I had so many people asking questions about how to manage holiday anxiety and stress that I decided to do an entire podcast on this. This is part 1 of a 2-part podcast Q&A.
Q&A from this episode include
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp
This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com. CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors. Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.
Spread the love! Everyone needs tools for anxiety...
If you like Your Anxiety Toolkit Podcast, visit YOUR ANXIETY TOOLKIT PODCAST to subscribe free and you'll never miss an episode. And if you really like Your Anxiety Toolkit, I'd appreciate you telling a friend (maybe even two).
This is Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 214.
Welcome back, everybody. We are approaching the holiday season. In fact, some of you may already be in the holiday season. And if that is so, I wish you nothing but joy and peace and fulfillment. I really do. I hope you have moments of elated joy.
Now, while that is my wish and my intention for you, I also know that the holidays can be pretty dang hard. It is anxiety-provoking for the best of people, let alone if you’re already struggling with a mental illness or an anxiety disorder, or you’re struggling with anything really. It can be so incredibly difficult. So, what I wanted to do is answer some of your questions.
So, what I did is I went on to Instagram and I asked my community: What are your questions? What do you need help with over the holidays? And they’ve given me a bunch of things to talk about, and I’m going to go through each and every one of them.
Now, this is actually a two-part podcast. This week I’m answering general questions about managing anxiety throughout the holiday season, or just general stresses. And next week, we’re talking about setting boundaries during the holidays with family and loved ones. Setting boundaries. However, the truth is we don’t even need to make this specific to the holidays. This is for everybody at any time. So, if you’re listening to this and it’s not the holidays, it’d be probably helpful to listen to it at any point in time.
Before we do that, I wanted to share with you the “I did a hard thing.” The “I did a hard thing” segment is where people write in and they share what hard things that they have been doing. This is a really important part of the podcast. If you’re new, or if you’re being with us for a while, I really want to stress the purpose of this podcast is to inspire you, is to help you feel like you’re on the right track, that you’re not alarmed, that people are doing the hard thing and I want you to know how they’re doing the hard thing. So, I’m going to share, this one is from Marilee and she says:
“I’m facing the fear right now. We moved two weeks ago. Today when I was getting dressed and picked up my socks that were laying on the floor in the living room, a silverfish crawled out from where it was laying. I hate them. It’s probably a phobia. I compulsively checked and cleaned in the previous place to get rid of them. I feel them all over my body.” As you’re listening folks, you’re probably feeling a little itchy and scratchy, I’m sure.
“I imagine them everywhere and anywhere. My hard thing is to feel these feelings. I’m going to give myself permission to feel anxious and freak out about it, to do the reasonable thing and buy lavender scented sachets and place around the house, to not compulsively clean and check to find them. I’m doing it right now. It is hard, but I’m not going to let this fear dictate how I live in my home.”
Marilee, you’re literally walking the walk. This is so good. I love what you said. “I’m going to allow myself to feel the feelings. I’m going to give myself permission to feel anxious.” You’re doing the hard work, and that is the hard work. Even when I’m meeting with face-to-face clients, they often will say like, “But what do I do?” And this is exactly what you do. Somebody who’s doing it in real-time. So, yay. Congratulations, Marilee. You are doing the hard thing.
Let’s get over to the questions. We’ve got a ton of them. So, let’s go through one by one. I’m going to do my best to address each and every one, but I’m guessing each of these could probably have an episode of their own. So, I’ll do my best to manage time here.
1. How do I enjoy the moment?
Some of my thoughts may get somewhat repetitive, but that’s on purpose. So, here is what I’m going to encourage you to do: Going into the holidays, we want to enjoy it. Even the Christmas paper and the stockings, depending on what holiday you celebrate, and we want to be inclusive and uncover all of them, all of them are centered around community and joy and celebration.
I want to give you permission to not have that expectation, to not try to make this holiday Instagramable. I know that’s not a word, but you know what I mean. So, when you drop the expectation that you’re going to enjoy it, then you can start to be curious about what’s actually happening and be present about what’s actually happening. And I want you to notice little things.
