I first wrote this blog a few years ago. Re-reading it, I realised it is probably even more relevant today when there are many anxiety inducing factors around. Unstable political parties, global warming, over-stretched health systems…I could go on…. More than ever, we need to stay grounded, to remember that most of us just want to do our best; to be peaceful, calm and happy, and go with the flow. Peace is high on my list for sure. I am determined to switch off regularly, to step out into the frosty clear night and look up at the stars. Somewhere out there in our amazing universe lies the answer to all our questions and fears if only we could trust in that….
It’s the time of year when there is a lot to think about. Perhaps more than usual. If you are prone to anxiety, the thought of coping with Christmas plans can add to your anxious feelings or to the feelings of someone you love. While for many, Christmas is nothing but exciting, this is not always the case for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and conditions such as OCD.
Do you find yourself caught up with the stress of the pre – Christmas rush? The build up seems to start earlier each year and before we know it we are bombarded with all sorts of smart advertising containing supposedly endearing stories and mini films with the ‘ahhh’ factor, that are really there to entice us into spending money in the big, well- known stores. The media paints a picture of wonderment and happiness; we would all love this of course, but for some people this is not how Christmas is for them. The world is not perfect all of the time and we need to hold on to that thought and remember we are not the only ones who get anxious this time of year. For some, loneliness can be a real problem, perhaps because of the loss of a loved one, and the sadness of loss can certainly feel desperately raw at this time of year.
Christmas parties, whether it is with colleagues or old friends can be hard to cope with at the best of times, but add anxiety to this and before you know it you may dread the social scene. You can be out of your comfort zone having to speak to people you don’t know well and worried about having to impress – maybe a new boss or confident looking colleagues. With parties closer to home, it may be a case of meeting new neighbours or friends you haven’t seen in a while.
Food shopping is something else to negotiate – for some reason we feel the need to buy massive amounts of extra food this time of year; ok we may have people coming to stay or extra mouths to feed at Christmas Day, but even if not we tend to buy stuff we wouldn’t normally buy – think big tins of biscuits, the Turkish delight, the boxes of dates and the mountains of Yule logs and mince pies. I know it is good to have a treat this time of the year, but perhaps we do get tempted to buy too much. Then there is the alcohol too – would we dream of drinking chocolate liqueurs and mulled wine (often not even worth drinking) or egg nog any other time of year?
Apart from the fact we end up spending a lot more money on food and wine this time of the year resulting in a negative effect on our bank balance; eating and drinking extra calories and rich food this time of year can make anxiety levels worse and again have a negative effect on us, this time on our health.
Buying presents is something most of us get concerned about. Of course, we want our loved ones to have something they like to open on Christmas Day , especially the children, but for an anxious person, the results of spending a lot of money in a short space of time can seem very scary and worrying. Money aside, the crowds, loud jarring music and queues can make Christmas shopping seem unbearable.
So okay, the above situations are those which most of us have encountered at sometime in our lives and I am painting quite a grim picture of what should and can be a magical and completely enjoyable time of year. Because it really doesn’t have to be such a stressful time of year. Who makes it that way? And why?
Going back to the advertising, we are taught from quite an early age what we can expect Christmas to be like. But it cannot apply to us all. We are not all the same. And we are all coping with our own personal situations. What may be wonderful for one person may not be right for another. What do most of us remember when we look back down the years? Piles of presents around the tree, huge amounts of food and big parties? Or do we remember the excitement of hanging the stockings at the end of the bed and the thrill of opening the small gifts in the early hours, so lovingly and haphazardly wrapped by a caring parent. Or sadly, there may be memories that are not quite as happy, and that may be another reason Christmas evokes pain and stress.
Maybe this year – with still some time ahead before Christmas is really upon us, we can decide to take a different view and look at what is really important. One thing that always strikes me every year, and I always comment on to my husband without fail every year, is that the build up to Christmas is huge; we all rush around trying to get things done, caught up in the whole rush and excitement and then suddenly we arrive at Boxing Day and hear murmurs and mutterings of: ‘well that’s that for another year’, and: ‘where are you going for your holiday this year?’ It seems to be indicative of the society we have become: always looking for the next thrill, the next celebration or occasion before we have had time to enjoy and digest what has just occurred. So this year how about making a decision not to get too ‘wrapped up in Christmas’? Have a year where you do not make too many commitments. Be honest with people and say no in the nicest possible way if you don’t want to do something. Do most of your present shopping online and do it in your own time. Book an online food shop well in advance if it suits you, and apart from the convenience you won’t be so tempted to buy lots of unnecessary goodies (which aren’t really goodies at all). Also, explain to everyone that your Christmas this year may be a little more low key and that includes your present giving. Offer loved ones time instead. Time is the most valuable gift of all.
Decide a few things in advance to help keep your anxiety at bay. Plan to eat healthily and avoid too many stimulants like caffeine and alcohol. Have plenty of rest and not too many late nights. Cortisol is the body’s most powerful stress hormone. It causes a number of changes in the body, including increasing stimulation and the perception of fright. Getting regular good rest and sleep can keep cortisol production to a minimum and reduce the feelings of dread.
If you reduce your expectations about the holidays you will not be disappointed when things don’t always go according to plan; likewise if you are feeling calm you will be more able to enjoy things and ‘go with the flow’. Good things that do occur can be received with joy and thankfulness. Do things you like to do too, like walks in the clear, crisp night when the stars are out and the world is peaceful. Spending time doing the things you love and want to do is a great way to celebrate the Christmas season and you will feel better for it. This isn’t being selfish but just being your true self. Having healthy boundaries is essential when you are prone to anxiety.
A good tip is to think and act a bit more like a child at Christmas – have you noticed how children don’t run around getting stressed about Christmas? Far from it! They just enjoy the time while it is there.
So now that the lead up to Christmas has started remember that every day is special and also has it’s own challenges and delights. When the events of the holiday season threaten to overwhelm you, breathe deeply, take time out until you feel calmer, and look forward. Look forward to celebrating in your own way and until then remind yourself there are no rules to follow for a good Christmas break!