Why Holidays Heighten Anxiety


Why Holidays Heighten AnxietyI asked a friend how she deals with anxiety during the holidays and she said, “I don’t!” Like, how? Apparently, she doesn’t even deal with anxious feelings! That didn’t register with my trauma, emotional, and grief dealing mind.

Heavy things come up during the holidays for me.

Physically, I’ll feel it before I do emotionally or mentally, and I connect dates with heavy events or memories that put me in the past. I believe the body keeps score of emotional events and stress, and this shows up in my health, unwarranted emotions, or lack of sleep.

The first of November brought the reminder of what would have been a wedding anniversary. Instead, I’m a single mom called to bring thanksgiving and joy to an upcoming holiday season. Lower back pain led me to remember horrible kidney pain I’ve had this time of year since 2017. The end of November was the time I started dating my first husband who, by the following Thanksgiving, was gone from my life. Couple all of this with a time change — that takes my sunlight-loving, vitamin D-soaking self indoors earlier than I would like — and insomnia.

Postpartum life after my third child triggered OCD and depression, hitting the hardest in November. By mid-December, I was suicidal and admitted to a mental health hospital. Outpatient care took me right up to Christmas. During this time, there was so much shame that I barely shared with anyone outside of my close family and a couple of friends.

That’s just a brief synopsis of the years between 2009-2022! Writing it out and journaling privately helps me understand why my health and emotions can take a hit during the holidays. There are a lot of memory dates I wish had not happened.

However, Christmas and Thanksgiving are still two of my favorite holidays. Each year, I have a new hope, a stronger disposition, and the wisdom to deal with physical health symptoms.

For this season, I offer empathy and some hope. I will not throw out a bunch of “here’s what you can do” options. Just rest knowing that you’re not alone even if your hard seems harder or easier than my hard.

My normal disposition is joy-filled. I do not want my past to be a burden on anyone. For years, I stuffed things until I sought help in counseling, dealing with one issue at a time. Counseling was a safe, non-judgmental place to flush out things and not be told I was crazy. Counselors have seen it all! If only I knew five years ago how much emotions affect physical health, I wouldn’t have stuffed it all down and said “I’m fine!,” then worked to drown out any negative feelings.

I seek adventure mostly outdoors and love finding inspiration in nature. Loving my kids and serving them is my favorite, most prioritized calling. And normally, I’m excited for new seasons! What I’ve listed in the form of trauma and grief are blips. And that’s exactly what I tell myself when I wake up and everything seems doom or gloom or stress catches up to me in the form of a cold. “Danielle, this is just one hard day! There is a tomorrow coming that could be completely different!”

You’re most likely a woman reading this blog for moms, and you must know that hormonal chemicals are the tickets to your emotions. Any work I have done to get better outside of counseling has been in understanding these connections to grief and trauma. We live in a world where we are taught that it’s normal to be irritable, full of bad emotions and feelings, and overly fatigued because of our hormones. It may be common, but it is not normal. Your grief and trauma are yours and yours alone, unique but also fit in the web of your body being affected physically, chemically, and hormonally. I touch more on the symptoms of depression in this post.

Another part of the body that remembers heavy things is the limbic system. It’s a part of the brain that plays a powerful role in creating different emotions and feelings. It is often called “the emotional switchboard of the brain” because it’s responsible for carrying sensory input from the environment to the hypothalamus and then from the hypothalamus to other parts of the body. To understand this connection, think about how you get a nauseous feeling when you’re anxious or how you break into a sweat, are dizzy, or your heart is beating fast from the anxiety caused by leaving your home when it’s your safe place.

Your immune system is even impacted by stress from grief and trauma. Could this be a reason why you find yourself more sickly this time of year? Emotional stress stops the immune system from functioning optimally.

To the non-anxious people reading this, keep being a ray of sunshine in our lives! Thank you so much for sticking around as friends who call when we don’t, make plans when we cancel, and sit in our tearful repeated stories even on your good days.

If I piqued your interest in physical connections to emotions, consider reading The Body Keeps Score and this post. My real hope is in our Creator and Jesus, which is why I love putting the focus there during the Christmas season more than cultural expectations of busyness.

988 is the suicide hotline. Call if you are feeling like you need support. You are not alone!