aking a break, heading back to your family home and hanging out with your relatives sounds like a dream for some, but for others it can exacerbate any anxiety disorder you already have.
If, like myself, you get social anxiety just thinking about extended family gatherings, then this is for you. (I don’t know why the people I’ve know the longest in my life make me nervous but they do. Life’s a sh*tter sometimes.)
Luckily, loads of us have this problem and we’re all in this together (High School Musical reference – if you know, you know), so we asked a load of people who suffer with anxiety how they cope over the festive season.
Anxiety’s a little b*tch – don’t let it ruin your Christmas.
1. Be organised
You know what won’t help your anxiety?
When your train home is at 3pm and you’ve just woken up at midday and haven’t packed or wrapped your presents.
Stop self sabotaging and make life easier for yourself.
Set off with plenty of time, and if you’re super early, treat yourself to a gross festive drink or something.
2. Take your medication
If you take as-required tablets like beta blockers, then remember to take them, even if you haven’t taken them in a while and don’t think you’ll need them.
It can be comforting to know they’re there – like a little, chemical comfort blanket.
Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with needing to take medication, so don’t beat yourself up about it if you end up having to over Christmas. It’s no biggie.
3. Tell someone
It’s so boring when people constantly tell you to talk to someone, but they’re telling you for a reason.
I hid all my mental health problems from everyone for years and years and years.
And the moment my mum (accidentally) found out?
It really did feel like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I was such a disgustingly wonderful cliché. And was so mad at myself for having bottled it up for so long.
Don’t expect everyone to fully understand what you’re going through (older relatives especially might not, bless ’em), but by letting them know, you’ll be explaining a lot of the below behaviour.
You don’t have to tell everyone, just one person. Then they’ve got your back. (Also, they might actually understand – fancy that!)
4. Establish ‘you okay, hun?’ boundaries
It can be frightening for a loved one when they find out about your anxiety, especially if they’ve never experienced it themselves.
To avoid a constant stream of ‘Are you okay, darling?’, just tell them that you’ll come to them if you need help.
Do expect concerned side glances, though. It’s par for the course.
5. Know your triggers and avoid them
Spending too much time in the time capsule that is my childhood bedroom makes me incredibly anxious, and also triggers my depression. I think a lot of it is being reminded of the person I was back in 2004 when I left home, and berating myself on how far I have(n’t) come since I was that 18-year-old who vomited on her first night of uni because she was so anxious.
This snowballs into overthinking the past, the present and the future until I’m a tense wreck curled in a ball of self hatred on my little single bed.
Pre-empt your mind’s chatter. If you’re feeling sad or anxious, don’t start looking through your belongings with a nostalgic filter.
You’re doing way better than you think you are.
Who gives a f*ck how well your cousins are doing, they’re boring arseh*les anyway.
6. Seek out personal space
If you’re spending Christmas at home and you still have a bedroom – great.
If you’re spending it at a relative’s home, then seek out your safe space like a pig searches for truffles.
It can be as simple as the downstairs loo. My bladder isn’t as overactive as I make it out to be – I just disappear to the loo a lot in social situations to take five.
You can always feign a dodgy tummy, then the host will be so preoccupied with the potential food poisoning they’ve given everyone, they won’t even notice you’ve gone…
Other options include offering to help in the kitchen, looking after kids and walking the dog.
7. Eat well
I’m not saying to munch on quinoa and grapefruit over Christmas, ew no.
All I’m saying is that existing on a diet of After Eights isn’t good for you, especially if you’re prone to a spot of self loathing.
Have the After Eights on a bed of spinach or something. Just get some veg in there.
Eating right won’t cure your anxiety, but it really can help.
8. Keep up your exercise regime
Regime sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it?
When I go home and I don’t do my yoga/running/cycling/whatever, I slip into my fretful ways.
You don’t have to do a half marathon on Christmas morning, but even just heading out for a mile or two will get your blood going and shut your mind up for a bit.
On your worst days, it won’t always work, but it’s worth a shot. (Worse comes to worst, it just means you’ll burn off enough space to fit another mince pie in.)
It’s so f*cking boring hearing people tell you to meditate, like meditation is the answer to all your problems. And this is coming from someone who (tries to) meditate.
However (hear me out) stick with it and it really does help – the best advice I was ever given (from one of the many half-read self help books on my bookshelf, wassup guys) is to expand your mind.
Not in a ‘take loads of acid and expand your mind’ kind of way, but in a ‘don’t try and stop your thoughts, just imagine your mind expanding to accommodate the thoughts so they’re not as loud’ kind of way.
I feel like I’m starting to sounds like an old yoga teacher who wears kaftans and reeks of Nag Champa, so I’m going to stop, but you should definitely give it a go.
(I was recommended YogaGlo which has a 15 day free trial of yoga and meditation, which will see you through Christmas.)
10. Get outside
On a similar vein to the above, go outside.
I get anxious about having to leave the house when I haven’t done so in a while.
And the best way to combat this is…leaving the house on the reg. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the block or to perve on some dogs in the local park.
It can be easy to stay inside festering and watching Christmas classics, but that won’t help anyone when it’s five days later and you have to make your way back to your actual home and you get sweaty palms about having to face the real world.
11. Don’t seek solace in alcohol
You don’t have to ‘avoid mulled wine‘, I’m saying ‘avoid putting that shot of vodka in your mulled wine’.
I know that after three drinks I get anxious and depressed and get severe heart palpitations.
Does that stop me drinking more than three drinks?
So if you know you’re the same, then at least try really, really hard not to get wasted and cry on your family.
Save that for your friends
12. Get enough sleep
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, lack of sleep causes anxiety and anxiety causes lack of sleep.
This is one merry-go-round I don’t want to be on.
However, it doesn’t stop me staying up until the wee hours thinking about life, love and everything in between.
My problem is getting into bed and then scrolling mindlessly on my phone.
You gotta nip that sh*t in the bud and just go to sleep, pal.
Recognise your bad habits and stop it. Christmas is as good a time to start as any.
(If you can’t sleep, cos you’re excited for Santa, that’s different.)
13. Refer back to point three
I’m not being a d*ck, and I’m definitely not forcing you to spill your deepest, darkest secrets to your racist nan but if you’ve got someone you trust, then talking to them really, really might help.
If you’ve read Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive, then you’ll recall him saying that the anticipation of a bad thing is usually way worse than the actual bad thing happening.
So it really is worth the risk.
And never forget that you’re not alone – according to the Mental Health Foundation’s latest statistics, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK in 2013.
And that’s just diagnosed cases. 8.2 million. That’s a lot of people like you. And me.
You. Are. Not. Alone.
And you never know – you opening up might help someone else out of their hole.