They say it's “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it sure can sometimes feel more like the most stressful time of the year. For all its wonder and joy, the holiday season can be the most anxiety-ridden season of the year. Unrealistic expectations, overwhelming demands, overflowing calendars, and increased social obligations can lead to all kinds of increased stress and anxiety.
- If you struggle with anxiety through the holidays, you’re not alone.
The pressure to try to do everything, to plan the “perfect” Christmas and implement all the traditions, not to mention traveling to visit family, meeting year-end deadlines at work, the financial burdens of shopping for everyone on your list, along with all the cooking and cleaning and wrapping and decorating…. whew! Just typing out that list is raising my anxiety already!
But what would happen if we let go of all the to-do's and the lists and the expectations this Christmas?
- What if we chose to enter this season with only one goal: to rest in the presence of God and let His peace fill our hearts?
After all, this is the season of Advent. It’s a time of anticipation, a season of expectant waiting for the coming of our Savior. Advent invites us to slow down and believe that there's more to Christmas than the loud noise of the holidays, more than the hustle and bustle of the crowds, more than the pressure to produce and perform and perfect.
- Advent is a season of hope, peace, love, and joy.
The truth is, there's nothing you have to buy, nothing you have to do to make this a good Christmas. Christmas is already good because our good God has already given us the greatest gift the world has ever known: Jesus.
So how can we intentionally seek peace this Christmas? How can we ease the anxiety and the stress and the pressure that so often fills these days and instead learn to simply rest and wait in Christ, and breathe in His love and goodness through the season?
Plan ahead for peace. Pull out a calendar and be proactive. List all the things you know you will have to do: events to attend, shopping, baking, travel, etc. Identify what brings you joy and what brings you stress. If possible, eliminate things that bring you unnecessary anxiety. At the same time, be intentional about planning things you know will bring you peace and joy. Be sure to leave plenty of white space in your days. Plan for rest, for time outside, for prayer and quiet time with God.
Set good boundaries with realistic expectations. Know your limitations. You don’t have to do all the things. Let yourself off the hook and learn to say no. If you can’t say no, plan time around the stressful things for some self-compassion and down time. Simplify. Don’t spend money you don’t have. You can’t buy peace with a carload of gifts and a wallet full of debt. Slow down the pace. Take a deep breath. This season is not an emergency. There is no race to Christmas day.
Give yourself grace. Anxiety and depression can be especially hard at the holidays. Be gentle with yourself. It’s ok if you’re not feeling in the “holiday spirit.” There can be pressure at the holidays to be happy and social, but it’s really ok if you’re not. You may be walking through deep hurt or loss this season. Be kind to yourself and gentle with the feelings you are processing. Remember: Jesus entered this world in the middle of the mess and muck of a lowly stable to meet you right where you are, in the middle of whatever hard things you’re going through. He came to be your Savior, and He invites you to give Him your burdens and let Him give you rest.
Take time to breathe and pray. Want a practical and powerful tool to help ease your anxiety while drawing your heart closer to Christ? I invite you to try the centuries-old Christian practice called breath prayer: a simple but deeply meaningful spiritual practice that combines deep breathing with prayers of meditation on God’s Word.
Made of just two lines from a verse of Scripture, breath prayers are prayed to the rhythm of your breath. You inhale slowly and deeply as you pray the first line of the prayer, then exhale slowly and fully as you pray the second line, repeating the prayer as many times as you’d like.
The slow, deep breathing is scientifically shown to help calm the physical symptoms of anxiety, while prayer turns your mind toward Christ and the truth in His Word.
I’ve personally found breath prayer to be an amazing tool to not only help manage my anxiety but also to strengthen my faith. It has helped me change the way I respond to feelings of anxiety. Instead of spiraling into overwhelm and panic, when I begin to feel anxious, I simply slow down for a few minutes and take time to breathe and pray a short breath prayer. As I do this, I can feel my anxiety begin to ease and my soul finds renewed strength as I focus on a truth that is greater than the overwhelming feelings of my anxiety.
You can give it a try with this simple prayer from 1 Peter 5:7:
Repeat this prayer a few times, breathing slowly to the rhythm of God’s Word.
- Anxiety doesn’t have to be your enemy this Christmas.
There may be hard and stressful days, but you don’t have to spiral out of control when anxiety builds. You can change the way you respond to your anxiety and use it as an opportunity to slow down and turn your heart toward Christ. When you do this regularly, you may just find that you are able to experience a deep and abiding peace as your soul draws closer to the One who split the veil between heaven and earth to be wrapped in infant skin so He could be near you and rescue you and give you real hope and true peace.
So, when you begin to feel overwhelmed or stressed this Christmas, simply slow down, breathe deep, and try praying a breath prayer. Better yet, try beginning every day with a few quiet minutes of breath prayer. Before the stress piles on, invite Christ to meet you right where you are as you turn your mind toward the truth in His Word and give your worries to Him.
He is Immanuel.
God is WITH us.
You can breathe deep this Christmas season and know:
You are safe and held and loved.
You don’t have to worry. You don’t have to stress.
Jesus is here.
Written for Devotionals Daily by Jennifer Tucker, author of Breath as Prayer.
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Whether you feel like it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” or the most stressful time of the year, slow down… Breathe deep. Rest in the presence of God. When anxiety hunts you down, inhale: I give You my worries and cares, and exhale: for You care about me. ~ Devotionals Daily