How to Build a Mental Health Toolkit to Help Manage Holiday-Related Anxiety and Triggers This Festive Season
The holidays are a time that many of us eagerly anticipate. It’s a season of rest, joy, and connection with loved ones, often accompanied by cherished traditions and festive gatherings. However, for some, it can also be a time of holiday-related anxiety, stress and depression. The relentless pressure of expectations, family dynamics, and activities can affect our mental well-being.
Unfortunately, holiday-induced stress is often not acknowledged, validated, or recognised. It lurks beneath the surface, slowly threatening to overwhelm us. Worst of all: left unaddressed, holiday-related stress can evolve into a chronic issue. It’s important to understand that chronic stress isn’t just a temporary inconvenience; it can have lasting effects on our mental health and even lead to medical issues.
In this blog post and accompanying video, we aim to shed light on the complexities of holiday-related anxiety and triggers. As a result, you’ll understand the significance of proactive stress management and be introduced to the concept of a mental health toolkit; a powerful resource for safeguarding your emotional well-being. We’ll also share specific mindfulness techniques that can help with holiday-related anxiety and reiterate the importance of seeking professional help when needed, so you can enjoy the holiday season with greater peace of mind.
Important note: Mindfulness alone is not a substitute for professional help. If you or someone you know is experiencing a moment of crisis, please reach out to one of the following 24/7 helplines:
– Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
– Lifeline: 13 11 14
– Open Arms: 1800-011-046
[VIDEO] How to Build a Mental Health Toolkit for the Holidays
The following video with Body & Mind Psychologist, Jessica, explores holiday-related anxiety and triggers, and the benefits that creating a mental health toolkit can provide at this often tricky time of year. You’ll be shown how to create your own holiday toolkit in advance and be given an example of what a toolkit in action might look like. You’ll also gain insights into the often misunderstood idea of seeking professional help – because your mental health matters and it’s important you feel comfortable asking for support when you need it.
For best viewing, click on the video below and watch it in full screen. Alternatively, you can watch or listen to the video on Facebook here.
Understanding the Link Between Holiday-Related Anxiety and Triggers
Holiday-related anxiety can be described as the general feeling of heightened stress and unease that can creep in during the holiday season. It’s that overarching sense of tension many of us experience when we should be feeling joyful.
Triggers, on the other hand, are the specific “whys” behind that anxiety. Triggers are like the spark that ignites the anxiety powder keg. They’re the situations, events, or memories that, when encountered, set off intense emotional reactions, often making the anxiety more pronounced.
In essence, triggers are often the underlying causes of the anxiety or stress we feel during the holidays. You might say they’re like hidden landmines that, when activated, intensify our emotional responses. So, understanding and addressing these triggers can be key to managing and reducing holiday-related anxiety.
What are the Common Causes (Triggers) of Holiday-Related Anxiety?
The holiday season can be a time of cheer, but it’s also known for bringing a unique set of challenges that can trigger anxiety. So, let’s now delve into some of the common causes, or triggers, of holiday-related anxiety:
The pressure to meet heightened expectations and navigate complex family dynamics can be a significant trigger for anxiety. Reconciling differing personalities and managing family interactions can be emotionally taxing.
The holiday season often comes with increased expenses, from gift-giving to festive preparations. The financial strain of these added costs can trigger anxiety, particularly for those on a tight budget.
Being away from loved ones or experiencing the absence of companionship can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness during the holidays. This emotional distance can be a potent trigger for anxiety.
Juggling multiple social obligations, from parties to events and responsibilities, can quickly become overwhelming. The stress of overcommitment is a common trigger, leaving individuals feeling stretched thin.
For those in the northern hemisphere or anyone travelling, the seasonal shift brings reduced daylight and potentially challenging weather conditions. These environmental changes can significantly impact one’s mood, acting as triggers for anxiety.
Understanding these common triggers is the first step toward managing holiday-related anxiety effectively. By recognising the potential sources of stress, you can take proactive steps to address and mitigate their impact on your well-being during this festive season.