This isn’t a real example. Every year, I make the same mistake and I’m promising myself I’m not going to do this this time – I know that putting up all the Christmas stuff is so fun. We turn the music on, the kids get all of the decorations out. In my mind, it’s such a special moment, but I’m rushing the whole time.
I remember last year at the end of the holiday, I actually caught myself rushing and reminded myself, just get in touch with your senses. Of all the decorations, which one do you enjoy the most? Simple. Which texture do you enjoy the most? Which color? Which shape? Do any of them bring back memories? And just get really basic and simple. Don’t worry about the overwhelming joy and the satisfaction of it ending perfectly, but just get in touch with the small things. For me, it’s like, I hate wrapping presents, but I love giving presents, and I’m going to try to slow down and just really focus on the giving. And if I happen to receive a present, I’m going to really focus on the receiving. The receiving of the present. Just get in touch with the simpler things and put aside this massive goal to make this overly joyous. So, that’s that.
2. How do I let go of last Christmas?
Last Christmas I had COVID, and that’s when my anxiety started. So, I’m going to generalize that often when we go into the holidays, we may actually have memories of events that weren’t so great in the past. Maybe you had a huge family fight last year, or in this case, you had COVID last year, or you were lonely and alone last year. A lot of us are probably grieving with what’s going on, and I’m going to give you permission to just grieve.
Your question said, how do I let go of it? And I’m going to basically say, I think it’s important to check in on what letting go will look like. Letting go isn’t going to mean you have any less grief. We’re not going to get rid of the uncomfortable feelings. But what you might do is you might make space for that grief, and then you might put your attention on how you want this moment to be. Only this moment. Don’t even worry about the future and the holiday, but just focus on right now. Where am I? How am I? Am I okay? What’s going on? Again, go back to the sense and the smells and the shapes. And allow grief, validate your grief, pushing it away. It’s only gonna make it worse. So, validate it. Yeah, last year was hard. Last year was really difficult. I’m going to be super gentle with myself about that.
Now, if you find you’re ruminating about it, you might want to catch yourself on that and bring yourself again, back to the present moment. That’s all we can do.
Well, it’s funny because I actually like the word “surviving.” What that means is getting through one minute at a time. Just that’s sort of, you’re going back to the bare bones. This is going to be hard. We know it’s going to be hard. It’s a beautiful day to do hard things. You know I was going to say that. And I don’t mind the idea of surviving. But here is where you can make some choices. And this is important for the whole holiday, is we actually do have some choices on how we perceive the holidays. So, if we’re saying, “Okay, let’s just get through it minute by minute. But as I do it, I’m going to walk in with a real positive bias.” So, the thing to remember here is this positive bias and negative bias. Negative bias is, I’m going to look at the negative. Positive bias is, I’m going to look at the positive. You could also have a neutral bias.
And so, what I want you to do is, as you go minute to minute, it’s important that you acknowledge that you have a choice on whether you say, “This sucks. This sucks. I hate it. It’s not good. I wish it was better. Why isn’t it better? This sucks. I wish it was better. It sucks. I don’t wish it was this way.” That’s really negative bias, and that is a choice. Unfortunately, I’m giggling. That is a choice we make.
Now, another choice would be to go, “This is wonderful. It’s excellent. I love it.” But that might not even land either. That’s not super effective either. But what you can do is take the judgment out of it and just be aware of what is happening. Again, be aware and drop the expectations. Be gentle, and find joy in the little things.
Last year, we didn’t get to see my husband’s family. We didn’t get to see my family. It was just us at home, and I thought it was going to be really terrible. But what I loved was making a big deal out of the simplest things. Like, hot chocolate, get your favorite mug, get the chocolate that you like, put the toppings on it that you like, and really savor it and watch the heat come off of it, and find joy in teeny tiny little pots of the holidays. Again, it doesn’t have to be Instagramable. It doesn’t have to be Pinterestable. And yeah, go minute to minute.
