For many children, the holiday season is the best time of the year; a break from homework, tests, and early-morning routines; an abundance of twinkling lights, hot chocolate, and sweet treats; rooms filled with presents, loved ones, and handmade decorations. It is a time for excitement, joy, and glee; unless, of course, it’s not. Some children, especially those who are prone to anxiety or have diagnosed anxiety disorders, do not relish in the holiday season the way their less anxious counterparts seem to. A long break from school is not associated with joy; it is, instead, met with stress. Holiday parties and twinkling lights are not associated with delight; they are, instead, met with dread. Sensory overload and social anxiety can grow during the holiday season. Because of this, it is important to not only recognize whether or not your child is prone to anxiety, but to also be aware of how you can reduce the anxiety your child feels during this time of the year.
Track Your Child’s Symptoms
Anxiety can present itself in numerous ways. Your child’s symptoms will likely be different than another child’s symptoms. For some children, anxiety is expressed through isolation, excessive crying, or by being overly clingy with their parents. Other children may showcase their anxiety with symptoms that are psychosomatic in nature like head or muscle aches, dizziness, elevated heart rate, or complaining of a “lump” in their throats. Once you have figured out what symptoms of anxiety your child feels during the holiday season, you can come up with an overall “game plan” regarding how to reduce the anxiety that your child feels during certain situations.
Those with anxiety usually respond best to a set routine. Disruption to that routine usually ignites the symptoms associated with anxiety. If you have a long to-do list of engagements like holiday parties, cookie exchanges, play dates, school holiday functions, etc., it is important to be realistic when agreeing to attend these engagements. Do not force a child with social anxiety, for example, to play with children he or she does not know at a holiday party. Further, before adjusting your child’s routine, sit with him or her and explain how the routine will be disrupted; where will you be going? Who will be there? How long will you be there? What will you be doing once you get there? By providing your child with a detailed description of the activity they are about to participate in, they will be more mentally prepared to handle the upcoming event.
Lack of sleep and anxiety do not mix well. During the holiday season, try your best to keep your child’s sleep schedule consistent. If there is a family commitment or a religious service that requires a child to go to bed at a much later time, plan accordingly for the following day. Make sure that you do not schedule anything that involves a lot of mental or physical stimulation so that your child has time to mentally, emotionally, and physically recover from the previous night.
Maintain Proper Nutrition
The holidays are filled with tasty treats. While these are fun to indulge in and should not be completely avoided during the holiday season, it is important that your child maintains an overall healthy diet. Excess sugar and excess caffeine can both trigger and worsen anxiety symptoms. By maintaining a healthy balance throughout the holidays, your child will remain in good physical health; this will then have a positive overall effect on his or her mental health.
Spend Time with Your Children
The holiday season is a busy season. It is filled with visits from friends and loved ones. It is a time for play dates, parties, and get-togethers. With that being said, anxious children need down time spent with just their parents. Prioritize family time during the holiday season so that your child feels connected, grounded, and relaxed. Anxiety does not have to ruin your child’s holiday experience. By taking certain steps to ensure that his or her anxiety is being thought about, cared for, and properly managed, your child can enjoy the holiday season without associating it with the debilitating symptoms that accompany anxiety.