Holidays can be a time of joy and connectedness, as well as increased stress and anxiety. The anxiety often comes from a few sources; expectations, being around family members who bring up uncomfortable topics, and increased demands on our time and energy.

We love the holidays, however Hollywood movies have created this myth of the magical holiday, with a magical Hollywood ending, where everyone ends up having a good time and even relationships rife with years of conflict are mended. When we predictably have a less than magical holiday experience we can feel disappointed, cheated and bitter.

The reality is that putting this much pressure on one single day usually robs us of the enjoyment that we can experience. The solution is often to adjust our expectations. Expecting bumps in the road helps us prepare for them and to have a game plan. Your child might not love the gift you got them, but focusing on being together and doing things for someone other than themselves is something to be treasured.

Often being around family members can create stress, particularly if they feel that the holiday get together is the perfect time to quiz you about you life. These questions can range from asking about your romantic life, starting a family, a career change or even be disguised as advice on parenting your children. Worse, yet, sometimes uncomfortable and contentious political topics are brought up. Although we cannot avoid someone bringing up an uncomfortable topic, we can deflect the question, use humor or change the subject. If all else fails, you can politely but firmly exit the conversation to help the host, speak to someone else or use the restroom.

The increased demands on our time and energy can range from long travel times to preparing holiday meals, and managing holiday traditions and rituals. Taking good care of our selves is often put on hold. However it can make a huge difference in how we manage stress. Deciding to get adequate sleep, exercise and some downtime, is helpful. Even five minutes of diaphragmatic breathing per day has been shown to decrease overall stress levels—something that most of us can do even when we are busy with the holidays. Finally, focusing on what we truly like about the holiday, often gives us something real and meaningful to look forward to.

If you need help with managing anxiety in the Chicago area, give Dr. Helen Odessky a call today at (847) 529-8600.