Activity 1: Reflect on Your Past Experiences to Identify Patterns and Possible Triggers
Take a moment now to reflect on your past experiences and see if you can identify any common themes or patterns. You may like to do this in a journal or complete the exercise with a professional.
Consider the following:
- What emotions, situations, or encounters stood out to you as particularly stressful or anxiety-inducing?
- Are there specific situations, events, or types of interactions that consistently trigger your anxiety? (For instance, do you find family gatherings or financial pressures tend to bring about stress?)
- Were there physical sensations like increased heart rate or shallow breathing?
- What were the predominant emotions – was it worry, frustration, or something else?
Based on your reflections, make a list of these possible triggers. These are the situations or circumstances that you suspect might be responsible for your holiday-related anxiety.
The Physiology of Stress: How Does Holiday-Related Anxiety Show Up in Your Body?
Understanding how holiday-related anxiety manifests in our bodies is an important step in managing it effectively. Holiday-related anxiety doesn’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. It can vary widely in frequency and intensity, depending on individual experiences and triggers.
It’s common to experience the physical sensations of stress before consciously recognising the thoughts and concerns that underlie them. Our bodies often react to stress well before our minds catch up. These physical responses can be quite noticeable and can serve as early warning signals of mounting stress.
Some of the physical signs of stress can include:
- An increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Tunnel vision
- Muscle tension
Activity 2: Identifying Your Body’s Physical Response to Stress
A useful practice is to document the physical signs of stress as they occur. This can help you distinguish between what “some” stress looks and feels like compared to when stress becomes too much to handle. This self-awareness is a valuable tool for managing anxiety effectively.
Take a moment to review the notes you made in the previous activity. If you haven’t already included some of the physical signs, reflect back on your previous encounters with holiday-related stress and see if you can recognise the way your body responded.
Becoming aware of your body’s unique responses is another important step towards managing your holiday-related anxiety more effectively.
Mindfulness Techniques For Holiday-Related Anxiety and Triggers
Mindfulness serves as the essential pause button between encountering a trigger and our subsequent response. For instance, when faced with a potential trigger, you can take a deep, calming breath. You can then acknowledge the trigger without judgement, and as a result, thoughtfully choose your response. This type of mindful pause allows you to break free from automatic reactions.
But it’s important to note that mindfulness isn’t just a response tool; it’s also a fantastic magnifying glass for triggers. Through self-awareness cultivated by regular mindfulness practice, you can pinpoint your triggers with precision.
To master trigger management, these practices must go beyond the holiday season. A consistent mindfulness practice will equip you with the skills you need. From effectively identifying and managing your triggers, to ultimately defusing them. As a result, you’ll experience a more peaceful and joyous season.
Mindful breathing taps into the body’s parasympathetic nervous system to promote relaxation and calmness. This technique serves as a reliable antidote to immediate stress, instantly quieting a racing mind and soothing frayed nerves. What’s particularly handy is that mindful breathing can be discreetly integrated into your daily routine. You can excuse yourself briefly, whether it’s by stepping outside or taking a moment in the bathroom for a quick session. For instance, the Box Breath exercise is a fantastic and simple method that you can use to regain your composure in any situation.
Grounding techniques are your allies in staying firmly rooted in the present moment. They essentially work by effectively warding off distractions and anxieties that often threaten to pull you away. And their lie in their versatility. Most grounding techniques can be discreetly applied right where you are. There’s usually no need to even step out of the room, though sometimes, a change of scenery can make it easier. An excellent example is the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique. This practice works by reconnecting you with the here and now while the world remains busy around you.
Mindful movement isn’t merely physical activity. It’s a deliberate practice aimed at relieving stress from your body and mind. In the context of holiday-related anxiety and triggers, it offers an effective means of restoring equilibrium and inner calm. Examples of mindful movement may include practices like tai chi, yoga, or even simply taking a meditative walk in a tranquil natural setting.
The Body Scan Technique is a potent method for unwinding and shedding the physical symptoms of anxiety. Although it provides a soothing release from tension, it’s not just a relaxation tool. A body scan is a unique way to discern your emotions from the collective feelings around you.
