12 Self-Care Tips to Help Manage Holiday Anxiety

Anxiety Relief for the Holidays


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Anxiety Relief for the Holidays


Whether you are spending holidays away or at home, this time of year often brings increased time pressure, financial strain and the pull of multiple social, work and family obligations. This is also the time of year when you tend to compromise your self-care. You might sleep less, drink more alcohol, eat more foods heavy in carbohydrates and sugars, and skip your exercise routines. That's a perfect recipe for anxiety. Here are some insights and quick strategies to help you manage anxiety before it puts a damper on your holiday fun.

Carol Povenmire, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist with a practice in Pasadena, California.

Remember The Rumpelstiltskin Effect


In the fairy tale, identifying the name of the malicious dwarf nullified his power. You are more likely to feel alarmed and upset when you don't understand what is occurring. By naming the collection of physical, emotional and cognitive symptoms as anxiety, you demystify your discomfort and describe the experience in a way that can be addressed.

Redefine Anxiety


Anxiety becomes more intense when it is perceived as a sign of loss of control or a symptom of weakness. It is important to redefine the experience of anxiety as an opportunity to learn new skills. Relabeling anxiety in this way reduces its threat potential. If you perceive something as a threat that must be immediately overcome, it amplifies your own state of physiological arousal and gives the experience the power to challenge your sense of mastery or control.

You tolerate mild levels of discomfort much of the time. You get hungry, annoyed, cold, or sick. Perceiving anxiety as a form of temporary discomfort, and one that can be made more tolerable with new skills, gives new meaning to your experience.

Transform Arousal Into Physical Action


Reduce anxiety by discharging the supply of stress-related hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, in your body. Some forms of vigorous exercise also produce an endorphin release. Endorphins are natural hormones that have a calming effect on mood and also reduce physical pain. These physical releasers could include:

- Walking or hiking
- Running
- Swimming
- Jump-roping
- Rock climbing
- Playing tennis or hitting baseballs in a batting cage
- Chopping wood

While outdoor exercise has the additional effect of changing your physical environment, you can also exercise indoors on a stationary bike, treadmill, or rowing machine. Cleaning and dancing are also physical releasers.

Try Three Breathing Techniques


Another physical form of anxiety reduction occurs through breathing techniques. In stressful times, you often hold your breath without being aware of it. Notice your breathing pattern. If you are taking in shallow and rapid breaths, your body may need more oxygen. By not exhaling fully and deeply, you may also be building up a supply of carbon dioxide in your body. There are a variety of ways to reduce anxiety through breathing techniques, here are three exercises to try:

Exercise #1: Belly Breathing


Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, involves placing one hand on your abdomen and inhaling slowly and deeply into your abdomen. Exhale slowly and fully, making sure to expel all the used air in your lungs. If you are breathing properly, your hand on your abdomen should rise and fall with your breath. It might be helpful to lie down during this exercise.

Exercise #2: Counting Breaths


Some people use counting as a way to ensure that they are breathing deeply and slowly. There are different recommendations with regard to breathing, but you could explore breathing in to a slow count of six, holding for a count of three, and then breathing out to a count of eight.

Exercise #3: Alternating Nostrils


Alternate nostril breathing is an additional option. Cover one nostril with one hand and inhale slowly. Then cover that nostril with your hand, and exhale slowly out of the other nostril. Imagery can also be helpful. Imagine breathing in cool blue air and breathing out hot red air.

Try these exercises for 10 to 15 minutes and notice any changes in your level of anxiety.



Mindfulness is a term used to describe a meditative process that focuses on your breath. One form of mindfulness training involves simply following your breath as you inhale and exhale. If you become distracted with other thoughts, you are encouraged to gently return your focus back to your breath. Other forms of mindfulness meditation encourage a focus on immediate sensory experiences, in addition to the act of breathing. By limiting your attention to following your breath and other physical sensations, you focus on what is immediate and present.

Get Distracted


One of the most effective strategies for intrusive anxiety is cognitive distraction. Rather than focusing intensely on your internal state, you focus away from it. You often increase your symptoms of anxiety by monitoring them closely, so redirecting your attention reduces anxiety. Distraction can also channel feelings of helplessness or paralysis into tangible outcomes that affirm your ability to change situations and make decisions.

Distractions include:
- Watching TV or movies
- Listening to radio, podcasts or music
- Counting Backwards from 100 by 7s
- Reading
- Doing puzzles
- Organizing and filing
- Cleaning
- Cooking
- Sewing, knitting or needlework
- Rolling coins

Clear the Clutter


Create a calming environment by reducing clutter and disorder. Changing the physical environment by clearing surfaces makes your surroundings a peaceful sanctuary. Enhance your comfort more by playing relaxing music, using soft lighting and smelling your favorite scent. Avoid media that amplifies on violence or conflict.

If you share your home with others, look for a separate space or portion of a room that you can use for a personal retreat, or find an easily accessible alternate place such as a library.

Find the Right Words


Journaling is an excellent way to explore and express feelings. By writing them down, you are externalizing them and letting them go. Journaling also allows you to identify possible distortions or exaggerations in your thinking, and to highlight new ways of responding to events.

You can also provide comfort and consolation when anxious by reading affirmations or through prayer. Affirmations are simple statements that encourage us to reflect on our feelings, behavior and circumstances in new ways. Write your own affirmations or look online for some examples.

Try Physical Contact


Animals, particularly cats and dogs, are great companions in anxious times. Stroking a cat or dog reduces blood pressure and provides a nice sensory experience for all parties. Other forms of relaxing activities include:

- Brushing your hair
- Getting a massage, pedicure or facial
- Taking a warm bath or shower
- Rocking in a chair
- Having sex or pleasuring yourself

Seek Support and Comfort


Confiding in others reduces the sense of isolation or embarrassment that can come with anxiety. Often, they may share their own experiences with anxiety and offer techniques that helped them. If you know that you are headed into an anxiety bound experience, knowing that you can share feelings before, during, or after the experience with a supportive person helps to make the entire process more tolerable.

Add to Your Self Care Toolkit
Vasyl Dolmatov/istockphoto


The best way to minimize your lifetime risk for anxiety is to have a good baseline strategy for self-care. If you have a healthy sleeping and eating routine, a pattern of regular exercise, adequate personal time, and a good social network, you are already managing anxiety. If not, here are some strategies to consider:

- Get your sleep. There is a clear relationship between sleep quality, mood stability and emotional resilience.
- Maintain an eating routine that includes regular meal times and reduced consumption of sugar and caffeine. Low blood sugar levels increase anxiety. Low or fluctuating levels of blood sugar increase the likelihood of panic episodes, as does caffeine use.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise reduces the level of cortisol and adrenaline in your system, and it increases production of other mood stabilizing elements.
- Monitor your alcohol consumption. Alcohol reduces levels of anxiety initially, but as alcohol levels drop, anxiety levels can actually increase over their initial baseline.
- Build a good social network. Interpersonal connection is beneficial in reducing isolation.
- Place yourself in novel situations to increase your comfort with new circumstances. Engaging with the unfamiliar builds your trust in your capacity to navigate surprises.
- Sing in the shower and look for opportunities for a good belly laugh. Both of these activities provide an endorphin release. A good sense of humor also provides a healthy perspective and emotional resilience.

Find a Peaceful Co-Existence


While all of these strategies offer ways to reduce anxiety, there is no option to eliminate it altogether. Anxiety is information about an anticipated change or an unmet need. While you might not always welcome the information, anxiety is performing an essential role in alerting you to your changing internal state and external circumstances. Rather than hoping for an anxiety-free life, you might hope for a peaceful co-existence.