For many of us, the holiday season brings with it additional responsibilities, obligations and untold pressure of perfection. “The most wonderful time of the year” can be an especially worrying time for those with high-functioning anxiety.
“High-functioning anxiety refers to someone who manages their life very well and has everything together, however, they still suffer from excessive worry, tension, and at times obsessive thoughts,” Dr Amelia Kellya trauma-informed therapist and co-author of What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship, explains Lifehacker. “The holidays can worsen anxiety especially for people who appear to be high functioning outside because of the amount of expectations and obligations they have during the holidays. [particularly when it comes to socializing and showing up for other people],
Additionally, financial pressures and “a break from intense pressure and normalcy can also negatively impact our health and wellness practices, resulting in the perfect storm to further exacerbate anxiety,” she says.
What are the symptoms of high functioning anxiety?
Whether you’re worried about yourself or a loved one, there are important signs of high functioning anxiety. Here’s what to look for, according to Kelly.
Insomnia or sleep problems. “Sleep is often the first sign that something is out of balance with your mental health,” explains Kelly. “When our mind is racing it can be difficult to sleep, especially if you suffer from anxiety. The anxious mind is very important and the opposite of the more creative, compassionate mind that we need for sleep.”
Kelly recommends sticking to a soothing bedtime routine, reducing stress as much as possible, and detoxing from screens later in the evening. “It’s important to get all the sleep we need to help ease holiday anxiety,” she says, in combination with maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
Pervasive negative self-talk and insecurity. “Part of suffering from high functioning anxiety is about not being ‘good enough,'” says Kelly. “Even if it’s not a conscious thought, constantly overcommitting and comparing ourselves to others feeds the idea that we are set up to fail.”
If you’re struggling with FOMO or comparing your holiday celebrations to another’s, Kelly suggests limiting social media during the holidays. Also, make it an intentional habit to practice self-compassion. “Notice if you are being hard on yourself with the criticism and instead reframe your thoughts and self-talk as if you were talking to a friend or someone else you care deeply about. she says. “The clients I work with find that it helps to create a mantra of self-compassion such as ‘I am good enough’ any time they slip into negative self-talk.”
dwell on the past, “If you find it difficult to stay in the present, or find that you are constantly feeling nostalgic for the past, this is a sign of high functioning anxiety during the holidays,” says Kelly. “Even listening to the lyrics of some of the most classic holiday songs often focus on ‘days past’ or ‘times gone by.’ The holidays bring a lot of symbolism and memories and can take us out of the present. This is especially true for those experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one.”
According to Kelly, the best way to manage this is to practice grounding skills in the moment. She advises, “Take a breath and see where you are, reflecting on each ornament as you decorate rather than rushing to completion.” “Be open to changing or adding new traditions to welcome the pure potential of the future. And if you find it hard not to think about the past, especially when experiencing grief, surround yourself with loved ones who Surround those who are okay with you ‘not feeling well.'”
Kelly says it’s important to ask for help from others and take some pressure off yourself and to take some time to slow down, be present, and check in if you have any personal needs that aren’t being met.
Physical discomfort and/or agitation. “Anxiety can create tension in the body that exacerbates chronic pain issues like headaches, stomach issues, and other autoimmune disorders,” explains Kelly. “It is also common to be more vulnerable to medical illness, as widespread anxiety has a negative effect on our immune system.”
Kelly recommends meditation and yoga in addition to breathing work and physical exercise which can also help release tension in the body. Another way to reduce anxiety-induced stress is to be mindful of what you’re eating and drinking during the holidays. “It can be common to overindulge with an endless supply of sweets at nearly every event, but be aware that not practicing moderation will make you more vulnerable to anxiety. Take time to enjoy food and drink, but remember Keep in mind that you don’t have to say yes to every offer.”
Why it’s important to manage your expectations
The most important thing is to manage your expectations. “Remember that it’s okay to say no,” says Kelly. “People will still know who you are and love you, even if you don’t send holiday cards. Try to make up for imperfection by accepting the things that are outside of your control and knowing that it won’t be everything we expect it to be. This shift in thinking allows for a more self-compassionate tone, such as allowing yourself to laugh when things don’t go the way you expected instead of being hard on yourself.
She says it’s also important to embrace imperfection. “If the goal is imperfection it helps prevent those pressure individuals who have high functioning anxiety. If the gift you wrap doesn’t look right, or the cookies are a little burnt, own up to your efforts and Go ahead,” she says.