Managing Your Anxiety at Christmas (and New Years) | Chronic Illness

Well, it’s officially the festive period and I am feeling thoroughly un-Christmassy. I wonder why?

Oh yes, it’s the enormous global pandemic hanging over us, spearheaded by a fully-inept government! That’ll do it. Christmas can be a stressful and anxious time for a lot of folks for a multitude of reasons, including those living with mental health conditions, trauma, or even those working full-time. Schedule’s change, you are seeing more people, money is being spent-spent-spent, alcohol and food are in the mix, hosting duties call, and expectations are slathered on a plenty. Add a fast-spreading variant, and well, even people who find Christmas an easy-breezy, stress-free time will be feeling some anxiety. 

Enter, if you will, your anxiety agony aunt (that’s me, by the way).

I can list my credentials if you like. I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety at the age of eighteen, medicated since nineteen, and am still medicated as I approach twenty-six. I first started showing signs of chronic anxiety back when I was doing my GCSEs and now it’s just something that is a part of my everyday life. Everyone with an anxiety disorder has different areas that are triggers or areas of concern. For me, my disorder is chronic so it is present most days, but is really triggered by health concerns (you can imagine living through a pandemic has been fun…) However, through medication and taught management processes, anxiety is no longer in charge of my life; it’s just something I deal with.

So with ten years of living with an anxiety disorder under my belt, I’ve learnt what works for me when it comes to ~festive feelings~ of anxiety. With only a few hours left until the big day and days that follow, and my own anxiety peeking out from under the covers, here are some reminders, tasks, and techniques I’ve found to help me manage my anxiety in the festive period. 

Remember that your health is important – it’s just as important as anyone else’s

If you are like me, you’ll be the type of person to bend over backwards to make people happy. Look, there’s nothing wrong with being a people-pleaser, as long as we aren’t self-destructive in the process. With Christmas comes the parties, visits, and errands. If you were hosting a Christmas party and a friend said to you “sorry, my anxiety is pretty bad at the moment so I won’t be able to come”, would you berate them? Tell them off? Think badly of them? Hell no, you wouldn’t! So why do that to yourself, huh? Your health, and that includes your mental health by the way, is just as important as anyone else’s. For me, this is the starting point. If I am feeling particularly anxious or unsettled, I make this my mantra. I say it when I wake up, when I’m prepping veg, when I’m in the bathroom, whenever I have time to mutter it under my breath. It helps to ground me and remind me, ”yeah – my health is important, I need to look after myself.”

Two brown wrapped parcels with red and white string, and a sprinkle of snow.
Photo by Nathan Lemon on Unsplash

Be open and honest (if you can)

This one may be tough for a lot of people. Sometimes, family members and friends aren’t open to the idea of anxiety or understand what it entails. At times, this is due to ignorance and the need to be educated. At other times… well, it might just be falling on closed ears. But if you feel able to, tell those people you will be spending the festive season with that you might be feeling anxious or you are having anxious thoughts. If you know what helps you or grounds you, let them know. For me, time alone to practice breathing and clear my thoughts is key to pushing off catastrophic thinking. So when I’m with my family, I just say “I’m feeling a bit anxious, I’m off to decompress”. The response is normally “okay, let me know if you want a cup of tea!” (which is good, because I always want a cup of tea). Worrying about managing your anxiety can only make it worse. So do what is good for you, and be open about what you are experiencing – whether that’s through a deep sit down chat or a passing comment. Not only are you looking after yourself, you’re helping people talk about mental health. What a legend!

Schedule in alone time

I’ve mentioned that everyone’s anxiety and anxious thoughts are different. But the common signs of anxiety involve feeling overwhelmed, physical tension in the body, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, and tiredness. Whether you are experiencing these things on a big scale (anxiety attack) or small scale (flickers in everyday life), it’s best not to deal with these symptoms in a room full of people. So, to keep these symptoms at bay, to stop them entering your festive fun-time, to limit their effect, schedule in some time alone to look after yourself. This can be five minutes in the bathroom when the turkey is cooking, or stepping out of the party for half an hour, or even making Christmas Day a Christmas Afternoon instead. Use this time to sit and practice your self-care. Practice box breathing. De-tense your body. Take your medication. Talk to your therapist. Read your comfort book. Slide into your weighted blanket. Only you know what works for you and your system of anxiety. But by carving out that time for you to be alone and focus on yourself, you are bringing yourself nothing but goodness, baby. 

A teal blue door, with a green Christmas wreath hanging on it. The wreath has snow topped pine cones.
Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Walk the line between recognising that your feelings are valid and that sometimes, they are just anxious thoughts.

The biggest thing I have struggled with (and still struggle with) about my anxiety is recognising which thoughts are real and valid, and which are ~just anxious thoughts~. Thinking that everyone in the room hates you? Shh shh, anxious thoughts, go away. Feeling overwhelmed because lots of people are coming over and you have a lot to do? Valid thought. That indescribable feeling of dread and doom? That’s an anxious thought my friend. Unless it’s tied with worries about the oven being on – you better check that. Now, it’s easy for me to separate them in hindsight or when I am in a comfortable brain space. But in the moment? With the queasy feeling in the stomach, the heart palpitations, sharp breathing, brain fog? It’s so hard to discern. So, I address every loud thought with a question. “Okay, is this a real thought, or is it just my anxious brain?” If it’s a real thought, deal with it. If it’s an anxious thought? Well, I say out loud “nope, not important”. Yes, it does mean that making decisions takes a little bit longer. But it also means I am not playing into the negative cycle and verbally breaking up my thought processes. Alright, I know it might sound overly simple but next time you feel those uncomfortable feelings creeping into your brain, give it a go.

Four anxiety-managing tips from one anxious soul to another. As I’m proof-reading this, I’m sat with a hot cup of tea, a crackling fire, and a Christmas that wasn’t on the cards. Family members have COVID, my plans have changed, and the prospect of getting COVID is making my anxiety flare like it hasn’t before (despite myself being triple vaxx’d and full of antibodies from my October COVID experience). But I’ve recognised that so many of my thoughts are thanks to my anxiety disorder and I’ve got an arsenal of management tips up my sleeve ready to go. 

So, whilst it’s not the Christmas many of us were hoping for, here’s to have a very Merry Christmas, whether it’s with family, friends, or yourself and your tea. Sending you all of my love.

Rosie x

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Educate & DonateStephen Lawrence Day | Stonewall UK | Survivor’s Trust | Mind |

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