Christmas can be a very difficult time for many people suffering from anxiety. We are often faced with additional social and financial pressures, on top of all the usual stresses of life.
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- Many people suffer from social anxiety, and feel anxious about social gatherings and being around other people.
- The additional financial implications of Christmas can cause a great deal of anxiety too.
- Christmas can be a time of overindulgence, however this often leads us to feel more anxious.
- Christmas can be lonely and isolating when it appears everyone else is having a great time with their family and friends
Some people feel anxious about social gatherings, which may result in stressful situations, and these gatherings may feel unavoidable during the holiday season.
Others may struggle with the temptation of being surrounded by so much food and alcohol and may fear they will overindulge.
We may be reminded back to Christmases past when we may have struggled with family conflict. We may feel obligated to spend the festive period with family, and difficult relationships with loved ones can cause added stress and pressure.
While Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for some, others dread it.
Social Anxiety During The Holiday Season
Many people suffer from social anxiety, and feel anxious about social gatherings and being around other people. This is exasperated during the festive period.
I used to struggle with social anxiety and would dread all the work parties and client events that I knew I was expected to attend. I struggled to make small talk and felt that I had nothing interesting to say, I was always anxious walking into a crowded room. I felt I needed a drink to get me through the door, and another drink before I was able to chat with people. The first hour of any event felt very awkward and was terrifying for me.
When we struggle with anxiety and particularly social anxiety, we can feel pressure to attend the various social engagements and commitments, but it is important to remind ourselves that we do have a choice and we can say no. We must take responsibility for our own wellbeing first.
To be clear, I am not suggesting you should hide from every event as this would be a safety seeking behaviour, and you would not be giving yourself the opportunity to prove you can cope with your anxiety, but if you are meant to be attending your 3rd night out in a row, and it feels all too overwhelming, accept how you feel and look after your own wellbeing first.
Remember, it is OK not to feel OK sometimes.
Financial Anxiety During the Holiday Season
The additional financial implications of Christmas can cause a great deal of anxiety too. There may be presents to buy for family and friends, secret Santa gifts and stockings, new outfits needed for different events, meals out with every social group or club, work parties, taxis home, not to mention the cost of buying all the food and drink for dinner on Christmas Day. The list goes on and on …..
Finding the right present for everyone was a huge strain on me when I was struggling with anxiety because I felt I would be judged by the gift I gave. This resulted in me wasting a lot of time and money when it was so unnecessary, as the only person judging me was me.
Often the best gifts of all are the ones with the thought behind them, so offer to have someone round for their favourite dinner instead. Or share a great memory and give them a framed picture of the two of you having fun together.
Or do you have a talent they may benefit from or need? A friend gave me a Christmas card and apologised profusely for not being able to get me a gift that particular year as she had recently bought her first house. When I opened the card it read “This card entitles you to a Tailoring experience in my new home. Please bring any item of clothing you would like altered or fitted and I will tailor it for you.” We arranged the date and had a fantastic afternoon together. It was my favourite gift of all.
What can you offer someone that is valuable to them, whilst cost-effective for you?
If you still want to buy gifts, have a budget and stick to it.
Overindulging Can Lead to Additional Anxiety
It may be the season to be jolly, but know your limits. Christmas can be a time of overindulgence, however this often leads us to feel more anxious and disappointed with ourselves if we overdo it too much. Office parties can lead to a lot of embarrassment the next day if we have drunk too much or said something we regret. Worst still, if we are unsure of what we said or did due to too much alcohol.
Try to limit the amount of Christmas treats and alcohol that you consume to within what you are comfortable with.
The temptation to overindulge is high because there is not only more food on the table on Christmas day, but we also graze during the day on chocolate and other treats. And then spend the next few days eating the leftovers and the gifts we have been brought! Whilst it may seem great at the time, if it eventually upsets us, then we need to consider if it is worth it.
In the UK, it is traditional within some families to drink Bucks Fizz ( a mix of champagne and orange juice) for breakfast on Christmas day. While alcohol may give us an initial buzz and courage, it ultimately acts as a depressant and also heightens feelings of anxiety; so for some, there is a vicious circle, where we need a drink because of anxiety, but the drink is making the anxiety so much worse.
Furthermore, the more we drink, the less we feel in control, so it makes sense that if we start drinking at breakfast, we may find it harder to keep control of what makes us happy during the remainder of the day. This may have an impact on what we eat and how we react with others or feel about ourselves.
Also, too many Christmas treats can have a negative impact on our mood, causing blood sugar levels to rapidly rise and fall which is a known trigger for anxiety.
Keeping hydrated with non-alcoholic drinks is important, as is ensuring that you have a good night’s sleep, as wellbeing and sleep are so interrelated.
Christmas Time Can Be Sad and Lonely
Christmas can be lonely and isolating when it appears everyone else is having a great time with their family and friends, and it is all too easy to think we are the only ones struggling with being alone.
