5 Ways to Manage Anxiety Before the Holidays


‘Twas the week before the holidays
And what do we hear?
A multitude of Ashford students
Shivering with fear.

Anxiety, stress, and nervousness
Is all that they feel,
As they try to research articles
While preparing their family’s meal.

 Looking over their final essay
And checking it twice
They are praying for a good grade.
“Heck! A passing grade would suffice.”

Seemingly getting louder,
The tick tock of the clock.
As they prepare the final touches,
They suffer a mental block.

 Concentration is lost.
What should they do?
The clock strikes midnight
This is their cue.

 The students stop what they’re doing
And submit the progress they’ve made.
Crossing their fingers,
Hoping this stressful feeling will fade.

Sound familiar? Before the holiday season, college students feel more than just the average stress from academics, family, and employment. This “average” level of stress is often compounded during the holiday due to financial burdens and preparation for family interactions.

But we all deserve to be happy, right?

Developing self-regulation techniques and coping strategies to deal with stress is an important part of leading a mentally healthy life. According to the American Heart Association (2017), there are several physiological reactions to stress that we have to be mindful of, such as tension headaches, backaches, insomnia, clenched jaw, etc. Also, and equally as important, our mood and feelings can be affected. A person with chronic stress in their lives may get easily agitated and can also be forgetful. They tend to experience increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of being out of control.

Yes, I’m stressed! Now what?

The question then becomes, “What can I do about this stress I have?” There are several ways you can manage your stress level, but it’s important to remember that practice makes perfect. When a person continuously uses stress management techniques, it then becomes a force of habit. For instance, one thing that can be done each day is spend at least 15 minutes engaging in a pleasurable activity, such as cuddling with a pet or reading the next chapter of a favorite book. Other stress-relieving activities involve relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga. And what’s a common factor in both meditation and yoga that can be practiced on its own? Deep breathing is the most common technique we can use, even while sitting at a desk at work or at your kitchen table. While these are strategies that most people are familiar with, let’s look at other ways students can manage their stress leading up to the holidays.

Unique Coping Strategies

1. Color by Number

Remember the “paint by number” pictures you used to create as a child? Well, come to find out, coloring books have been developed for adults because of this activity’s therapeutic benefits. It can distract a person momentarily from the current stressors. It is also considered a relaxation activity that doesn’t require deep thinking, which can be exhausting. And since this article is focusing on de-stressing as we approach the holidays, once you’re finished, your art can make a perfect holiday gift.

2. Pet Therapy

A study, implemented by Adamle, Riley, and Carlson (2009), involved the evaluation of college students and their interests in a pet therapy program. The authors confirmed that pet therapy has been successful in treating anxiety with different populations. This conclusion makes sense when we consider the fact that a large percentage of the students who participated also shared their feeling that pets are family members. Researchers also felt that pet therapy would help college students with intermittent periods of stress. One particular college student talked about a critical time when she was hospitalized at a children’s hospital. Pet therapy was being used, and it was something she looked forward to on a daily basis.

Pets can bring about many benefits. They can make us feel loved unconditionally. Their happy demeanor helps us forget the stress that is ailing us. There’s not too much in this world that can beat the tactile sensations from touching a dog or cat’s soft fur and feeling the warmth of their body against yours.

3. Find Your Happy Place

Female meditatingImagery is another technique you can use. This technique requires you to imagine being in a place that makes you happy, appropriately referred to as your “happy place.” Think about the last place you traveled to or maybe a place that you like to go that brings you a sense of peace. Sometimes the sound of trickling water can be relaxing, so imagine yourself sitting next to a steady stream and focus on the other sounds, such as birds chirping and leaves blowing in the wind. Take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale.

4. Your Nose Knows

The sense of smell can bring pleasant memories to the surface, which evoke emotions (Wei, 2016). It could be the smell of a perfume or even a food item, like freshly baked bread. With this in mind, aromatherapy using essential oils has been proven to decrease stress and improve our quality of sleep. In one particular study, participants, who were admitted to the intensive care unit of a hospital, engaged in deep breathing of lavender aroma oil (Cho, Lee, & Hur, 2017). In comparison to the control group, who didn’t receive aromatherapy, this study resulted in a decrease of anxiety, depression, and insomnia among those in the experimental group (2017). According to Dr. Marlynn Wei (2016), the best essential oils known to relieve stress are lavender, yuzu citrus, bergamot, clary sage, and jasmine. Also, why not get into the holiday spirit by getting candles with scents like cinnamon and pumpkin?

5. Shake Your Booty!

Group of dancing studentsGain more energy by creating a dancing area in your home. Recent studies have suggested that non-goal-oriented dance movement therapy (DMT) improves perceived stress level as well as overall well-being (Wiedenhofer, Hofinger, Wagner, & Koch, 2016). Many individuals say that they don’t enjoy exercising because it’s not fun to do. However, dancing is very enjoyable, plus you can lose a few calories in the process. When rushing to get assignments finished before the holidays, it is recommended for college students to take a study break, turn up their favorite dance music, and just start dancing for 15 – 20 minutes. The relief of stress will be inevitable.

Whether traveling, receiving guests, or continuing with your regular routine, choose to take care of yourself this holiday season.

By Sonja Bethune, Psy.D.

Adamle KN, Riley TA, & Carlson T. (2009). Evaluating college student interest in pet therapy. Journal of American College Health, 57(5), 545–548. https://doi-org.proxy-library.ashford.edu/10.3200/JACH.57.5.545-548

American Heart Association. (2017). Lower stress: How does stress affect the body. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/StressManagement/HowDoesStressAffectYou/How-Does-Stress-Affect-You_UCM_307985_Article.jsp

Cho, E. H., Lee, M.-Y., & Hur, M.-H. (2017). The effects of aromatherapy on intensive care unit patients’ stress and sleep quality: A nonrandomized controlled trial. Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (ECAM), 2017, 1–10.

Coloring book for adults. (2018). Maxime De Ruyck. Retrieved 19 December 2018, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/15881447631

Essential Oils, Alternative, Aroma. (2018). Pixabay.com. Retrieved 19 December 2018, from https://pixabay.com/en/essential-oils-alternative-aroma-2536471/

Wei, M. (2016, April 28). Six aromatherapy essential oils for stress relief and sleep. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-survival/201604/six-aromatherapy-essential-oils-stress-relief-and-sleep

Wiedenhofer, S., Hofinger, S., Wagner, K., & Koch, S. (2017). Active factors in dance/movement therapy: Health effects of non-goal-orientation in movement. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 39(1), 113–125. https://doi-org.proxy-library.ashford.edu/10.1007/s10465-016-9240-2