This time of year, most people are usually settling in for a good few weeks of socialising, merriment and festive fun – but while that sounds great for some, it can be a real challenge for those with mental health issues.
Before my recent bout of heightened anxiety hit, I earnestly made plans with friends. Currently, every weekend in my December has something scheduled, with people I love and want to see. In normal, steady times, this is my idea of a great time.
With anxiety, it’s a nightmare.
From calm to clammy
This weekend just gone, I had a lovely time rewatching The Crown on Netflix. Under a blanket all day. Ordered Chinese in the evening. Brilliant. It was the ULTIMATE ‘self-care’ (or indulgence, whatever you want to call it). This was basically me:
The next day, I had lunch planned with a couple of friends my other half and I are close with. Like many Christmassy meet-ups this time of year, the plan was very casual, very easy-going. Yet, my body was racked with anxiety. Fully dressed, I got back under the duvet, tearful but unsure why.
It’s a bloody lunch, not a four-hour fine dining experience. The pressure I felt was entirely imagined.
The friends we were meeting are lovely, lovely people – and I know that if I’d cancelled, they would have been fine with it.
Still, if I’ve learned anything from years of managing stress and anxiety, it’s that practising avoidance behaviour only serves to add fuel to the fire.
But what if I suddenly felt unwell? What if I got upset and panic-stricken in what’s meant to be a nice, chill situation?
We went anyway, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything. Like my experience at the hair salon, I felt like I’d ‘survived’, just by being able to stay at the table. I’m filled with dread looking at the rest of my calendar.
What’s so bad about Christmas?
While festive and fun for most, Christmas usually brings with it the following:
- large crowds of people (markets, high streets)
- an expectation to attend events/socialise
- a focus on food
- heavier drinking
- financial pressure
- an expectation to be happy
Laid out like that, it’s easier to start connecting the dots on how this time of year could be incredibly difficult for some people – particularly managing symptoms related to social anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, stress, or otherwise.
Being around family, who may or may not understand the effort that goes into managing a mental health condition, can also be stress-inducing. Let’s face it, even those of you not having to actively deal with mental health issues can struggle to be around your family. Perhaps their opinions differ wildly from your own, or you’re tired of answering the same questions over and over. Perhaps this year is difficult because you’ve lost someone. Maybe you’re visiting a loved one in hospital.
Christmas in the UK carries with it many social codes, which can feel really overwhelming if you’re not feeling like you’ll naturally ‘meet expectations’.
This year, I’ll be doing my best to not cause my friends and family any disappointment because of my anxiety. Equally, however, I’ll be asking them to be understanding and patient with me if I don’t have the energy to fight (or explain) some of those tricky symptoms.
To anyone out there who might not be ready to cope with Christmas, I wish you all the best. If you’re someone looking to support a friend or family member struggling this Christmas, Time to Change has some helpful advice.