4. Winter blues.
Now, this is a big one because some people do have a clinical diagnosis of seasonal depression. Now, if that’s the case, I encourage you to go and see your doctor. There are tests they can do. There are supplements you can take. There are UV lights that you can use that have some science-backed behind it that can help with the winter blues medication you can take. So, I don’t want to gloss over that as like, “Oh, you just feel sad.” No, that’s actually a clinical diagnosis and you deserve to get treatment for it. And so, definitely go and see your doctor and talk to your doctor about that.
5. Social anxiety.
“I panic due to social anxiety. So, how will I manage that?”
Social anxiety is, again, its own diagnosis, and it’s usually the fear of being judged. I will talk about this a little in next week’s episode, but here is the thing to remember: The truth is, people are going to judge you. They are. But that is not a reflection of you. It is a reflection of them, and it’s out of your control.
If I wear fabulous purple boots to Christmas, which I am not going to, but I wish I was now that I think about it. If I wore purple boots to Christmas and a family member judged me, that’s not evidence that my purple boots are ugly. It’s evidence that they don’t like purple, and they don’t particularly like these purple boots. And that is a reflection of their views. It doesn’t make them right, it doesn’t make them valid and it doesn’t make you wrong. The best thing we can do for ourselves is give ourselves permission to allow people to judge us. And then our job is just to feel our feelings about that and be super gentle. Ouch, it hurts when people judge us. Yeah. But that’s very human. It’s a part of the human condition to not be the same as everybody else. Thank goodness. We’d all be wearing purple boots to Christmas. That wouldn’t be so fun after all.
Now, when it comes to panic, we have tons of episodes on panic. I encourage you to go and listen to them and really double down on your practices there because the more you resist panic, the more panic will come. Your job is to allow it, to be kind, to send to yourself, to breathe through it. Don’t catastrophize and wait for it to pass on its own, which it will.
6. “I do not want these holidays.”
It wasn’t really a question. It was a statement. It says: “Everyone is happy and serene, except me.”
This is my favorite one, to be honest, this is the one that actually I think we get caught up in. Number one, there’s a lot of black and white thinking here.
“Everyone is happy.” Well, that’s not true because I have a whole bunch of questions here from people who are telling me that they are not happy.
“Everyone is serene.” Well, that’s not true. Most people find their mental health goes down over the holidays. That’s just the facts.
So you’re not alone. Sometimes I find it really helpful to share with your friends that I find the holidays really, really hard, and they’re going to say, “Me too. This is what I find hard. What do you find hard?” And it might be different. They might find it difficult to get the shopping. You might find it difficult to manage the finances of gift-giving. They might find it difficult because they have food restrictions or an eating disorder. You might find it hard because you have anxiety and you might have anxiety about meeting people or OCD about contamination or whatever it may be, harm obsessions. It could be anything.
And so, everybody’s diagnosis and everybody’s brain come with us through the holidays, which means not everybody is happy and serene. So, I want to just give you permission to not isolate yourself in your thinking and acknowledge that, no, not everybody is happy. And even if on Instagram, they have big, old happy faces. They may have just had a massive fight with their father-in-law or their sibling or somebody. You just don’t know.
7. “I have travel anxiety. How can I manage that?”
Well, again, travel anxiety is no different to social anxiety or any other anxiety. I think it’s about your willingness to be uncomfortable, your ability to be compassionate and coach yourself through it. I would encourage everyone to start to do exposures to their fears ahead of time. That’s really important. We use exposure and response prevention a lot with specific fears like travel and any other fear. I have a whole course called ERP School that teaches people how to expose themselves to their fear. And so, that’s super important. That’s super, super important.
So, yeah, that’s what I would encourage you to do. And give yourself tons of grace because not only are you traveling, but you’re traveling during a difficult time. The holidays are hard to travel in, not including it’s still COVID, not including we’ve had a lot of time where we haven’t seen a lot of people. So, seeing for the first time is really, really hard. Really, really hard. You haven’t had practice. You haven’t been naturally exposing yourself to it, so the anxiety is going to be higher.
8. How to get through the holidays without my therapist?
Here is what I’m going to encourage you all to do. I have a patient who always jokes with her family, and her family always jokes with her. When she’s struggling, they sit down and they say, “WWKD.” WWKD is “What would Kimberley do?” or “What would Kimberley say” is sometimes the acronym, WWKS.
