Gina Barreca: 'Tis the season to be anxious

Gina Barreca: 'Tis the season to be anxious

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November makes me anxious.

This year’s holidays are approaching with a particularly lean and nervous look, like coyotes dressed as reindeer and ready for a tussle. Nothing feels right.

Experts will advise the nervous and anxious among us, of which I consider myself a senior member, about how to cope with the deleterious effects of political, cultural and individual stress on our drinking lives over the next several weeks.

I’m kidding, of course. There doesn’t have to be drink involved. Prescription medications will do, if you have adequate coverage.

The first big family argument is like the first snowfall. It announces that the holiday season is really with us, and for the next six weeks, even a whiff of personal perspective will lead to full combat.

Mix in the current state of political affairs, and we’re off, folks.

Unleash the coyotes.

Everybody will have prepared an opinion, an educated analysis and a draft of the most recent email sent to their state senator about the divisive topic about which they’ve collected the most misinformation.

And they want to share.

In order to strengthen our bodies and minds for the increased pressure we’ll be facing, we the anxious need to preemptively focus on how to handle ourselves in these situations.

With health and wellness as our collective goal, let’s categorize our individual anxieties so that we can find the most effective ways to suppress them.

To properly categorize your anxieties, take this November Heightened Anxiety Quiz:

Q: I am most unnerved when I recall that:

A. I have yet to buy any holiday gifts, not even for those I treasure most.

B. The last time I actually enjoyed the holidays was 1997.

C. The word “idiot” was used by the ancient Greeks to define anyone who was a private citizen and not a politician and now it means the opposite.

Q: Shortened daylight hours make me feel:

A. Like I am missing the best part of my waking moments because I must spend them at work.

B. As if there is absolutely no reason to distinguish daywear from nightwear.

C. Worried about if I’m getting enough vitamin D or if I should buy one of those full-spectrum bulbs, which reliably make people look like zombies.

Q: Over the last week, I was most agitated when I realized that:

A. I have to lose approximately 27 pounds by next Thursday so that I’ll fit in the back seat of my cousin’s Toyota Yaris because otherwise I’ll be taking two buses to our grandparents’ house in Delaware.

B. My 401(k) now equals $16.09, making the prospect of my imminent retirement less appealing.

C. That is a true thing: “The U.S. Army may need to relocate one (of) its officers after threats made by the leader of our country, a sitting U.S. senator and their ancillary propaganda,” in the words of author and activist Amy Siskind.

Q: I plan to breathe mindfully as I rely on these time-tested techniques to help accept the transition to 2020:

A. Shock and denial.

B. Pain and guilt.

C. Anger and bargaining.

D. “Law & Order” (binging reruns).

If you sought an “all of the above” option for any of the above questions, congratulations. You’re among friends.

Anxiety is part of our lives, and it is good to make light of it. Haha. There, now that’s done.

As for the burden of meeting high standards, the worry that we’re being judged and found wanting: Let’s leave those concerns on the sideboard and concentrate on the main dish. The main dish is love. Choose the right group and there’s enough to go around — come away from them nourished.

End up with the wrong group — or even the right group at the wrong time — and although you might be fattened up with the relationship equivalent of Doritos, you’ll stay hungry for what you really need: meaningful conversation in a welcoming company of folks. That prospect soothes the most restless soul.

Expect me at 8, and I’ll bring appetizers for the coyotes. Nothing to feel anxious about at all. Haha.

Gina Barreca is a board of trustees distinguished professor of English literature at the University of Connecticut and the author of 10 books. She can be reached at


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