Here’s how to do it:
- Toe-to-Head Journey: Begin at your toes and journey upward to your head.
- Attentive Observation: Focus on each body part along the way, paying keen attention to the sensations you encounter – identifying areas of tension and relaxation.
- Release and Relax: As your awareness reveals tension, gently release it from your body, granting yourself relief.
- Breathe Deep: Incorporate deep, calming breaths into the process, amplifying the overall sense of tranquillity.
This technique is also a valuable tool for maintaining emotional clarity and sleep quality, especially when used before bedtime.
Introducing the Mental Health Toolkit: Your Secret Weapon Against Holiday-Related Anxiety
One of the best ways to prepare for the holidays is to create your very own mental health toolkit. Your toolkit is a collection of strategies and resources specially designed to help you manage the challenges that often arise during the festive season. Within it, you’ll find mindfulness techniques, self-care practices, support networks, resilience-building activities, and a crisis management plan, all tailored to safeguard your well-being.
It’s important to prepare your toolkit well in advance of the holidays and here’s why: Like any skill, learning to wield these tools effectively takes practice and consistency. Being proactive means honing your abilities before the pressure is at its peak. It’s like rehearsing your lines before the big performance, ensuring that when the curtain rises, you’re poised and ready.
Importantly, while this proactive approach may not prevent triggers from occurring, it creates precious space for you to step back, breathe, and decide on the most helpful next steps. This awareness is your guiding star in navigating the holiday season, making your mental health toolkit an indispensable asset in facing stress and triggers head-on.
What’s Included in a Mental Health Toolkit?
When it comes to a holiday tool kit, it’s essential to understand that it’s more than just a single tool; it’s a collection of tools tailored to make a significant difference. Picture it as a diverse set of resources and strategies, each designed to address specific challenges you may encounter during the season.
These can include:
Mindfulness techniques are practices that cultivate a heightened awareness of the present moment. They play a central role in stress and trigger management, empowering individuals to build resilience against the strains of the holiday season. For example, mindful breathing exercises, body scans, and meditation can help you stay grounded when faced with holiday stressors.
Self-care strategies are intentional activities that prioritise your mental and emotional well-being. These practices aim to foster a sense of balance and rejuvenation during the hectic holiday season. For instance, self-care can involve setting aside time for a soothing bath, a long walk in nature, or even enjoying your favourite book.
Boundaries refer to the establishment of clear and healthy limits in your interactions and commitments, designed to protect your mental health. In the context of the holidays, this might mean setting boundaries with family members to manage expectations and maintain a sense of personal space.
Resilience-building activities are exercises that strengthen your capacity to bounce back from adversity and maintain emotional equilibrium. Journaling, exercise routines, and relaxation practices are prime examples of activities that boost your emotional resilience.
Crisis Management Plan:
A crisis management plan is a thought-out strategy to handle unexpected or overwhelming situations effectively. For example, having a plan in place to manage a family conflict during a holiday gathering or address financial difficulties can provide you with a structured approach to dealing with acute events.
In addition, to maximise the effectiveness of your toolkit, consider printing it out to make sure it’s readily available and visible whenever you need to refer to it.
Activity 3: Build Your Own Holiday Mental Health Toolkit
Step 1: Reflect on Your Past Experiences to Identify Patterns and Possible Triggers
If you haven’t completed Activity 1 from earlier in this blog post, it’s time to pause for a moment to look back at your previous experiences and try to discern any recurring themes or patterns. You might find it helpful to record your observations in a journal or engage in this exercise with the guidance of a professional.
Step 2: Observe Your Body’s Physical Responses to Stress
Reflect on your body’s inbuilt warning signs by noting down your physiological responses to stress as listed in Activity 2 (above).
Step 3: Brainstorm Positive Methods to Address Your Triggers or Minimise Stressors
Now it’s time to consider what mindfulness techniques, self-care strategies, resilience-building activities, support networks and boundaries will help with your unique set of triggers and patterns.