And so, what I’m going to encourage you to do if you have a therapist and you’re unable to see that therapist is to ask yourself, what would my therapist say about this situation? What advice would they give me? What would they tell me to do? If you don’t have a therapist, you might say, “What would Kimberley have me do?” Even though I’m not your therapist, which I want to be really clear that this is a podcast, it is not therapy, but you know what I’m going to encourage people to do. I’m using mostly science-based treatment goals and tools. So, you could say, “What would the science have me do?” or “What would the general treatment look like in this setting?” And try to do that and get through it as best as you can. Again, go back to just getting through moment to moment.
9. “How to manage the financial aspect of the holidays? I don’t want to let people down.”
Well, here is the thing: Whether you have $10 to spend on a family member or $100 or $1,000, it’s important to remember not to spend more than you have. The thing is, the people who love you don’t want you to go broke because of the holidays. Most people don’t want you to suffer and they definitely don’t want you to be under distress financially or emotionally. And I think it’s important that you acknowledge that. And it’s okay to let people down. If you let people down, that’s their business. It’s not your business to try and control how people feel about you and what you give.
The gift of giving is exactly that – it’s about giving what you can, what’s meaningful. If all you can afford is to write a letter to them, and if they’re let down by that, again, go back to the social anxiety conversation. That is a reflection of them, it’s not a reflection of you. And if you want, you can explain to them, “Money has been hard, difficult and it’s tight time, and I really just want you to know that I put everything I have into this,” if that helps you. But again, we are not responsible for other people’s feelings. We’re not responsible for their actions. That’s their responsibility. All you can do is honor yourself and be true to what’s right for you. We’ll talk a lot about that in the next episode.
10. “I’m always so anxious that I’m not showing enough gratitude when I get a gift. I don’t want to seem like a brat.”
Again, be yourself. If other people perceive you as a brat, that is a reflection of them. It’s not a reflection of you. People’s judgment of us is a reflection of them. It is not a reflection of us. If they think you’re a brat, that’s because they had expectations that you were going to act a certain way. That’s their stuff. You’ve got to stay in your lane.
Now, I think the thing to remember here is you’re probably putting so much attention and energy and pressure on yourself that it’s probably feeling really inauthentic. I want you to receive the gift. I want you to thank them for the gift and then allow yourself to have anxiety about whether or not it was too much or not. Again, that’s their stuff. Try to be as true to you as you can. Ask yourself, what would I do if fear wasn’t here and try to do that?
Now, if receiving gifts is so anxiety-provoking and you totally freeze, you may want to practice saying whatever feels right to you. For me, I might say, “Wow, that is so thoughtful. Thank you so much.” That’s really all you need to say. You don’t need to jump up and down and get all freaked out. Just be yourself. You may even be totally calm, and then write them a beautiful Thank You card a week later and share with them what you like about it.
I try to teach my children when they write Thank You cards to just say, “Thank you so much for the t-shirt. I loved the color.” “Thank you so much for my drink bottle. It will fit perfectly in my lunch box.” “Thank you so much for this toy. I have loved playing with it.” This is just basic stuff. That’s all you need. It doesn’t have to be a full-on production. We’re getting closer here. We’re getting close.
11. “The holidays make me feel alone and lonely.”
I am sure you know, I recently wrote a book called The Self-Compassion Workbook for OCD. The reason I bring that up is I’m going to emphasize, so much of the time when we’re suffering, all we need is compassion. So, you don’t need to read the workbook for this, but I’m emphasizing the reason I wrote that book is because when we are suffering, we need self-compassion. It has to be a part of the work. So, as loneliness and aloneness show up for you, really be tender to yourself. validate yourself. Acknowledge this is true for me. I feel lonely. Don’t tell yourself a story about it, though. Don’t go off into the narrative of, “This means I’m a loser and no one’s ever going to love me.” Don’t do that because that’s not a fact. There’s no evidence of that. So, I don’t want you to focus on that, but do give yourself permission to feel what you feel.
How are we going? Are we doing good? We’re almost there. A couple more to go.
