Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! Jingle Bells! Santa Claus!
Do these words make your heart swoon or send dread all the way to your toes?!?! For some people, the holiday season can be a time of anxiety, sorrow, dread, worry…
And I get that.
If you’re like me and have suffered from PTSD or anxiety/panic attacks, the whole thing and especially socialization of the holiday season can feel like a boulder on top of you. Even thinking about being with all those people and having to have conversations might just send us into a full blown “I refuse to get off my couch and celebrate – bah humbug” state. And possibly even the idea of getting one tree out of the attic -much less seven (yes, I have seven Christmas trees!) – is just too much to handle.
Let me explain. When there is an emotional war going on in our brains the body is trying to figure out how to create balance and peace. Some days it does better than others. And some days it’s a total loss. Either way, when something is thrown in – expected or not – that is out of our control our brains flip out. Our brain is already overloaded and this small feather just sent it into full combat mode. Que the heart palpitations, sweaty palms, shallow breathing, tight chest, dread, fear, and fight or flight mode.
The sympathetic nervous system -the fight or flight system – is fully engaged and anxiety is high with panic riding full force towards us on the horizon. And grandma, parents, aunts, uncles, sisters, nephews, and in-laws are arriving shortly! What am I supposed to do?!?!?!
Here are 5 tips for those of us with PTSD and/or anxiety to use in moments like this.
- Stop. Take a deep breath. And another. And another. And another. When we breathe slowly and deeply for at least two minutes our brain says, “Hey! I was freaking out, but I’m breathing like a calm, relaxed person soooooo – I must be relaxed.” This turns on the parasympathetic nervous system and allows us to relax and calm down the nerves.
- Focus on what is going well in this very moment! We are in control of our thoughts! Much to many people’s surprise, we have the ability to stop negative thoughts from taking over and sending us in a downward spiral. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things.”-Philippians 4:8 (NIV) Paul’s words are written as he sits in a jail cell wondering if he will live or die. If he can focus on positive thoughts in that situation then I can too.
- Get grateful! Begin to name all the things you are grateful for. This also takes the focus off of the negative and puts it on the positive. Gratitude can do more for us than we realize. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal that I write in everyday, and I really notice a difference in how I respond to anxiety producing moments.
- Be prepared ahead of time. Take some time for yourself filling your own cup. Maybe you’ve heard the thought that you can only serve others from the overflow of your own cup. And if you’re dealing with anxiety or PTSD then you need some extra filling of your own cup to be able to deal with life – especially around the holidays. What nourishes you or helps you relax? What is enjoyable? Go do that!
- Choose your activities wisely. What are some parties, events, or gatherings you want to attend (if there are any)? You don’t have to go to all of them. Choose the one or two that will be important for you but also the ones that could end up nourishing your soul. If it’s too much to have Mammy, Pappy, and Uncle George over then ask if someone else can host this year. Things don’t have to stay the same just because, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Being kind to yourself and to others, make the best choice for you.
Implementing these tools won’t stop your anxiety, but they will help you manage it. And as a yoga teacher I often tell my students that when we feel depression we are living in the past. When we feel anxiety we are living in the future. The best way to counteract both of those is to live in the present moment.
Comment below with a way you help manage your anxiety!