The holidays are an exciting time of good cheer, warm family traditions, and spending time with friends. Or, are they?
The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it’s no wonder. The holidays often present a dizzying array of demands — cooking meals, shopping, baking, grief, being with family who have differing beliefs, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. And with COVID-19, you may be feeling additional stress, or you may be worrying about your and your loved ones’ health. You may also feel stressed, sad or anxious because your holiday plans may look different during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Something sets you off, and before long, you feel stuck in an endless loop of intrusive thoughts, anger, or being overwhelmed. Your body tenses, your breathing quickens, and you can hear your heartbeat pounding in your ears.
When you feel anxiety kick in like this, it’s time to calm yourself down. The first step is awareness. It’s a good idea to learn to recognize the first signs of anxiety and get to work right away before experiencing an episode.
Some of these strategies may feel difficult the first few times you try them, but with some practice, they can offer a quick path to relief from your feelings of anxiety.
One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. It may sound basic, but basic is great when managing anxiety symptoms.
Breathing deeply and slowly is key to experiencing the full benefits of it. It’s also a good idea to focus your thoughts on breathing and nothing else.
When we draw our attention to our breathing and really focus on it, the thoughts that trigger the anxiety start to become more distant, our heart rate slows, and we start to calm.
Some people find 4-6-8 breathing particularly effective.
- Breathe in for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 6 seconds.
- Exhale slowly for 8 seconds.
- Repeat until you feel calmer.
Name what you’re feeling
When you’re experiencing an anxious episode, you may not realize what’s going on until you’re really in the thick of it.
Recognizing anxiety for what it is may help you calm down quicker.
Name that this is anxiety — not reality — and that it will pass. When you are in a heightened state of anxiety, you want to disrupt that cycle, and for some people, thought-stopping techniques are effective and as simple as saying ‘stop’ to the internalized messaging that heightens anxiety.
In other words, consider recognizing that what you’re feeling is anxiety and talking yourself through it.
Embrace absolute truths. Tell yourself “I will get through this — one way or another.”
Naming your sensations and feelings may help you step away from them. This is anxiety, it is not you and it won’t last forever.
Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique
When you’re overwhelmed with anxiety, the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique could help calm your thoughts down.
Here’s how it works:
- Five. Look around the room, then name five things you see around you. These can be objects, spots on the wall, or a bird flying outside. The key is to count down those five things.
- Four. Next, name four things you can touch. This can be the ground beneath your feet, the chair you’re sitting in, or your hair that you run your fingers through.
- Three. Listen quietly, then acknowledge three things you can hear. These can be external sounds, like a fan in the room, or internal sounds, like the sound of your breathing.
- Two. Note two things you can smell. Maybe that’s the perfume you’re wearing or the pencil you’re holding.
- One. Notice something you can taste inside your mouth. Maybe that’s the lipgloss you’re wearing.
This technique works best if you pair it with deep, slow breathing.
Try the “File It” mind exercise
The “File It” technique works particularly well if you’re lying awake at night thinking of all the things you have to do or haven’t done, or if you’re rehashing something that happened during the day.
These are the steps for performing this exercise:
- Close your eyes and imagine a table with file folders and a file cabinet on it.
- Imagine yourself picking up each file and writing down the name of a thought that’s racing through your mind — for example, the fight you had with your spouse, the presentation you have to give tomorrow at work, or the fear you have of getting sick with COVID-19.
- Once the name is on the file, take a moment to acknowledge the thought and how important it is to you. Then, file it away.
- Repeat this process with every thought that pops into your head until you start to feel calmer (or sleepy.)
The idea with this exercise is that you’re taking a moment to name your triggers, examine them, and then consciously put them aside with a deadline to tackle them later. In other words, you’re validating your own feelings and making a plan to deal with them, one by one, when it’s a better time.
Hopefully these tips will help you through the upcoming holiday season!
As always, counseling is available at the Women’s Center. Please call 517-372-9163 to schedule an appointment.