Dealing with Anxiety at Christmas
I adore Christmas however I often fall into bad habits at this time of year. Even though I have learned and set up some healthy systems to support me. I can still find myself frazzled and burnt out before all the good stuff is yet to happen. Ah, Christmas.
When I talk with other mums, grandparents, shop owners, I'm not at all surprised that Christmas is stamped as the "silly season" for a reason. I am not alone! We all seem to go a little bonkers, ha ha.
Anxiety shows up for me at this time of year mostly because of the long list of things I should be doing. I actually just wrote a post on Instagram about it. I got all fired up! My number one SHOULD is that I am responsible for actually making Christmas happen in our house. I somehow have taken it upon myself to do the whole thing. The last few years, I've been working on doing less and focusing on what Christmas is to us. It's been a work in progress.
Yet there are still things that need to be done before the big day. And I usually get started in November. Yes it's crazy and yes I've already done most of my Christmas shopping (just the food to go now) but I do this because going to the shops (especially in Australia) make me so stressed. The fluro-lit malls with loads of people in a state of frenzy getting all their to-do lists done. Freaks me out. I'm a highly sensitive person (some would call me an empath) but I feel all the emotions flying around, it's hard to be in it. I don't last long before I need to run away and hide.
You see my nervous system goes into overdrive (totally my own fault - yes, hello anxiety) but after a few years of putting myself through the experience I have worked out when to do my shopping so I can do it with more ease and grace.
This also goes for the grocery shop prior to the big celebrations. Knowing that I need to do this, I arm myself with the goods. I make sure I'm in a peaceful state of mind, with a list that is clear to read and has everything on it broken down into the different sections of the store so I can focus my attention on getting in and out effectively. I usually do this shop late at night, knowing that there will be less people and the vibe will be more my style.
And then what about the house? Why do we all feel the need to make it picture-perfect for people to come around? Like honestly, I clean down parts of the wall that have been stained by my children's hands for the first time all year. Why now. It's hilarious. Isn't it what we do to put on a show for those that are coming into our homes? The thing is now, I care less about this, I try to keep my home in a state of our normal and that is how we roll all the time, not just for special occasions.
Anxiety is a funny thing - it's all about our perception of what is going to happen in the future. Knowing this has helped me to put things into perspective.
The Big Four Anxiety stresses at Christmas:
1 - Finances - this is probably the biggest I've noticed this year. It all comes with the pressure of what we think we should be doing or giving. The present expectation, the big fancy meal, the cards we must send, the phone calls we need to make, the trips to visit family members around the country. Christmas should not break the bank. This year, globally I have heard more and more people worry about the raising costs of living. To me, this raises a few questions.
Q - What are you willing to spend money on this year?
Q - What is your Christmas budget?
Q - How can we make Christmas memorable this year if finances are tight?
Q - Where do we need to set boundaries with other people to respect our financial situation?
2 - Difficult relationships - Sometimes the forced events that become mandatory each year cause us the most internal pain. The dread of mingling with people we don't share the same values with or just like to make things difficult. Putting ourselves into these situations causes stress but the lead-up is an anxiety pill none of us wants to take. No matter if you feel inferior to those you feel obliged to spend time with. It's really important to ask yourself a few questions.
Q - What boundaries do I need to set for my mental & emotional health?
Q - Who can support me with difficult people/situations?
Q - Where am I assuming other's opinions and how is this affecting me?
Q - Who would I love to spend Christmas with?
3 - Fighting the Feelings - Wheater we have lost someone, or won't get to see a loved one this year the anxiety of missing those people can cause deep sadness. Loneliness at Christmas is a real problem for many people. Those people that have once been in our lives, or a miracle we are hoping for that hasn't happened. Loss is often felt more due to the stereotype of having to be together at Christmas. Again this is a should but if it is a tradition that you cherish to have sadness creep in, it's hard to fight it. And this can cause problems as we move closer to the big day.
Q - Have you shared with your nearest and dearest how you are actually feeling?
Q - Have you got support (mental or emotional help - counsellor, therapist a good friend to talk with etc)
Q - How can you honour the person missing, or connect with those that are not in attendance this year?
4 - Society Pressures - The dream Christmas is not everyone's cup of tea. Even today I got a shakedown by a six-year-old wondering why we don't have a magical elf in our house. Having to explain that it's not something that happens in our home and that perhaps not everyone has this was challenging. I wasn't there to squash his fantasy but to highlight different people have different traditions in their homes and I felt it put me on the spot. Not wanting to crush his feelings, but also how to explain that we don't do certain things. I'm a bit of a hippy and we do have some of our own Christmas traditions but they aren't like most people. I share with our children that everyone has their own beliefs and ways of doing Christmas. It's important that we don't lose ourselves to what we think we should. This crosses the board in all aspects of Christmas.
Q - What are your family traditions?
Q - What societal pressures do you not align with?
Q - What does Christmas represent to you and in your home?
Q - Where am I playing into the pressures of Society to please others?
Building an Anxiety Toolkit
This is the most important thing to implement right away as we lead into Christmas. There are some really simple things we can do to help us manage our anxiety during this time. Let's walk through them.
1 - Know our triggers - If you are aware of what sets you off into a spiral of overthinking then this becomes really helpful so we can divert our attention elsewhere. Triggers are lessons, but they are also warnings for us to address what's going on for us.
2 - Move your body - the best thing to do to get out of your head is to move your body. Go for a walk, swim, hike, dance, fitness class a bike ride. When we move our bodies, we focus back on our breath which calms our nervous system. Now if you're not super sporty - can you play the guitar, paint a picture, or crochet a beanie - it's about shifting your focus on doing an activity.
3 - Get outside - Nature is medicine, being outside breathing in the fresh air is a wonderful way to calm ourselves, it brings peace and joy. Nature is magical to look at, watch, listen and be surrounded by. If it's warm enough, take your shoes off and walk on the grass, grounding into the earth.
4 - Coping Mechanisms - Establish your go-to support team - this can be friends/family or a professional - to talk things through when you feel overwhelmed. Write a diary and get the words out on the page of what is happening in your head and in your heart. Build your own personalised feel-good toolkit (take the 5 Days for Self Love Course for ONLY $14) Find ways that fill you with joy that help you release tension - try yoga, meditation, aroma therapy, massage or acupuncture.
It's a wonderful time of year, but don't let stress and anxiety dictate how you feel. I hope that this post encourages you to look within to calm your nervous system so you can focus on having a good time with the people you love.