Imagine the perfect festive season. You feel relaxed and happy as you enjoy your preferred festive traditions whether they’re long walks or hours watching the Christmas edition of your favourite sitcom. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Now how do you feel about the Christmas you’ll actually be celebrating? Whether you’re spending it alone or with the family it’s probably not the day of joy that the adverts promise and there’s a good chance that you’re already worrying about what it will entail.
That impending sense of doom is a classic symptom of anxiety. It’s also a fairly common response to Christmas. Along with the feeling of dread, you may also experience other symptoms of anxiety such as sweating, trembling and a feeling of tiredness. These don’t exactly describe what you want from the most wonderful time of the year, do they?
Social anxiety at Christmas
Just because it’s the season of fun and goodwill doesn’t mean that all the mental health and emotional difficulties that you deal with the rest of the year will vanish.
For those with social anxiety, the festive season and the expectation for increased socialising can be a real burden. Aligned to this are other group activities to mark the season, such as secret Santa gift exchanges, team lunches and office parties. Concerns about what to wear, if your secret Santa gift is appropriate and making small talk can only make things worse.
Festive family stress
Even without social anxiety in the mix, a family Christmas can result in clashes over food, lifestyle choices and political views. When you spend Christmas with your family you pick up the role you played during childhood which might expect you to behave quite differently from the way you usually do.
You also need to add in expectations, both good and bad, from previous years. Remember the year there was that awful row? Or you had to fib about how great the food/your gift/board games were in order to avoid hurt feelings. You’ll be hopeful that this year you’ll get the approval and attention you want. But there will also be the fear that you will be judged, made to compromise your values or get pushed into an awkward situation in order to be polite.
Even if it’s not your family but your partner’s or a friend’s you’ll still pick up on the tensions as everyone tries to play their role. Plus you’ll be concerned about how you’ll fit into their Christmas traditions.
Under usual circumstances, you’d be able to call upon your support systems and coping strategies when you feel overwhelmed or under pressure. At Christmas, that’s going to be more difficult. Time alone can be hard to come by when staying with relatives and your friends are less available.
This year there’s also the additional worries around travel, the possibilities of lockdowns and just coping with the changes from the last 18 months.
Spending Christmas alone
Given all the issues around Christmas with family spending it alone might seem preferable but things won’t necessarily be any better.
If you choose not to see family then you might feel guilty or as if you’ve let people down. It might also contribute to your anxiety about how Christmas will be in years to come if relatives keep referring back to it.
Having to spend Christmas alone because there is no one to spend it with might give you a day to indulge but it can also feel lonely. As if you are the only person who isn’t with loved ones.
It can provoke feelings of embarrassment and anxiety. Telling colleagues that you’re spending Christmas alone can feel like saying that you’re unworthy of the love, acceptance and community that a family provides. Or they may pity you and invite you to spend it with them which could be awkward even if you’re close. To avoid embarrassment you might decide to lie about how you are spending the celebrations or pretend that it’s your choice. Both approaches can put pressure on you and create feelings of discomfort.
Coping with Christmas anxiety
There’s no escaping from Christmas. It will happen anyway. You don’t have to like it but you can decide what you will put in place to help you cope. Here are some ways to get through the festive season whether you’re spending it alone or with your family.
Set your boundaries
You can’t control other people but you can control your own choices and reactions. Choose to do the things that are important to you and consider if you are open to compromises. Taking care of yourself means you don’t have to spend time with people just because you’re related to them or work together.
Talk to your support network
Share your concerns with your friends and family. They’re probably feeling the same! Your friends might be able to tell you how they’ve coped and inspire you to set boundaries or feel confident about changing traditions. Talking with your family could also have benefits. Find out how they feel about things and where you can find common ground.
Resolve to work on your anxiety issues
If anxiety and family issues are interfering with your wellbeing then consider whether counselling can help. Taking action to find out about the different types of therapy and which one could be most suitable is a great starting point. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can really help with the spiralling of thoughts that are part of anxiety. We’re always happy to discuss which options would be most helpful for a situation.
Share your thoughts about Christmas
What strategies do you use to cope with the festive season? Being good to yourself and taking care of your emotional wellbeing is surely the best gift there is. Share in the comments below how you deal with Christmas and the anxiety it induces.
Whatever you do this Christmas remember that you are not alone. Reach out for the support you need during the festive season this year and see what a difference it can make.