Holiday stress is real: Let an expert explain how to keep it at bay

Abby Haglage
·3 min read

Although 2018 brought a host of celebrities opening up about their mental health struggles, Beyoncé and Jennifer Lawrence are far from the only ones who struggle with mental illness. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 18 percent of the population each year, only a third of whom seek treatment.

For many Americans, there’s perhaps no more anxious time than the current one: when holiday travel, shopping and crowds collide. So what’s actually going on when you feel your anxiety rise, and what can be done to combat it? Ali Mattu, PhD, a clinical psychologist, is here with some answers.

“There are a number of reasons why the holidays are so stressful,” Mattu tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “When you are out shopping, there are a lot of people out shopping. There’s also more contact with family members, maybe family you haven’t seen, there’s the travel. … Get good at understanding what stresses you out, about one in four adults experiences an anxiety disorder. It is the most common mental illness among adults.”

In some cases, anxiety isn’t a bad thing — and in recent years, some have begun to share ways that anxiety can be channeled into progress, both personally and professionally. But too much anxiety, says Mattu, can be paralyzing.

“When anxiety becomes a problem is when it starts to get in the way of your life, if it starts to limit what you can do,” Mattu tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “People who struggle with anxiety are likely to experience a lot of strong physical symptoms, which could include heavy breathing, rapid heart rate, sweating, tension, dry mouth, increased temperature and the feeling of butterflies in your stomach.”

Mattu says that four or more of these symptoms converging at once is when the anxiety becomes a panic attack — but those are less frequent than generalized anxiety. For those experiencing the latter, he recommends talk therapy. “The most effective treatments for anxiety come from the family of cognitive behavioral therapy,” says Mattu. “They help you to be in situations that are difficult for you. A cognitive behavioral therapist will help you become more comfortable being uncomfortable.

If you need more urgent help quelling your anxiety, Psychology Today has some helpful tips on its website. Among them: Try deep breathing, get lots of sleep and lower your intake of caffeine. But whether those work or not, if you’re still struggling — the most important step is to realize you’re not alone. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, anxiety is something that can happen to anyone,” says Mattu. “It’s wonderful that more people are speaking up about it. That makes it easier for us to share our stories — and to get help.”

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