It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the song goes, but unfortunately for many writers, it’s also the time when we’re most anxious and stressed out.
In a survey of about 1,100 Americans, over half (54 percent) said they felt some symptoms of a syndrome known as “holiday anxiety.” You can think of it as part social anxiety, part holiday stress.
Another survey by Booking.com found that over a third of people (36 percent) worried about things going wrong the first day of their holiday, and in a Bankrate survey, 6 out of 10 said they felt pressure to overspend on presents, travel, social outings, or charitable donations.
Writers are likely to be particularly vulnerable as creativity and anxiety are closely connected, according to scientists.
If you find yourself panicking at the thought of one more dinner party or worrying you may not get time to write during your vacation, read on for tips on how to cope.
Anxiety can show up in many forms during the holiday season. If you’re someone who dreads attending social functions, you may suffer from a bit of social anxiety.
This is a type of anxiety many writers may experience at various times of the year, though they may not label it as such. It’s characterized by anxiety or fear of being judged, negatively evaluated by others, or rejected in a social situation. Symptoms include:
Other types of anxiety tend to crop up during the holiday season too. Writers may feel anxious about finances, potential family squabbles, or just being able to manage it all.
“As much as we love the holidays,” writes Arlin Cuncic, “they are undeniably a stressful time of year. Often, we find ourselves buying gifts for people we don't know that well, traveling to see people we don't like that much, and just generally doing things in a compressed manner—it feels like we need to pack in as much as we can.”
Writers who hope to have some time to write during their holiday time off may feel more anxious when that time seeps away because of other engagements or responsibilities. For many of us, the page is where we feel most at home. It is our solace, our sanctuary, and if we go too many days without it, we start to feel anxious and on edge.
By the time New Year’s rolls around, instead of feeling refreshed and restored, we can feel exhausted and resentful—feelings from which it can take weeks to recover.
You don’t have to suffer through holiday stress and anxiety. A variety of coping techniques can help you to feel more centered while making it possible for you to get the writing done you want to do while still enjoying your favorite activities.
If you’re one of those writers who gains solace from writing, find ways to fit it in no matter what. It may not be as good as you’d like it to be, but for many of us, just the practice of writing can help us feel more confident.
Grab a few minutes in the morning before everyone else gets up, or at night after everyone has gone to bed. Escape somewhere in the car for a half-hour if necessary to get some words down. Likely the writing won’t feel as smooth as usual, and you may struggle to pick up the thread of your story, so if need be, write about something else, or simply record the thoughts you’re having.
Just the simple act of writing, whatever shape it takes, will likely help you feel better.
Exercise produces natural feel-good endorphins in the brain and can help relieve stress and anxiety. Whenever you feel the pressure building up, take a short walk. Even 20 minutes can be enough to allow all nervous feelings to dissipate, creating space for your more creative side to return.
Research shows that the more time you spend on social media, the more you’re at risk for anxiety. One study of over 1,700 adults found that higher levels of social media use were associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety.
The effects can be worse over the holidays, as we see images of everyone else supposedly enjoying perfect meals, perfect parties, and perfect family get-togethers. We can begin to think our lives pale by comparison.
To stay on a more even keel over the holidays, give your social media feeds a break and enjoy more face-to-face interactions instead.
This is a difficult one for many of us as we don't want to let anyone down. But trying to make it to every party, every get-together, and every dinner, all while creating perfect memories for our families, can be too much.
Before you say “yes,” make sure that doing so won’t lead to resentment or exhaustion. Limit the events you attend each week if possible, and don’t forget to schedule in time for yourself and your writing.
Sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet often go out the window during the holiday season. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in some of those ubiquitous holiday treats, but the more you can stick with your healthy habits, the less anxious you’ll feel.
Healthy habits can protect you. In a 2019 study, researchers found that participants who engaged in moderate or high physical activity had significantly lower odds of having anxiety and depression. So continue your healthy routine as much as possible over the holiday season.
While running around doing everything you need to do for the holidays, you’re likely to forget to take time to relax. Incorporating a regular stress-relieving activity into your week can help you shed the stress and limit feelings of anxiety.
Good options include journaling, yoga, meditation, daily walks, aromatherapy, or even 15 minutes with a good cup of herbal tea. Use the method that works best for you—just be sure you’re using it regularly.
If you experience social anxiety when attending events, turn your focus outwards. Symptoms of social anxiety tend to appear because we're too worried about how we are coming across and whether others will judge us.
Use your powers of observation to examine others, instead. How are they coming across? What do you think of them? How do you imagine they are feeling, judging by their behavior?
Many writers experience success by turning social events into character research. What unusual character traits might you notice while people-watching at a party? Keep a notebook or a phone app handy to jot those down that seem unique.
When you need to engage in conversation, ask questions to dive deeper into what others are thinking. Listen with the ear of a writer looking for a good story. You may soon find yourself so interested that your anxiety will recede into the background.
How do you manage holiday anxiety?
Colleen M. Story inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her first non-fiction book, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018, and her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews' INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, is a strengths-based guide to help writers break the spell of invisibility and discover unique author platforms that will draw readers their way. Get your free chapters of both writing books here!
With over 20 years in the creative industry, Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com) and Writer CEO (writerceo.com). Please see her author website (colleenmstory.com) or follow her on Twitter (@colleen_m_story).
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These are wonderful, Colleen, thank you! I especially need an intervention on saying NO!
Thanks, Laura! Yes, that's one that I think we all need practice on! :O)
Enjoyed this. Thank you.
Great post! I didn't know about the anxiety - creativity link, but it makes perfect sense.
Learning how to say no is something I am working on and hope to be better at soon.
Good luck! I've heard it helps to start with saying "no" to little things--like when they ask, "Can we upsize that for you?" NO! Ha ha. :O)
I was talking about this to my husband last night. When I was a kid Christmas was a time of pure joy. Long summer days, delicious food, family and presents. Now, everything is a little tainted with anxiety. How will I keep my mum happy? How will I make sure my mother-in-law doesn't feel neglected? Do my kids really need that many presents? Am I a bad person because I don't send Christmas cards? How can I avoid putting all the weight I've lost back on, without looking like a Grinch who wont eat the Christmas chockies? Oh my goodness! If you know the answer to these questions don't hesitate to let me know. Deep breaths is a good start I guess. 😀
Ha ha. Love the issue of not looking like a Grinch that won't eat the cookies! :O) That all sounds familiar for sure, and I'm sure to a lot of folks. Deep breaths do help. For me being grateful for the basics--that my family is healthy and happy--helps me realize that all the rest is window dressing.
I'm losing the battle at the moment.
Being sick for a week didn't help, and now everything is snowballing.
Oh dear. Sorry to hear that Denise! Do take care of yourself!
Thank you for giving me permission for self-care and relaxation! I had NO TIME to do it today, and yet I still grabbed a power nap in the afternoon so I could push through the rest of the day. It was deliciously wonderful. ♥
Those naps are SO helpful. Science proves it so rest away! :O)
I would add- turn your phone off and block of time on your calendar for you, and let others know when you are available. As a ghostwriter/editor, this is a really crazy time of year in publishing- everyone is looking for the Christmas miracle- that is their book finished and published before the end of the year. Follow the North Star and keep wishing- meanwhile I will talk to you in 2020!
Great advice John! :O)