‘Tis the season for traveling, parties, crowded shopping, end-of-the-year deadlines, and money woes as you try to squeeze in some gift-buying from your already near-depleted bank account. December is basically just one long to-do list. It’s hard enough to juggle the range of commitments and nagging tasks, but if you have anxiety (social or otherwise), it can be a completely overwhelming time of the year.
But it doesn’t have to be! With a little bit of planning and forethought, even the most anxious person can squeeze some memory-making enjoyment from this stressful month.
1. Manage your expectations.
First off, let’s be realistic. Each year, we inevitably fall for those gauzy, dreamy notions of what a holiday party will look like (a la a Garry Marshall movie) or how we’ll totally crush it at gift giving. Rarely does reality meet those heightened expectations. Come on, we’re old enough now to know better. Can’t we just stop putting so much pressure on ourselves?
2. Ignore the FOMO.
The holidays are hectic enough without your fear of missing out dictating your social calendar. Yes, every party seemingly tries to outdo the one that came before it. The good news is, that means there will always be another party or dinner or tree lighting or whatever for you to attend. Learn to say no and stick to only a few key events.
3. Bring a friend.
The holidays are a time for gracious hosts and the adage of “the more the merrier” has never been more applicable. Take advantage of it and invite a friend when you can. Not only will you always have someone to talk to, but a tagalong guest makes for a great, convenient excuse to leave a crowded gathering early when you get overwhelmed.
4. Make a list of anything and everything.
And make it an actual, physical list. When you merely mull everything over in your mind, it’s harder to prioritize. It’s also more difficult to set realistic timelines. Many of the tiny but exhausting tasks we tack on to an already lengthy to-do list really aren’t missed. No one’s going to notice if you use gift bags this year instead of wrapping your gifts, or if you use on-hand dried rosemary instead of the fresh stuff. Yet, you saved yourself a little bit of time and an extra trip to the grocery store.
5. Start early.
One of the biggest factors of holiday stress is all the rushing around. Don’t wait until the final days to do your holiday shopping. And remember that a DIY project always takes at least twice as long as the directions say!
6. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself.
It’s perfectly fine to take a break from a party. Not taking a break just lets your frustration and anxiety build up. That doesn’t make for a fun evening. Sneak outside and scroll through your Twitter feed. Take some deep breaths in the guest bathroom. Head out to your car and listen to NPR.
7. Learn from the Girl Scouts—always be prepared.
Whether it’s making polite conversation with co-workers you don’t like very much or an estranged aunt you haven’t seen since middle school, small talk is just awful. Yet, it’s synonymous with the holidays. Fill those awkward silences by arriving at parties fully equipped. Just scribble a couple of conversation starters in your phone’s notepad and you are good to go. When in doubt, just compliment someone’s outfit.
8. Give Facebook and Pinterest a break.
You don’t have to forgo all social media during the holidays. After all, you may need something to distract you during those long, boring family dinners. But Facebook and Pinterest are notoriously the biggest culprits of holiday malaise. Facebook bombards you with others’ idyllic holiday moments while on Pinterest, everyone’s snowflake cookies look far better than whatever it is you thought you made. Just stay away and you won’t feel forced to compete.
9. Expect the unexpected.
It’s inevitable that something, however big or small, will go wrong. Maybe you’ll forget to take your rolls, leaving your big dinner roll-less. It might snow the day you’re supposed to fly home. Understand that there will be some things you can’t control. Accept that fact early on—actually accept it, come on—and these holiday hiccups won’t seem like an absolute travesty.
Finally, remember that the holidays are tough for everyone for a variety of different reasons. Just being kind to others and to yourself is a great step in trying to enjoy the holiday season.