How to Deal With Your Physical Manifestations of Holiday-Induced Anxiety
by Jennifer Landis
The holidays are nearly upon us, and with them come good food, good company and occasionally gifts.
But let’s face it — the holidays are stressful. We find ourselves obligated to attend parties with people we don’t know or don’t enjoy talking to, our to-do lists are spiraling out of control — and, if you’ve got kids, you’ve got the added stress of picking out the perfect gifts for them to open on Christmas morning. Out of nowhere, you find yourself hiding in the back room because you’re shaking and you can’t breathe.
Anxiety is something you think of as being all in your head, but it can manifest in several physical symptoms, as well—shaking or an inability to breathe, for example. Many of these symptoms can feel extreme, which compounds your anxiety and makes it more difficult to handle. How can you recognize — and learn to deal with — the physical manifestations of your anxiety?
What Are the Common Physical Manifestations of Anxiety?
The physical symptoms of anxiety can come in a variety of forms, and may vary greatly for different people. It’s easy to mistake these symptoms for other conditions — chest pain or a pounding heart may have you scurrying to the ER as you worry about a heart attack — but in general, they are not life-threatening.
You may have experienced these before, but the most common physical symptoms of anxiety often include:
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or feeling faint
- Grinding or clenching your teeth
- Shortness of breath, or being unable to catch your breath — even if there’s more than enough air in the room, you feel like you can’t breathe
- Trembling or shaking uncontrollably
- Pounding heart or even heart palpitations — this symptom can also manifest as chest pain or the feeling of a knot in your chest
- Nausea or vomiting
- Hot or cold flashes and/or excessive perspiration
More extreme symptoms can range anywhere from itching and headaches to vertigo and full-blown depersonalization. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know how anxiety is going to affect you until the symptoms start to manifest. Once they have, though, how can you deal with them?
Learn Breath Control
The first thing you need to do when you feel your symptoms coming on is to focus on your breathing.
By slowing down your breathing, you can help the rest of your body feel calmer and more relaxed. As your breathing slows, your blood pressure and heart rate will both normalize, your oxygen consumption will decrease and you will start to calm down.
Start by taking a long, slow breath in through your nose. Hold that breath for a count of three, and then exhale slowly. Mindfulness, or the practice of being aware of the present moment, can also be useful in these cases. You focus on the immediacy of the things you can manage, while ignoring things in the past or future that are outside your control.
Become More Active
We should all strive to become as active as possible, but one of the many benefits of a regular exercise regimen is that it helps mitigate the physical symptoms of anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which help naturally elevate your mood. It also helps tire your muscles out, which can make physical anxiety symptoms less intense. Plus, regular exercise keeps the holiday calories from adding up too quickly — you’ll feel less guilty about enjoying your favorite pie or holiday fare!
If you’re not an active individual, start small by taking a walk around your neighborhood. Some studies have shown a brisk 10-minute walk can be just as effective for anxiety and other mental health concerns as a vigorous 45-minute workout. Don’t work out until you hurt yourself — just take some steps to start getting more active.
You don’t need to invest in an expensive fitness tracker, but a fitness app can help keep you focused on your goals. Many apps use your phone’s GPS and built-in hardware to keep track of your steps, calculate how far you’ve walked and determine how many calories you’ve burned with your activity. Plus, if you bring your phone along, you can listen to your favorite music, audiobooks or podcasts while you exercise.
Reduce Your Stress
Stress is an often unavoidable part of life, but excessive stresses can also make your anxiety harder to manage. You can, however, take some steps to reduce the stress you can control.
First, avoid toxic people and those who bring unneeded stress into your life. You don’t need to feel bad for cutting these people out of your life – or forgoing holiday visits – the additional stress they cause makes your anxiety worse.
Additionally, try to avoid other stressors such as scary movies, music that triggers your anxiety or anything else—like binge-eating or drinking too much—that causes anxiety symptoms.
During the holidays, we also tend to create our own stress. Between events and commitments, try to leave downtime to rest and relax. Let go of any feelings of inadequacy that make you feel anxious or small. Remember: the picture-perfect families in holiday ads aren’t real: they’re the brainchild of some marketing committee. Striving for perfection is an impossible task—no one and no family is perfect—and only makes us more anxious. By eliminating some of these stresses, you can reduce your chance of anxiety escalating during the holidays.
Some stressors are often entirely unavoidable — such as those related to work or school, or when there are serious health issues in our own lives or with people we love — but if you take steps to reduce the stressors you can control, the ones that are out of your control have less of an impact.
Remember, You Are Not Alone
Anxiety is terrifying. You might think you’re the only one suffering this way, and feel as if you have nowhere to turn for help, but it’s important to keep this in mind — you are not alone. An estimated 40 million people suffer from some form of anxiety in the United States, and everyone experiences it a little differently.
Holiday anxiety is more common than you might think. You can control many of the symptoms with lifestyle changes like the ones we listed above, but if you feel like your anxiety is overwhelming you, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor. He or she might be able to recommend new techniques to help you deal with your anxiety symptoms.
You don’t need to go through this alone. If you need help, there are an enormous number of resources at your disposal to help you manage your symptoms, and live a healthy, productive life – and enjoy a happy, less stress-filled holiday season!
***Stop by tomorrow for David Brown’s post, Running Toward Wellbeing.***
Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, and healthy living blogger at Mindfulness Mama. She loves yoga, distance running, peanut butter, and spending the small amount of free time she has watching Netflix with her husband.