The Christmas lights have been up for a few weeks now, the presents have been bought (if you're organised!), you've almost finished embarrassing yourself at the numerous office parties, work is winding down and it's so close now you can almost smell the turkey cooking. The festive season is well and truly upon us and we're all in the party mood.
Or are we?..............
For many who suffer with anxiety this can be the most traumatic time of year. The most incapacitating effects are caused by sufferers' fixation on their perceived social inadequacies and Christmas provides many opportunities to focus on these. Potentially stressful events consume thoughts for months beforehand, and the often imagined disaster is analysed at great length afterwards. The office party, buying presents, shopping in large crowds, having relatives to stay, or a family gathering can all act as the trigger for stress and anxiety.
Christmas comes with high expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying luxurious celebrations and gifts, and young, happy workers enjoying party season with an abundance of social engagements and alcohol fuelled celebrations - but not all of us are able to live up to these ideals.
Just to be clear, I am not talking about clinical anxiety or depression here as that is a far more complex issue that requires more detailed help. There are a number of areas however, that have the potential to turn anyone's festive season into a disaster zone, and some useful ways to avoid that happening!
- Financial stress
Whether it's buying presents, going to parties or the cost of Christmas Day itself, the pressure to keep up with the expectations of your peer group or the media image of a typical Christmas can be overwhelming. Plan ahead and budget for what you can afford. Agree to a low cost "secret Santa" present with office workers or Christmas Day guests, suggest that family only buy gifts for the kids and encourage Christmas Day guests to contribute to the proceedings either financially or by bringing a dish. This will help to ease the money stress and the concern of preparing a big dinner for a large group of people. Better to find cheaper alternatives than to cut yourself off because you feel you can't afford to enjoy the holiday season.
For many there is a huge stress surrounding the buying of gifts, whether the cost involved or the chasing round busy shopping centres filled with manic Christmas shoppers. Online shopping is a great way to limit the effects of both. Once again, if you can plan ahead and buy all your gifts online, you have the opportunity to save money AND avoid the shopping stampede in one move!
For those feeling isolated, Christmas can compound those feelings as you perceive everyone off enjoying their "perfect" Christmas.
There are ways to overcome loneliness if you find yourself isolated or grieving a loved one at this time of year.
Connect with friends and family - even if you’re separated by distance, make a point of contacting loved ones online or by phone. Particularly with the wealth of video calling options available now, it's a cheap and accessible way to interact with family and friends and feel part of a celebration even if you can't be there physically.
Volunteer - why not lend a hand to a local shelter over Christmas? There are lots of charities who need help, and many recipients who need your help even more. It's an opportunity to connect with people, make a genuine difference to their lives and feel good about making a positive contribution.
Attend community events. Find out what’s on locally and get involved. Whether it’s Christmas carols, local markets or festivals, getting out and about can generate social interaction and help relieve loneliness.
- Family tensions
For some, family gatherings can provide a little relief from anxiety, while for others they can act as the trigger for these negative emotions.
Set your expectations at realistic levels. If you are hoping to recreate the Christmas card or Disney film ideal then you have a very good chance of disappointing. Don't expect miracles. If your holiday anxiety stems from a deeper history of family conflict, don’t expect that you’ll be able to resolve any big underlying issues now. It’s supposed to be a season of forgiveness and goodwill, but in the midst of a hectic holiday season you can’t pin your hopes on leading family members to big emotional breakthroughs. You may be better off focusing on your own state of mind and confronting difficult issues during a less volatile time of year.
Plan ahead to avoid known triggers, avoid sitting Uncle X next to Auntie Y If there is a history of tension between them, and avoid topics that have a history of causing arguments and unrest in previous years.
Put the kids first. Think about Christmas as a day for the kids, put aside any adult conflicts and focus on them and their happiness.
Drink in moderation! It is very tempting to drink (and eat!) too much during the festive season, but alcohol and over eating can significantly contribute to stress, anxiety and depression.
Do you have annual rituals of the holiday season that you feel you have to do that make you miserable? Do you really HAVE to do them? Why would you do things that make you miserable? What would happen if you did things differently? You may think "disaster" but that's in your mind, the reality is that there will be a simple alternative to the calamity that you have envisaged.
The key is to be conscious of what you are doing. This year don't blindly do things the same way just because that’s how you have always done them. If your old holiday traditions are not working, if they’re not making you happy and causing holiday stress, it’s time to do something different..................and bring a smile back to your festive season.