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Happier Holidays: Managing an Anxiety Disorder During the Season

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by anthony, Dec 18, 2006.

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  1. anthony

    anthony Silently Watching Founder

    The holiday season is upon us. For most of us, this means shopping, cooking, traveling and extended visits with family. While these events bring about a certain degree of stress in almost everyone, most people ultimately enjoy the holiday season. However, for the 40 million Americans with anxiety disorders, participating in these and other routine holiday activities can be extremely difficult.

    Anxiety disorders are a category of illnesses marked by persistent, irrational and excessive worry that interferes with everyday functioning. They include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder (SAD) and specific phobias.

    For people with these disorders, the stress associated with holiday activities – like any other stress – can trigger or aggravate the symptoms associated with their condition. This makes it important for individuals with anxiety disorders to prepare for events that may cause them anxiety during this time of year by keeping themselves mentally and physically strong. This means eating well, getting enough sleep, avoiding excess alcohol and practicing stress management techniques.

    Holiday Triggers

    A number of holiday activities can cause stress, nervousness, dread and even panic for people with anxiety disorders. Common stressors include:

    Office/Holiday Parties

    The thought of making small talk with co-workers, participating in a gift exchange party with friends or attending a large family dinner can be terrifying for people with anxiety disorders, particularly social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia. People with SAD suffer an intense fear of being negatively evaluated by others and are terrified that they will act in a way that is embarrassing or humiliating in social situations. Often, they will do anything to avoid events such as office parties and other holiday related activities. However, avoiding these gatherings will not solve, and will only perpetuate, their fear. People with SAD can make holiday gatherings less stressful and more manageable by keeping in mind the following tips:
    • Identify what you are specifically concerned about. Are you afraid you will say the wrong thing? Blush? Embarrass yourself?
    • Ask yourself “What if?” any of these things happen. Will you lose your job, your family, your friends?
    • Tell yourself, “So what!” The worst that will happen is that you will feel uncomfortable, maybe very uncomfortable. But, remember that what you’re feeling is an exaggeration of how other people see you. You may feel yourself blushing. Others may see you as looking healthy.
    • Take the pressure off yourself. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time in social situations. Luckily, other people tend to give us the benefit of the doubt.
    • Remember that most people aren’t paying as much attention to you as you fear they are. In fact, most other people are actually wondering what you are thinking of them.
    • Consider seeking professional help to learn how to accept and face your anxiety. Make your anxiety work FOR you, rather than let it get in the way.
    • One particular point to keep in mind: alcohol or drugs is not an effective way to relieve social anxiety. Although it can be tempting in holiday situations, when the alcohol is often flowing, it can serve to make anxiety worse and can trigger panic attacks in people who are prone to them.

    Traveling – a stressful task any time of year – is even more difficult during the holidays.

    For people with anxiety disorders, travel can present a variety of challenges. Individuals with panic disorder or agoraphobia may find overcrowded airports and train stations overwhelming. People with travel-related phobias who must use mass transit may anticipate their trip with dread, and those with generalized anxiety disorder may find a host of new things to worry about while traveling, further interfering with their daily lives.

    While travel is often difficult to avoid during the holidays, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Avoidance will not help someone overcome an anxiety problem, and it may even stir up other undesirable feelings or consequences (i.e., being the only member of the family absent from Christmas dinner). Instead of looking at travel with dread, look at it as a chance to practice facing your fear. Some of the following suggestions can help you both confront your anxiety and, in doing so, actually reduce it:

    Plan and Confirm All Details: Even before you get to the airport or the train station, the logistics associated with travel can provide a host of things to worry about. To decrease your stress level, try to book flights that leave early in the day, when airports tend to be less crowded (a seemingly small detail that can make a big difference for people with anxiety disorders). Always confirm flight, hotel and car rental reservations to save angst and decrease stress about an impending trip. Allow yourself ample time for packing to ensure you organize your belongings effectively and bring everything you need, including any medications you may be taking.

    Think Ahead: Make a list of activities you will engage in while traveling and prepare yourself for potential anxiety inducing situations by practicing stress reducing techniques such as slow, deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation.

    Put Anxiety Reducing Techniques to Work: If you have a fear of flying, tell the gate agent/flight attendant about your phobia when you check in and board. Ask if you can meet the pilot and co-pilot. Ask them a personal question, such as, “do you have a family?” Seeing for yourself that the people flying the plane are “real people” can be comforting. If you are claustrophobic, you may want to request an aisle seat, so you can get up and move around if you feel the need. Or, sit in the middle or near the window and put your anxiety reducing techniques to work! Each time you face your fear and stay in the situation long enough for it to settle down, it makes it easier for the next time.

    Holiday Stress Management

    While we all face different challenges and feelings during the season, we can all benefit from some universal reminders that can help make the time of year more pleasurable. Try the following:

    Take extra time to rest and reflect. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, so make an effort to slow down. Give yourself some time to relax and reflect on accomplishments, and challenges you overcame, during the past year.

    Realize you can choose to say “no.” Schedules tend to get even more packed during the holiday season, so be sure not to over-schedule yourself. Participate in the activities you want, but don’t feel obligated to accept every invitation that comes your way.

    Stay physically healthy. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and eating a balanced diet can all make a difference in maintaining and improving mental health.

    Form a solid support network. Whether it’s family, friends, trusted co-workers or online chatters, having people you can contact when you’re feeling frazzled or down can be a big help.

    Source: Health News Digest
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