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The Christmas Survival Guide - Part 3 - Anxiety

If you are generally speaking an anxious person, Christmas might be a trigger for you but even if you're normally quite laid back, you might feel more apprehensive or nervous at this time of the year, after all there is a lot to consider, organise and deal with.

I have put together some advice and thoughts that I hope will offer you some support and comfort. Anxiety is a normal part of life and we all experience anxiety to a greater or lesser degree, however if you find that your anxiety is stopping you from doing things or you experience panic attacks and find yourself feeling overwhelmed, then you might need extra support.

You might wish to speak to your GP or engage in therapy to help you to manage your symptoms of anxiety and to explore your emotions and what is going on for you.


Christmas is a very emotive time of the year and can trigger all sorts of feelings, so if you are struggling, please don't beat yourself up. You are not alone and it is okay to ask for help.


Social anxiety

Does being around lots of people fill you with dread?

Do you feel awkward and unsure of what to say?

Do you worry about what others might think of you?

Do you feel like everyone is looking at you and judging?


Social anxiety is common and the festive season is probably the one time of the year where we are expected to socialise more so than any other. Most workplaces tend to organise Christmas parties or festive office activities, your friends might want to meet you for a drink or two and your family want to spend Christmas with you.

There might be the added complication of visiting multiple family members or splitting the days between your and your partner's families. It can feel a bit like everyone wants a piece of you and not only that but everyone wants the best version of you.


You might feel like you're spreading yourself thin and running extremely low on social energy.

You might feel like you can't say no to attending work's Christmas party because you might be experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) or are worried about letting people down, so either way it might feel like you can't win which in turn might cause you to feel more anxious.


Another thing that might heighten your anxiety is if your family is big on party games and you're not. Often families get together at Christmas, including family members that you might not see very often throughout the rest of the year. This might mean that you do not feel as comfortable or at ease with them.

You might be the odd one out in your family, the one who isn't really into what everyone else is into which can make you feel like an outsider.


If you are struggling with social anxiety, Christmas can feel like a bit of a nightmare. You might feel panicky or worried about having a panic attack.

You might feel awakward and unsure of what to say to people. Your heart might be racing, you might have sweaty palms and feel despair at having to appear cheerful.

You might feel worried about being labelled as grumpy or a party pooper.

Sometimes relatives might also ask awkward or intrusive questions, for example about your marital status and you might feel put on the spot.

This can also be difficult to deal with.

You might simply just feel anxious about spending a lot of time with a lot of people.

This does not mean that you do not love your family and friends, it just means that your anxiety is triggered by social situations.


If any of this sounds familiar or like you, let's have a look at what might help you to get through the festive season:


  • Plan ahead- sometimes it really helps to know what you need. What would make things easier for you? What would help you to cope a bit better? It might be only spending ten minutes at a time with everyone and then taking a little break. It might be thinking about what you could ask family members to help you to make conversation. I know it's diffcult but don't be afraid to communicate what you need or what might help you. Talk to a family member or friend you trust. Maybe someone who will ideally be there at Christmas. This way they can support you. You might want to agree on a safe word for when things get too overwhelming for you. Sometimes just knowing somebody has your back can be reassuring.

  • Know your boundaries- reflect on what is acceptable for you and what isn't. You don't have to do anything you don't feel okay or comfortable with. Christmas can feel pressured to join in the so called fun but if it isn't your bag, don't be afraid to say no. Be polite but assertive. Often it's not about what you say but how you say it. You might want to practice beforehand and think of phrases that you could say. That way you won't have to think of it in the moment when your anxiety is heightened and you might actually feel slightly less anxious because you already know what you can say. I know it can be very awkward and uncomfortable when people ask inappropriate/intrusive questions but try to be compassionate and consider the context in which the question is asked and who is asking it. It's very different if you're elderly grandmother is asking why you haven't got hitched yet compared to a newly wed, possibly slightly smug cousin who is a similar age. Another way to deal with unwanted questions is either to change the subject entirely or to deflect the conversation away from yourself. You might wish to practice this with a friend beforehand. Sometimes it is just a case of learning the social skills that will make social situations a bit easier for you.

  • Take time out- socialising can be draining, especially if you are experiencing social anxiety. Don't be afraid to take time away from the hustle and bustle and take yourself off to a quieter or empty room if you start to feel overwhelmed. Going for a walk in the fresh air might also help. Taking regular breaks will help you to manage your anxiety. You might also like to try doing a breathing or grounding exercise or anything else you find soothing. Another option is to suggest to family and friends to have a designated quiet room (if there is space available) or area for people to withdraw too. This works great for children too who migth feel a bit overwhelmed.