In your journal, or with a professional, brainstorm which activities you will focus on in order to maintain your mental and physical health and wellness during the holidays. Be sure to include activities that you’ll commit to doing regularly in the lead-up to the holidays as well as during the festive period itself.
See the below example for an idea of what you might include.
Example Holiday-Related Anxiety Toolkit
Every mental health toolkit is unique and completely catered to your own needs. The following is an example created for someone who has identified that they struggle with the pressure of expectation and dealing with antagonising family members during the holidays.
- Mindfulness Technique: Daily 10-minute mindfulness meditation sessions to reduce stress and stay present.
- Self-Care Strategies: A self-care routine that includes prioritising sleep with a regular bedtime routine, reading, and daily stretches.
- Support Network: Trusted friends who can provide emotional support and understanding during challenging family gatherings, and regular check-ins with a psychologist.
- Boundaries: Setting clear boundaries with family members by communicating personal space and time needs.
- Resilience-Building Activities: Regular exercise, like yoga or running, to boost physical and emotional resilience.
- Crisis Management Plan: A list of strategies for dealing with challenging family interactions, including taking breaks, deep breathing, and having an exit plan if things become too overwhelming.
Example Toolkit in Action
Based on the example above, this is what it might look like to follow a mental health toolkit during the holidays:
- They start their day with a brief mindfulness meditation to set a calm and centred tone for the day.
- If family interactions become challenging, they implement their boundaries by politely excusing themselves and going for a walk or finding a quiet space to decompress.
- In preparation for family gatherings, they connect with supportive friends who provide emotional support and encouragement and book a telehealth call with their psychologist to review their crisis management plan.
- Their self-care routine helps maintain their mental and emotional well-being, ensuring they don’t neglect their own needs.
- Regular yoga keeps them physically and emotionally resilient, helping them manage stress effectively.
- In situations where family interactions become extremely difficult, they refer to their crisis management plan to stay composed and ensure their well-being.
Final Thoughts: The Importance of Support and Flexibility When Dealing with Holiday-Related Anxiety
In times of increased stress and isolation, the significance of your support system cannot be overstated. Whether it’s friends, family, or support groups, reaching out to them or exploring ways to strengthen this network can be your lifeline.
- Identify Your Support: Firstly, start by recognising one or two individuals with whom you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings. This might include a regular call with a psychologist but don’t overlook the opportunity to nurture other meaningful relationships.
- Initiate Open Communication: Initiate candid discussions about holiday-related stressors and even script out ways to begin these conversations. Sharing your concerns with your support system can significantly reduce anxiety and trigger responses while nurturing your overall well-being.
- Seek Professional Guidance: If you find that anxiety and triggers are significantly impacting your well-being and quality of life, it’s essential to consider seeking professional help. A mental health expert can provide guidance, coping strategies, and a safe space to navigate these challenges effectively. Whether it’s through individual therapy, counselling, or group support, professional help can be a vital resource to ensure you not only survive but thrive during this festive season.
- Increase Your Frequency: If you’re already working with a mental health professional, consider increasing the frequency of your sessions in the lead-up to stressful holiday periods. An extra session can provide valuable support during this challenging time.
- Be Flexible: Planning is undoubtedly important, but so is flexibility. The holidays can be unpredictable, and the ability to adapt is paramount. Embrace the season with a balanced mindset that acknowledges imperfections and welcomes the unexpected.
In summary, holiday-related anxiety and triggers need not define this joyous season. You can genuinely transform your holiday experience by embracing a proactive approach and building your own mental health toolkit. When combined with a great support network (which may also include professional help), your holiday season can become a time of true connection, joy, and fulfilment. Remember, your mental health matters, and you have the power to not just survive but thrive during this special time of the year.
At Body & Mind, we are committed to supporting your mental and emotional well-being. We invite you to explore our programs, which offer zero-wait access to telehealth psychology and evidence-based mindfulness practices. By taking proactive steps to enhance your resilience through mindfulness, you’ll not only weather life’s storms with greater ease but also unlock your full potential for a fulfilling and balanced life. Learn more here.