Putting the Happy in the Holidays: 9 Ways to Decrease Your Anxiety this Season

By UB therapist Pam Schur, LPC

As the fall season gets into full swing, not only do we welcome cooler weather, shorter days, and colorful leaves, we also know what’s next on the horizon…the holiday season. Once autumn hits, the media, retail outlets, and overzealous neighbors who don decorations early, remind us it is time to start prepping for the festive season. For some, the holidays are met with excitement and fond memories. For others, the final few months of the year are fraught with anxiety, depression, and stress. Where do you fit in? If you are hoping to make this holiday season a happy one, following are tips for alleviating anxiety and increasing joy.

Plan ahead.

Everyone is over scheduled and taxed for time these days. Adding the stress of planning and hosting holidays can put the most organized person over the edge. One way to combat the pressure is to plan ahead. Make your gift list and start shopping now. Or maybe this is the year you decide to give fewer gifts so you spend less money but more time with your loved ones. Decide ahead of time how, when, and with whom you will be sharing the holidays. Knowing in advance what’s expected of you and identifying your expectations of others will help lessen stress.


Once you have a plan, identify where you need help and how you can involve others. Whether it is cooking, decorating, and cleaning, making it a family affair can be fun and less demanding. Assign others age-appropriate responsibilities and let everyone be involved. If your go-to impulse is to do it all yourself, this may be a challenge. However, lightening up your load could be the finest gift of all.


What is your vision of a happy holiday? Think about what you want and what your end game is for the season. Do you want to be the host with the most or the host doing the most? Reflecting on what you want the holidays to look like can help you make the plan to achieve the goal. Are you aiming for the most festive table and decorations or a warm, laughter-filled evening? Decide what you want, and figure out a way to make it happen within budget and time.

Give back.

Whether you find yourself surrounded by family and friends, or facing the holidays alone, volunteering and giving back to others is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Offer to help at a soup kitchen or food pantry; spend time reading to or teaching a child or adult to read, or playing games with elders in senior facilities or children in hospitals. Adopt a pet or help out at rescue shelter. Reaching out and connecting with others will not only lift their spirits, but you will no doubt feel pretty good as well. If you have children exposing them to this type of service could be the most valuable lesson they learn all year.

Just Say No.

For some ‘tis the season to be busy, busy, busy. For others party hopping, cookie exchanges, and other holiday festivities are the equivalent of getting a stocking full of coal. If your idea of a perfect night is cuddling up with a glass of wine or hot tea, lighting a calming candle, and binge watching your favorite television shows on Netflix, go for it. It is OK to say no to some events. You’ve earned the right to spend your time off taking care of you. There are no rules in the holiday season rule book that says you must attend every event, be the parent volunteer extraordinaire, or be the world’s greatest party planner. Sometimes less is more. It is enough.

Just Say Yes.

When was the last time you let someone take care of something for you? When was the last time you relinquished control and went to a friend or family member’s house for the holidays instead of insisting you entertain at yours? This year, when someone offers to help or host, why not give yourself a gift and say, “Yes. Thank you.” Let the kids make the cookies or your mother-in-law make her famous date nut bread. If your sister offers to plan this year’s family grab bag, let her. You’ll be surprised by how liberating it will feel to be the gracious guest for once, instead of the harried host. Remember, you can always take the reigns again next year.

If You Can’t Change the Situation, Change Your Mind.

You have heard this one before. When you have no control over a situation, you do have control on how you handle it. If your mother is complaining, yet again, about how much weight you have gained or how you are raising your kids, try to keep your cool and remember you can’t change your mom. You can only manage your reaction. Instead of engaging in a heated fight or defensive conversation, find a way to gracefully and respectfully exit stage left.

The Grass is Not Always Greener.

During the holidays (as with almost all year round) social media could be a trigger for anxiety or depression. With all your friends’ posts of their fabulous family get-togethers, tastiest turkey dinners or the amazing adventures abroad, it is easy to get caught up in “the everyone is having a better time than I am” or “I am not doing enough” school of thought. Try to keep it all in perspective. You are only seeing one side of the story. No one posts the negative. When was the last time you saw a video of a disastrous family fight going viral? Be grateful with what you have and focus on your positives.

Unplug. Reboot. Recharge.

Just like our cell phones and computers, we need time to recharge. Never is there a more important time for self care than the holidays. During this time, more than ever, we need to get plenty of rest, eat well, exercise and relax. One of my favorite quotes comes from writer Anne Lamont: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Happy holidays!

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