Menu planning, shopping, cleaning, decorating, gift-wrapping — the holiday season is a whirlwind of activity and often feels overwhelming. But now that we are in the middle of an ongoing global pandemic, it would honestly be more shocking if you weren’t experiencing some level of anxiety this holiday season. Addison – The Guide caught up with Susan Stallworth, MA, LPCS, of Addison-based Susan Stallworth Counseling, to get her expert tips on how to manage your anxiety during this time.
“As many of us are finding ways to see family while remaining socially distant or making the difficult decision to forego family gatherings altogether, there remains a collective anxiety, grief and looming uncertainty which impacts our decisions day to day,” said Stallworth.
Stallworth shared a quote from Allan Lokos with me, which says, “Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different from the way they are.” This is very timely right now; I, for one, wish I could go to the grocery store without a mask and see all of my family during the holidays! But don’t worry, Stallworth shared six tips for ways to cope and keep this season merry.
She said, “Take a moment to check in with your emotions when you feel irritable, agitated, or sad. The holidays carry meaning and memories and it’s OK to acknowledge the not-so-cheery feelings as you may not be able to carry out holiday traditions this year that often have brought you and your loved ones so much joy. So, when you do an emotional check-in, remember to give those emotions a narrative (internal self-talk). For example, ‘I am feeling really angry and withdrawn today, I’m just so upset that we won’t be able to have our family dinner this year. We have it every year and not being able to have it this year really brings me down.’ The goal here is to self-validate the way you’re feeling, as opposed to attempting to minimize, brush it off or let it bubble over into disrupting another area of your life.”
Engage those five senses
Stallworth recommends decorating with all your favorite colors, buying candles of your favorite fall and winter scents, listening to holiday songs, making your aunt’s famous sweet potatoes, and drinking all the tea, hot cocoa, eggnog and apple cider your heart desires. Additionally, she said to check the weather and on those chilly days, break out your best winter clothes and wear the coziest slippers and the softest sweaters around the house! “Engaging your senses (see, taste, touch, smell, hear) brings you into the present moment in a joyous and peaceful way,” explained Stallworth.
This time of year, it’s easy to find a community store, office or church hosting food pantries and accepting clothes and toy drives (check Metrocrest Services to start). “Find one that speaks to you and donate what you can, nothing is too big nor too small during this time,” said Stallworth. “The feeling of giving is a super great way to help your brain produce more dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin – the feel-good trio of hormones your brain produces.”
Get some fresh air
“Have you noticed the holiday lights up around Addison Circle?” asked Stallworth. “It makes for a beautiful evening stroll in this cool weather. And, Vitruvian Lights starts this Friday! Yay! Also, have you seen the horse-drawn Christmas carriage around? I am RSVP’ing ASAP for an evening carriage ride…what a special way to make new traditions and joyful memories.”
Do a Secret Santa gift exchange
Just because you aren’t gathering together doesn’t mean you have to forego a gift exchange this year. Use sites like Elfster to set up a Secret Santa list, then mail friends and family gifts through the USPS. “Receiving packages in the mail is already fun but add in a surprise gift from your Secret Santa and it is even more meaningful,” said Stallworth. “And, to follow, the many phone calls and conversations that will be initiated from this is another extra bonus of facilitated connection with loved ones.”
“Continue to Be Creative throughout the holidays, just as we have all done all year,” added Stallworth. “No idea is too silly or too small to share. This year, we have made banana bread and we have mastered the art of Zoom calls, among so many other things that have influenced us through our community, and in a way, continues to keep us connected. When anxiety is high, it is tempting to isolate and withdraw; I hope the skills and tips above help you in avoiding that and encourage you to remain connected to the many joys that still exist, you may just have to look for them in different places than you’re used to.”
There’s still light in this holiday season, you just have to know where to look. And, if you need extra help, call Stallworth today to set up a counseling appointment via Zoom. We can all get through this and still make wonderful holiday memories!