Deck the halls with Anxiety, Pain, and Loss

6a0105369e3ea1970b0147e0565ee6970b 320wi - Deck the halls with Anxiety, Pain, and Loss Tis the season! Eating…buying….decorating! The cycle seems endless. First there was Halloween candy, then tom the turkey, and now the little man in the red suit.

The holidays in America represent capitalism in all its grandeur.

Most shopping connoisseurs and major retailers agree that the holiday shopping season officially begins with the day after Thanksgiving; notoriously called Black Friday. This year, Time Magazine, published several articles regarding the topic calling the binge of shopping “a carnival of capitalism.”

The National Retail Federation estimates that the average person spent $365.00 dollars during the Thanksgiving weekend. The scary part? It’s up six-percent from last year.

With all the busyness of the holidays, the anxiety, pain and loss that the season brings is easily overlooked and unacknowledged. For many, the holidays represent a time to spend with loved ones. But for others, memories linger of days past when loved ones were living. Often, this pain is only exacerbated by the expectations of the season of gift giving, cookie making and party-going; resulting in phone calls from the consumer credit companies.

With all the hecticness of the season, and its demands that you BE HAPPY, what can someone in anxiety and pain do?

The first thing to do according to Edmund Bourne, heralded as the psychology guru on anxiety and phobias, is stop the holiday rushing.  If you don’t feel merry enough to beep your horn in traffic, catch the seasonal cold, and run around in circles, then stop.  It’s only creating more anxiety. 

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready for Bourne’s comprehensive approach, one that looks at all levels of the person—physical, emotional, mental and interpersonal.

Physically speaking, anxiety is multifaceted and is often rooted in shallow breathing, muscle tension, cumulative effects of stress on the body, and nutritional factors.

Solution: start exercising 30 minutes three times a week, practice deep stomach breathing hourly, reduce sugar and caffeine intake, and if inclined look into various forms of biofeedback that focus on mind-body interaction. Short on time due to the holidays?  Try deep stomach breathing while waiting in line at the local retailer.


Emotionally speaking, the suppression of anger and other feelings is often a lead cause of anxiety; and occurs after the death of a loved one or traumatic experiences.

Solution: work toward acknowledging feelings, both positive and negative, by tuning into the present moment.  Focus on recognizing feelings in the body that have been mentally suppressed. In many cases, a good dose of therapy is needed—the most helpful?  Humanistic, and emotion regulation therapies.


Mentally speaking, an emergence of new thought patterns is helpful. People with anxiety are notorious for going down “what-if lane.” The holidays only bring more of it.

Solution: Help the brain’s “self talk” through the reconstruction of destructive thought patterns and mistaken beliefs. The best way? A practice of mindfulness – where the self-transcendent aspects of your existence are acknowledged and experienced. Still not working? Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has high rates of success.


Interpersonally speaking, anxiety can cause rippling effects on one’s most cherished relationships. Add the holiday stress – and you and your significant other might not be on speaking terms.

Solution: A change in communication patterns. No more swallowing what you really think and getting anxious and tense from it. For some, assertive communication needs to be learned. For others, greater awareness and depth on a continual basis to “know” one’s feelings, needs and wants is helpful. How does this communication look? Its firm, to the point, simple, unapologetic, judgment-free, and in the form of a request.


Do these things take time? Absolutely. Here, however, is the clincher:  they will make more time in that they cut back on the tension and anxiety that so many of us feel, causing us to be paralyzed or unproductive. Besides, just imagine how much greater the holiday season could be with that calm feeling in your chest, peaceful thoughts and mistletoe on the tree!


— Liz Schreiber

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