Maybe we don’t have a close relationship with our families, or our friends are all busy with their own thing or they live too far away. With the cost of living crisis, it may not be an option to travel to see friends and family this year. The cost of travelling may mean we are having to stay home alone.
Perhaps we find ourselves alone following a separation, or our children are now having to juggle who they see during the holiday season with their own partner and families, and suddenly their absence seems all the bigger at Christmas time.
It is especially hard for people who have lost a loved one, and Christmas time is often when we think of friends and family, therefore this loss can leave a huge hole in our hearts and at the festive table.
If you find yourself alone this Christmas, consider volunteering your time to help others. It is a great way to surround yourself with like-minded people while giving back to the community. Do you have an elderly neighbour near you, or is there a soup kitchen where you can offer to feed those less fortunate?
Volunteering is a great way of feeling part of something, and research shows that it is equally rewarding for those giving, as it is for those receiving.
Know What The Ideal Relaxed Christmas Looks Like For You
Try to let go of the thoughts of making Christmas perfect. We often take what we see on social media at face value, but perfection creates a lot of anxiety and causes disappointment if we don't live up to the standards we set for ourselves.
We are fed a constant stream of images on social media of everyone else appearing to be having a wonderful time, and when we compare our own lives to the images that others share, we may feel that we are missing out. This can have an impact on our self-esteem and worthiness, making us feel even worse.
Many of us feel the pressure to create what we believe the perfect Christmas should look like, and this often creates additional anxiety and disappointment when our experiences don’t match up with our high expectations.
Maybe we actually crave a quiet Christmas season with our friends instead of family members, or just our immediate family, but we feel pressure to please everyone.
Take some time to think about what you really want, not what is expected of you. Maybe you would rather go out for Christmas lunch with a couple of close friends?
If you’re feeling bombarded to spend more money and socialise, by TV adverts and social media, consider taking a break from technology.
How Can You Support Someone In Your Circle If They Are Struggling With Their Mental Health?
If you’re worried about the mental health of someone you love, you might be scared of saying the wrong thing or say nothing and avoid talking to them about it all together, however just starting a conversation and asking how someone is feeling and managing can really help them to open up.
Listen and remain non judgemental, and ask them how you can help them.
Don’t pressure them to join in if they really don't want to. If they are visiting you over Christmas, you may also wish to let them know if you have a calm place where they can go if they are finding Christmas to be too exhausting and overwhelming. Or maybe offer to go for a walk or a drive so they have an opportunity to relax and talk about how they are feeling.
It is all too easy to isolate ourselves and hide away when we are feeling anxious, but connecting with others is very important. Anything you can do to help others participate and increase their confidence will help.
Take Time Out When You Need To
It is important to take a break from the pressures of the festive season by finding time to do something that makes us feel happy such as reading a book, going for a run, taking a bath or watching a film.
Have a list of some of your favourite activities and schedule time for them, otherwise, time will pass by and you won't fit them in.
These activities can help to distract us from any anxious or worrying thoughts. Taking time out to relax can help us to sleep better and feel fully rested.
I do my best to schedule some “me” time into every day as this helps to slow my body down, giving my mind a break from being over-stimulated. It also helps me sleep better at night. This practice is particularly valuable over the hectic Christmas period.
As a general rule, if I think I don’t have enough time to relax for 30 minutes every day, this is when I need it the most and it is time to reprioritise my schedule.
Being creative can also help us get into a flow state. Did you love drawing or painting years ago? Or baking? I love to knead dough when I am feeling anxious !! When we are in the flow of something, those intrusive thoughts shrink away and the nervous system calms when we’re focused on creating something. We also get a great sense of achievement which boosts those feel good feelings.
Having a support network around us over the festive period, even if it is at the end of a phone, is important for staying well. Try not to bottle up your feelings or feel pressured to make it seem like you are having a wonderful festive season. Instead, confide in someone you trust and tell them how you really feel, or write your thoughts in a journal. It can be very cathartic when we write something down on paper, and it softens the negative self talk we may be experiencing
Play Releases Feel Good Hormones, Counteracting Anxiety
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we have forgotten the importance of play. If we are lucky enough to have some free time, we’re more likely to chillax in front of the TV or computer than play, like we did as children.
But old fashioned play supports our well being by releasing those feel good hormones, endorphins, while encouraging relaxation, and developing problem solving skills and creativity.
Play could be simply goofing about and sharing jokes…… or flying a kite at the beach, building a snowman in the garden, playing with the dog, challenging a sibling to a game of Connect 4, going for a family bike ride in the countryside, or a board game. There doesn’t need to be any point to the activity beyond having fun and enjoying yourself.
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If anxiety is something you or your loved ones struggle with regularly, then please get in touch to discuss how I can help you overcome the underlying cause of anxiety.