Holidays are an exciting time of year, bringing people together to celebrate after months apart. It is a time of connection, tradition, and joy. Even under the current circumstances, some families can gather for smaller celebrations with one another.

For some people, meeting with family isn’t as much a source of excitement as it is a source of anxiety. Spending time socializing is more nerve-wracking than invigorating. You might be part of this latter category for whom family gatherings cause more nervousness than enjoyment. Managing anxiety during family gatherings is a difficult part of making it through the holidays.

Family gatherings come with plenty of anxiety-inducing components. There’s always the loud, boisterous family member who commands the room. You have to dodge the annual dreaded question and answer session with that intrusive aunt or uncle. Young nieces and nephews are full of energy and running around.

If you plan to attend a family gathering this year, how can you keep your anxiety disorder under control? What steps can you take to manage the inevitable stressors of the event before you? The following suggestions are a great way to prepare yourself for an upcoming family event.

Think Ahead and Plan Before You Arrive

Anxiety disorders feed off the stress that comes from your anticipation of the unknown. The less prepared you are for an event, the more anxious you feel heading into it. Coming up with a plan before you arrive is a crucial step in managing anxiety during family gatherings.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan that works for every person during family events. You can come up with one that works for your individual situation, though, to relieve some of the anticipatory anxiety. The ideas below give you a place to start as you create a plan to keep your nerves at bay during the gathering.

Anticipate Any Potential Triggers

Plan for any triggers you think might arise. What specific things make you nervous? Are you overwhelmed when things get too loud? Do long conversations make you feel trapped? Is it the probing questions from distant family members that put you on edge? Are there any particularly strained relationships that you’re worried about?

Anticipate the things that could trigger your anxiety disorder. This is a crucial part of managing anxiety during family gatherings. It’s overwhelming when you have to face something you didn’t expect. The experiences may still be challenging but knowing they’re coming can make them easier to handle.

Consider Ways to Minimize Triggers

Are there things you can do to minimize the stress of triggers that may arise? Maybe you can bring activities for your nieces or nephews to keep them occupied and not too out of control for some time. Depending on their ages, puzzles, activity books, or board games can be fun to play with.

Standing around with nothing to do can also leave you feeling nervous and uncomfortable. Help out with setting up, cooking, keeping things organized, or cleaning up to stay busy and eliminate idle time. When in doubt, finding ways to be of service keeps your mind engaged with the moment instead of straying too far.

Decide How You’ll Respond When Triggers Arise

Some triggers are inevitable, such as too much noise at certain points or conversations that last a bit too long. Decide how you’ll respond when they arise so you’re already ready by the time they do. Coping skills are a crucial part of managing anxiety during family gatherings. Preparing yourself before you arrive makes the experience more enjoyable overall.

Practice Your Positive Coping Strategies

If you’re seeing a counselor or therapist, or you’ve dealt with anxiety for some time, you likely have some coping skills and strategies in place. These skills are an important part of keeping your symptoms in check in your daily life. Don’t forget to incorporate these when you’re at family events, too. They’re a great way for you to manage anxiety during family gatherings since you’ve already practiced them before.

Take a Moment to Step Away for Some Quiet Time

There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back from the gathering for a moment of quiet time. If loud conversations or too much activity trigger your anxiety, quiet time is a great coping strategy to use. Quiet time is essential for those with anxiety disorders. Find a room you can retreat to for however long you need to regroup and collect your thoughts. Managing anxiety during family gatherings will be easier when you can have some alone time if needed.

Select a Family Member You Can Look to for “Backup”

Not everyone understands the severity of anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, many people still believe anxiety is something you can easily manage or control. If you have some family members who hold these false beliefs, it can make your symptoms worse.

Enlist a family member who understands the reality of anxiety disorders. Select someone that can step up as a support system during your time there. Ask that they check in with you throughout the event in case you’re stuck in an uncomfortable or anxiety-inducing situation. They can keep an eye out for you and serve as a light to look for while you’re at the gathering.

If It’s Possible, Bring Someone with You

No matter how long we’ve known our family members, you probably have a friend or two who know you better than your family ever will. Bring a friend along with you if you’re able to do so. They’re probably familiar with how you operate and things that trigger your anxiety disorder.

Your friend will know some of the best ways to support you when you’re feeling nervous or overwhelmed. If you can have both a family member for backup and a friend there with you, managing anxiety during family gatherings won’t be as hard.

Find a Friend Who Can Be on Call

Maybe you’re in a position where you can’t bring a friend with you and none of your family members understand anxiety. You might have to go to the gathering solo and manage your anxiety without in-person support. Find a friend who can be on call throughout the day if this is the case. Though they can’t be there with you in person, they can provide support from a distance if and when you need it.

Have an “Escape Plan”

One of the best tricks for managing anxiety during family gatherings is to prepare your escape plan. Decide how long you’re willing to stay before you arrive and stick to that amount of time. Setting up another plan afterward is a great way to ensure you have a reason to head out at a certain time. Plan your exit ahead of time so there’s no room for family members to pressure you into staying.

You’re Allowed to Say No

You’re also allowed to say no to any invitations you receive. If managing anxiety during family gatherings is too difficult to do alone and you can’t find someone to come with you, politely decline the invitation. It’s better to miss an event than put yourself in a situation where your anxiety ends up out of control.

Saying no doesn’t mean you don’t love your family or that you’re intolerant of them. It simply means you’re putting your mental wellbeing first! Mental wellness is an absolute necessity for anyone battling an anxiety disorder. You can always attend the next gathering that comes along!

Seeking Additional Help During the Holidays

No matter what others around you are doing, you can make it through this holiday season. Taking care of your anxiety is the most important thing you can do. Triggers often seem to appear out of nowhere but take the steps to protect your mental health and you’ll be okay.

If you’re struggling to handle your anxiety, as well as family triggers that may occur, mental health treatment can help. Lifeskills Florida offers the premier mental health and substance abuse treatment facility with a multifaceted Family Alliance Program in Deerfield Beach, We’re here to help you from the moment you reach out. Don’t try to make it through the holiday season on your own. Make the call and let us know how we can help you today!