  • Be careful with alcohol- I'm not going to tell you not to drink but I am going to say be careful with how much you drink. Whilst it might be tempting to boost your confidence with alcohol, it can also make your symptoms of anxiety worse. Alcohol is a depressant so if you are already feeling down or sad, it might make these feelings worse. You might want to alternate between soft drinks and alcoholic drinks. If you are taking anti anxiety medication, please check beforehand that alcohol won't affect your medication or that the combination of the two won't have any adverse effects.

  • It's okay to say No- if you don't feel comfortable or you do not want to take part in festive activties, it's okay to say no. Similarly, if you do not want to spend Christmas with certain people or feel overwhelmed by the festive plans, it's okay to let people know that you won't be attending. Your wellbeing is important and you need to do what feels right for you. Christmas can be what you make it.

  • Be honest about your anxiety- there is no shame in feeling anxious, socially or otherwise. If you are honest with yourself and the people you trust about your anxiety and your triggers, you will be better able to manage your symptoms and feelings in a positive way.

  • Remind yourself of your coping strategies- if there are certain things that work for you and that are helpful, make a list or remind yourself of them prior to going into a social situation. If you are prepared and you know what you can do to help yourself, your anxiety might not be as heigthened.

  • Be compassionate with yourself- remember that you are doing your best. Dealing with anxiety is difficult and exhausting. Be kind to yourself and take care of yourself. You are important and you matter!


Food Anxiety

Christmas can feel particularly difficult if you are struggling with issues around food and weight or addiction issues. We often allow ourselves to go all out at Christmas, it is a time of indulgence and excess.

You might worry about eating in front of people which can heighten any anxiety you might already feel. You might worry about how you will maintain your sobriety or if you've been trying to lose weight, how to stay on track when you're surrounded by temptations.

Often family members or friends can put pressure on us too to “treat” ourselves or have that extra slice of Christmas cake or drink. They mean well and I'm sure they just want you to have a lovely time but if this happens a lot it might wear down your determination and you might also feel put on the spot.


Here are some tips that might help:

  • Plan ahead and tell people- be honest about what is going on for you and tell family and friends in advance if you have food anxiety, are trying to lose weight or are trying to maintain your sobriety. Your family and friends care about you and they will want you to enjoy yourself so let them know beforehand how they can support you. It might be that you need a quiet room to eat in or that you would like to bring your own food. It might be that they make sure to not have certain alcoholic drinks in the vicinity or put them out of sight. It might be that you wish to only attend a certain part of the celebrations, for example if eating with everyone stresses you out, you might wish to come later once the meal is over. Find whatever works for you and don't be afraid to let people know. Not only does it take some of the pressure off, it also means you're taking care of yourself.

  • Make sure you enjoy yourself- it is Christmas after all. Find the right balance, so for example if you are trying to lose weight, don't completely deny yourself. Having an extra helping of dessert doesn't mean you'll put loads of weight on because you're not going to eat extra dessert every day. We all have a tendency to be very hard and strict with ourselves and this isn't always helpful. Show yourself the kindness and compassion you would show to others.

  • Addiction issues- I have included a list of organisations that offer advice and support which you might find helpful. Remind yourself to take it one day at a time. You are doing your best and recovering from addiction isn't an easy thing to do. Be kind and patient with yourself.


I hope you find some of these ideas and advice helpful and that you find things that work for you and that help you to cope a bit better with your anxiety and the festive season.




Help and Support


Anxiety UK- website offering support and advice, including a helpline and text support

Helpline- 03444 775 774

Text Support- 07537416905

Available Monday to Friday 10.30am- 16.30pm


Social Anxiety Alliance UK- provide information, advice and resources for social anxiety and social phobia


Mind- provides information and support for anxiety and other mental health problems


Beat- Eating Disorders Charity offering support, advice and resources, including a helpline and chatrooms

Helplines: England- 0808 801 0677

                 Scotland- 0808 801 0432

                 Wales- 0808 801 0433

                 Northern Ireland- 0808 801 0434

Available 7 days per week 15.00pm- 8.00pm

Email Support:


Saneline- national out of hours mental health helpline, offering support, guidance and advice. You can also phone them if you feel that you have reached a moment of Crisis.

Helpline- 0300 304 7000

Available every day from 16.00pm- 10.00pm


Alcoholics Anonymous- offers information and support as well as search tool to find local meetings

Helpline- 0800 9177 650


Gamblers Anonymous- offers information, resources and support as well as live chat, a forum and search tool to find local meetings

 






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