12. Another year of suffering, expectations not met.
So, back in the past, we did a podcast on this. It’s called “It’s time for a parade.” It’s really early. It’s like number 14 or 15 or something like that. Go back and check on that, because so often we need to really lean into the present, really lean into dropping out expectations. And again, we want to be compassionate.
Yes, it is another year of suffering. I cannot agree with you more. I have multiple times broken down over the last week into tears because yet again, I’m missing my family. Literally, every single member of my family I won’t get to see. And I know a lot of you have been doing this and are going through even much harder things. This has been a really rough couple of years. So, please validate yourself, acknowledge your suffering, allow yourself to grieve. Really go back to some of the tools we’ve talked about. Being present, getting really clear on the few rituals you want to do, the hot chocolate, the songs. Maybe it’s taking a walk, maybe it’s journaling, whatever it may be.
I just want to take a breath and just really honor you all right now because the holidays are so hard. They’re so, so hard.
13. How to show up for myself during the craziness of the holidays?
Here I’m going to give it to you. I ask you a question and I want you to answer it honestly to yourself.
All of the things that you’ve planned, how many do you actually want to do? And of the things you don’t want to do, how many of the things you actually have to do? And then whatever’s left over, don’t do them.
So often we add all this extra crap and we actually don’t need to do it. You’re allowed to keep it simple. You’re allowed to just make it really easy. You might say to your friends, “You know what, guys, I’m not doing presents this year. I’m only doing gift cards. Buy them online, be done.” Or you might say, “I’m not cooking/baking this year. I’m going to order them from the bakery.” Done. Make it easy. You deserve and it’s okay to drop the craziness. We don’t need the craziness.
Say no to people. We’ll talk about this in next week’s episode. Say no to people. Don’t do what you don’t want to do if you don’t want to do it and it’s not highly valuable to you.
Here’s the thing, and I’ll share a story. This Thanksgiving, while I’m recording just before Thanksgiving right now, there is a couple of things I don’t want to do around Thanksgiving. Now, even though I don’t want to do them, I’m choosing to do them because I think they’re really important for my children, particularly given the fact that they haven’t had a lot of social interaction over the last year and a half. So, I’m choosing to do it. Now, what I’m going to say to myself as I do it is I’m not going to go, “Oh, I don’t want to do this. Oh, I don’t want to do this.” I’m going to say, “I’m choosing to do this because...” and I’m going to answer, “because my children deserve this holiday.” And when you say, “I choose to do this, because...” it brings you into a place where you’re owning what you want to do and why you’re doing it, even if you don’t want to do it. But if it makes you crazy, don’t do it. There’s no need.
14. Gift guide for people with mental illness.
If you go to cbtschool.com, we have a mental health gift guide. Go over and check it out.
15. Changes in the schedule.
Now, this is where we use the tool of flexibility, and you have to be flexible during the holidays. Flexibility is dropping your expectations, dropping all of the goals and going with the flow. When things change, stop and ask yourself, what about this change is creating anxiety for me? Can I lean into it? Can I allow it? And go with it. Practice. Use it as an opportunity to practice the skill of flexibility. I’m not sure if I’ve done a podcast on flexibility. So, come to think of it, I will do one in the New Year.
All right. You guys are so cool. I hope you have a wonderful holiday period. Before we finish the show, I want to do the review of the week. If you want to leave a review on iTunes, I would be so grateful. It would be the best Christmas gift you can give me. It’ll cost you nothing. And my wish is that if you do it, not for me, I don’t need the ego stroke, but the more reviews we get, the more people will click on it and the more people I can help with this free resource. So, here it is.
The review of the week is from WalkerMom77, and they said:
“Kimberley is a warm hug. While the content of this podcast is excellent and has inspired me to do further research, read books, etc., it’s Kimberley’s compassion that keeps me coming back. She is so authentic and genuine and her voice just relaxes me.”
Thank you so much, WalkerMom 77. I love, love knowing that I inspire you and keep you moving forward and bring you some compassion.
Well, that’s it for now. I’m going to see you next week and we can talk about boundaries with family members. I hope you have a wonderful day. Sending you so much love. Please be kind to yourself. It is a beautiful day to do hard things.