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When You're Thankful but Anxious: 5 Tips to Get You Through the Holidays

The holidays are a time to celebrate, come together with loved ones, partake in traditions, indulge in decadent treats, and navigate that complex space of feeling thankful but anxious. This year we’ll again be navigating our festivities amidst another year of the coronavirus.

For some, it may be the first time you’ve seen your family since the pandemic started. For others, you still may not feel comfortable traveling or have opportunities to connect with loved ones as you usually would. Others still may be entering this holiday season with the heavy loss of losing loved ones. It’s normal that this time would bring up mixed feelings of both gratitude and grief.

There has been more uncertainty, change, and loss over the past twenty-two months than any of us could have possibly imagined. The CDC reported that depression and anxiety increased at around 13% to 15% over the months of December 2020 to June 2021 and have remained elevated compared to previous years. Residual feelings from the past two years may still feel very real and present. Some ways to help you handle and make sense of your feelings are below.

#1: Honor your Feelings

Emotions provide helpful information about what is happening in your world and what is important to you. To honor your emotions, you will need to allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Tuning into your inner experience and finding the name of your emotion is the first step.

Taking a pause—sometimes even by placing your hand on your heart—to connect how you feel can send a message to your whole nervous system to let go. Your stress response is often tightly wound these winter months, so it’s essential to pause and let a few moments’ meditation bring relaxation. Remember that how you feel is valid, and ironically, the more you resist what you are feeling, the more stuck you will be.

#2 Be Gentle on Yourself: You’re allowed to be Thankful AND Anxious

When we are thankful but anxious, the stress will weaken our capacity for self-kindness. With this holiday season, you might encounter pressure to get everything just right, or soak up as much time with loved ones as you possibly can, or feel conflicted about how to RSVP to certain invitations. Remember that the way you navigate this year’s holiday season does not need to be perfect. Allow yourself the permission to be the best you can be for today, rather than forcing yourself to attain an ideal image of what you think you should be.

Are there areas in your life where you can be more gentle with yourself? More gentle with others?

#3 Be Present

You may be feeling multiple emotions at once- sadness, loneliness, excitement, anger, joy, grief, and loss, culminating in the sense of being thankful but anxious. Or maybe you even feel some relief that you finally have a moment to slow down and rest. Just like seasons in nature, life brings us opportunities to meet different chapters in our lives. Each chapter will bring a unique landscape for us to explore, notice, and accept for exactly what it is before we move into a new season.

Allowing yourself to be present might mean:
  • Being intentional in conversations with others
  • Being mindful of your senses in a given moment
  • Removing distractions
  • Listening without responding
  • Learn to let go of what you can’t control
  • Practicing gratitude
nervous hands hold a tiny wrapped gift to symbolize feeling thankful but anxious

#4 Notice What Has Changed

Sometimes, it’s helpful to remember how far you’ve come. One study defined resilience as “the ability to withstand setbacks, adapt positively, and bounce back from adversity.” Last year, the holiday season looked very different, and many were forced to cancel altogether. We learned time and time again that “being in this together” to fight a global pandemic also meant being separated. However, many have shared that the changes and challenges brought on by the pandemic allowed them to put what is most important into perspective. Remember the true meaning of why you celebrate this holiday season.

big family in the kitchen showing feeling thankful but anxious about holidays

#5 Find Balance and Boundaries

To experience balance, you’ll need to have boundaries. Balance is a state of mind—a contentedness and “sweet spot” of just enough motivation to get things done. We all have emotional limits, mental limits, relational limits, and physical limits. Checking in with your values can help you manage your stress and trust that it is okay to say “no” when you feel your stress level infringing on your max capacity.

With so many new challenges and adjustments we are facing in response to the coronavirus, it’s no wonder that stress is heightened. If you feel you could use some help navigating how to best live through this time, contact our care team today. We’re here to support you.