Holidays are considered a time for cheer, celebration, and relaxation, but they also involve a lot of change in routine and new situations. This can be particularly hard for children with anxiety, making it difficult for them to feel comfortable and fully enjoy themselves. To better prepare for the holiday season, we’ve included some tips for youth with anxiety below:
1. Provide a general overview/schedule of the holiday events.
Many youth with anxiety struggle with the holiday season because it departs from their typical routine and often involves new situations. To help them prepare for this, provide a general overview or schedule of events in advance of the holiday season so they know what to expect. However, it is important to remember that changes do happen and children do not necessarily need to know every single detail of the events; this will serve as a good opportunity for the child to practice flexibility and tolerate some uncertainty (which are necessary skills for everyday living, not just for the holidays!).
2. Use this as an opportunity for children to begin stepping out of their comfort zone.
If there are things that typically make the child anxious (e.g., talking to strangers, being in new situations, etc.), there may be opportunities to gradually encourage the child to get out of their comfort zone. For instance, if the child is tentative about speaking to strangers, perhaps asking them to speak to a relative they are not as familiar with would be a good first step towards getting out of their comfort zone.
3. Encourage the child to enjoy the present moment.
Anxiety has a way of tricking children to focus on what might happen in the future, which makes it hard for them to enjoy the present. To prevent worries from taking over the holiday fun, encourage your child to be present in the moment and take in what is currently happening. For example, focusing on specific sounds, smells, colors, and textures can be helpful for focusing on what’s going on around them at the moment. Print out the Soothing with Our Senses handout to help your child practice staying present.
4. Give the child some alone time when needed.
Holidays can be stressful for everyone, especially since it involves many changes to our usual routines (e.g., travel, large family gatherings) and events are often scheduled back-to-back. As such, it is okay for the child to take a moment for themselves from time to time if they need a small break from these changes. For instance, it can be helpful to take a moment just to breathe (try Butterfly Breath!) and relax away from the stimulation. Once they feel a bit more centered, be sure to encourage them to join back in on the holiday fun so they don’t miss out!
5. Ensure that the child gets enough sleep.
With changes in routine and an increase in holiday-related activities, it can be hard to stick to their sleep routine and/or get enough sleep. Not having enough sleep can exacerbate anxiety and make it harder for youth to concentrate and use their coping skills, so making sure that they are getting enough sleep is important. Check out these tips for building healthy sleep habits.
6. Try to keep some routine, if possible.
Having something familiar for the child can be comforting, such as having the same morning or bedtime routine. If this is possible to achieve, it can help bring some normalcy to the child in an otherwise changing environment.
7. Encourage the child to help with holiday event setup.
If you are hosting the holiday event or involved with the preparation, it can be helpful to have the child assist with the setup (e.g., setting the table, making decorations). By doing so, the child will feel like they have some control over what is happening, which can help mitigate some anxiety. Additionally, it is a great opportunity to build confidence and feel proud in being able to complete these tasks, knowing that they contributed to the holiday event.
Monica Wu, PhD
CARES Staff Psychologist