking, a picnic, a movie night, or a special dinner. Such an event will offer memories that will last a lifetime, far longer than the enjoyment of the latest fad.

Reaching out to help those in need can go a long way in fostering feelings of happiness. Whether we volunteer at an animal shelter, spend time serving meals to the homeless, or bring gently used clothing to a woman’s shelter, giving to others helps foster a deep sense of connection to the community.

We can also make a list of people, experiences, and things we are grateful for. Gratitude grounds us in the present, allowing our egos to step out of the way and paving the way for greater joy. Engaging in conversations with like-minded individuals about all that we appreciate in our lives can also build a stronger sense of connection and community with one another.

The holidays come but once a year, which can be a relief when we’re facing difficulties, but also be times to cherish with those we love and care for. By caring for ourselves first and having clear, solid plans to follow, we can enjoy the season to its fullest and create beautiful, lasting memories.

Wishing you a safe and joyful holiday season.