The end-of-year holidays are usually a merry business, full of family-time, good food and laughter-infused moments. They are also slathered with an agitating anxiety, because it means coming face to face with people you haven’t seen in a while, meeting people who have few filters – which can mean ill-timed unfortunate jokes – and somehow confronting the fact the life isn’t exactly the way you envisioned last year.
If you are hosting a party, it can mean juggling many hates – friend, firefighter and chef. And if you are deciding travel plans, you may find the long lines and little control you have over other people’s homes a tad disconcerting.
Either way, take a deep breath. This holiday bug is so common, says one expert, that most are infected by it, albeit to varying degrees. (Yes, even those who won’t acknowledge it.) “Some face fears of flying, some worries about the expenses, others have had previous bad experiences during holidays, or maybe [having] the family responsibilities and even coming back home to the big extended family [can produce anxiety],” explains Dr Asma Geitany, Psychologist at Openminds Psychiatry, Counseling and Neuroscience Center.
Mass gatherings can also be intimidating if you are not used to it. Dr Harry Horgan, Clinical Psychologist, German Neuroscience Center, classifies the feeling people get during these holidays as a more social anxiety. “Social anxiety is the most commonly experienced form of anxiety for people during the Christmas holidays. Social anxiety is characterised by a fear of evaluation by others in social contexts. Whether it be with work colleagues at a staff party or time spent with family, there is an increased expectation of social interaction outside of our day-today socializing,” he says.
The good news is, there are many ways to mitigate the panic attacks that you feel might follow.
1. Go prepared: Plan, plan, plan. “Start your planning ahead of time, while considering back-up plans for the most unpleasant common scenarios that you may occur during your trip, to reassure yourself and overcome any concerns,” says Dr Geitany.
2. Calm down and breathe. Make some time to conduct some mindfulness exercises to help centre you before the storm. Sneha John, Child & Adolescent Psychologist, LifeWorks Holistic Counselling Centre, recommends a morning practice. “Re-live a positive memory, imagine your happy place or visualize an accomplished goal. Quieting your mind before starting the day can help you face unexpected situations with clarity,” she says.
3. Figure out a constant. While ‘holiday mode’ is full of change and sometimes bustle, it’d help to have one predictable sequence of events, be it breakfast at the same time or waking up at the same hour, say the experts.
4. Be realistic: Some gatherings are going to be uncomfortable. Some people will be thorny – there’s no helping that or getting away from it. “Practice being assertive and focus on the quality of the long-term relationship rather than meeting all expectations. Being calm, firm, polite and clear while committing to demands will surely take the pressure off. Clear communication can work wonders. Practice communicating what you can commit to when a request is made. Keep such communications brief without getting into much details,” suggests John.
5. Risk/reward analysis: Dr Horgan goes a step further, when it comes to being realistic. He says: “A good approach is to develop an awareness of the specific circumstances in which social anxiety arises. In which of these scheduled occasions does anxiety represent a price worth paying for benefits? For example, feeling closer and more connected to family may be worth experiencing anxiety for. However, there may be other situations where it is a less worthwhile expenditure,” he adds.
6. Don’t let the past guide you. Going into a situation with pre-conceived notions will only result in you overthinking things and looking for meaning in a conversation that may not exist. “Practice taking some actions at face-value and avoid analyzing the motive behind each family member’s gesture. Focus on the positives of the conversation and possible communication strategies that you could use to overcome a conflicting situation,” says Dr John.” But if it becomes a case of face the bully, remember says Dr Geitany, you are well within your rights to draw the line.
7. Choose your battles. And your responsibilities, says Dr Geitany. “Distribute responsibilities among members and allow yourself to be creative when problems occur.”
8. Keep an eye on the cash. Don’t get carried away with elaborate goodies that are ‘just-out-of-your-budget’. Don’t overspend as that’s a great way to be anxious for the rest of the month and doesn’t account for any surprise expenditures that may come your way. Create a checklist for gifts, set a budget limit and try not to exceed it, explains Dr Geitany.
9. Laugh it off: Finally, accept that things are NEVER perfect. And even with you working hard the result, there may be hiccups along the way. As the experts say – just focus on taking it easy. It’s supposed to be a happy holiday.