Three Ways to Manage Worry This Thanksgiving
It’s the start of the holiday season. Thanksgiving is later this week and that means lots of different things to different people – family, travel, feasting, and with all of those experiences: worry. Worry is a form of anxiety, a fear or nervousness about the future, generally future events. You might be nervous about Thanksgiving dinner because you’re newly sober, but your family still drinks. You might have stopped gambling and don’t know what to do for the holiday because you usually go to the sports book to watch the games. You might have a strained relationship with your family or perhaps your in-laws don’t like you, but you’re going to their place this year because that’s what your spouse wants. Whatever the reason, millions of us have to deal with worry during the holidays. Here are three easy things to do to help you manage your tendency to worry:
- Learn and practice mindfulness.
Worrying is a focus on the future, on what might happen and what you will do about it. The practice of mindfulness can help you break free of your worries by bringing your attention back to the present. Using mindfulness to stay focused on the present is a simple concept, but it takes practice to reap the benefits. At first, you will probably find that your mind keeps wandering back to your worries. That’s normal. Just start again. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you are reinforcing a new mental habit that will help you break free of the negative worry cycle. The future will come. Don’t let worry drain your opportunity for happiness now.
- Accept uncertainty and learn to challenge anxious thoughts.
Thinking about all the things that could go wrong does not make life any more predictable. You may feel safe while you are worrying, but that relative safety is an illusion. Focusing on worst-case scenarios will not keep bad things from happening; it will only keep you from enjoying the good things you have in the present. So if you want to stop worrying, start by tackling your need for certainty and immediate answers. Identify what worries you. Then, instead of viewing your thoughts as facts, treat them as hypotheses. Is it likely that Uncle Bob will dance on the table in his underwear? That’s just one possible scenario. It’s just as possible that Uncle Bob will fall asleep in an armchair. As you examine and challenge your worries, you will develop a more balanced perspective. Remind yourself: Uncle Bob has not danced on a table at Thanksgiving since 1945, but he has fallen asleep after dinner many times in the last ten years. There is no need to worry about something that may never happen.
- Start a journal to note the situations or people causing you to worry.
The company you keep affects how you feel. Emotions are contagious and we are affected by other’s moods. For example, the terrified passenger sitting by you on the plane or the fuming customer in the checkout line can change how you’re feeling. People you spend a lot of time with have an even greater impact on your mental state. Every time you start to worry, jot down what triggered your anxiety. You may not be aware of how people or situations are affecting you, and over time, you will start to see patterns. You may then need to set some healthier relationship boundaries.
No matter what you do this holiday season, if you are new to recovery, stay close to your support system. Check in with a trusted friend or attend a support-group meeting. Only attend functions where you know you will be safe. If you’re not OK at home, consider volunteering your time at a church or soup kitchen where servers or dishwashers or greeters are needed. Remind yourself of what you have to be grateful for. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to recognize triggers and learn to live in a healthier way.