And by this, I don’t mean worrying that you won’t get what you asked for on Christmas Day!
For lots of people with GAD, Depression and EDs, (me included!) Christmas can be an incredibly stressful time. Most ‘normal’ people (as they would call themselves!!) don’t understand this anxiety or bad feeling surrounding Christmas because after all, it’s the time of year that most people enjoy and look forward to the most. Time off to spend with family, lots of yummy indulgent food, gifts; what’s not to love? Plenty, it seems, for those who are suffering from a variety of mental health issues. Below I’ve compiled a few reasons I believe Christmas is so difficult for some. In fact I genuinely believe that through a facade of mirth and excitement that a lot of people dread Christmas, for various personal reasons. Let me know if you agree/disagree, or have any of your own to add….
1. Winter Weather. This is a HUGE one for me. My family always say that I ‘wasn’t built for the cold’ and I have to say, they’re completely right. I’m constantly cold, my skin is dry and often blue. The nights draw in to the mid-afternoon and quite frankly all I want to do at 4pm when the lights go out is go to bed. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is very common in the UK and those who have other mental health issues are predisposed to suffering from it.
2. Food. This one really only applies specifically to those who have suffered from or are in the midst of an ED. That said, with most women and men under constant pressure to look perfect, and many dieting constantly, it’s going to apply to a lot more of the population this year. Christmas in this instance is hell. Food absolutely everywhere; on television, on the radio, and most worryingly, in the house; in abundance. To make matters worse, this isn’t just any food – it’s the most indulgent, fattening, scariest kind. An onslaught of invitations for parties and dinners arrive, filled with the prospect of copious amounts of sugary booze and frightening festive party food. I’m a guilty party here and I’ve been known to turn down party invitations simply because of the sheer anxiety I suffer knowing that the lure of a smoked salmon blini is stronger than my willpower. However I need to put this in perspective here, not only for myself but for everybody reading this who is similar to me. You really do only get one life, and so many Christmases. A few indulgent evenings won’t make you fat or unhappy. We know this, and are incapable of believing it, but please, try not to let food control your Christmas, as it controls the rest of your life. There will be more posts on this over the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.
3. People. Staying with parties, what happens if you have an anxiety about going out and being around people? Acutely low self-esteem can leave you feeling so bad about yourself that you just can’t face presenting an ‘inadequate’ you to a room full of ‘perfect’ people. Sound familiar? Of course, we’re all expected to be sociable at Christmas and attend parties and events which usually involve dressing up and looking fabulous. But if you don’t feel fabulous, then these functions only serve to hammer your self esteem into the ground and normally end in drunken tears. Rejecting these invitations, I feel, isn’t the key to overcoming this. For me, the only things I have found to have helped is a) not giving myself too much to do/too many things to go to, and b) manning up and forcing myself to go to at least one thing a week. It’s really, really hard. But however overwhelming it is, however many panic attacks precede walking into that venue, it is ALWAYS worth it. I promise. If nothing else, just for the sheer pride in knowing that you took that huge step, stuck two fingers up to your anxieties and walked through that door with your head held high. Trust me.
4. Expectations of ‘Fun’. Lots of people say that ‘forced fun’ is the worst fun. And it’s true. When you’re expected to be happy and excited and having lots of fun (because it’s Christmas, why shouldn’t you be?), it’s so much worse because you really are not happy, excited, or having any fun at all. Those who are judgmental about those with mental health issues come out in force over the festive period, contributing their nuggets of unhelpful ‘wisdom’ from ‘Well it’s Christmas, what have you got to be unhappy about?’, to ‘You’re very lucky, some people have no Christmas and no food on their plate’. It’s excruciatingly frustrating to hear these things and unfortunately, nothing you say will pacify these people. The root of anxiety is trying to please others and worrying about what others think. In this case there really is no point. Christmas is your time of year, as well as anyone else’s, and you are free to enjoy it, or perhaps ‘not enjoy it’, however you choose.
5. Money. Lots of people feel anxious about money around Christmas. After all, it’s an expensive time. In an increasingly material world, presents a re equated to status, and how much you love someone else. When of course that’s ridiculous. Easily said, not easily felt when children are now demanding iPads and PS4s in their stockings. The Money Advice Service, or MA, is a government-run service which provides help for those struggling to make ends meet over Christmas. Money Saving Expert is another good one if you are looking for tips and tricks to make your money go further this year. Remember – it really doesn’t matter how much you spend.
6. Social Media. The root of much evil in society today, in my opinion. Over Christmas, the ‘life competition’ is extended. Cue Instagrams of people with their beautiful trees, their gorgeous children, their hot boyfriend, in the thick white snow. Enjoying mulled wine with friends, opening expensive presents, eating lots of fatty food and still pouting in an XS reindeer onesie. It’s all SUPERFICIAL and it’s the fuel for anxiety and a feeling of inadequacy and ugliness. Don’t forget that whilst these folks say they are enjoying themselves ‘so much’, if they were really having a good time they wouldn’t be spending time away from their families to choose what filter makes them look hot. This culture of vanity is difficult to get away from and easy to get sucked into because after all, you don’t want to be the one with no gorgeous pictures to display and we are conditioned to compete with our peers. My advice? Stop going on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. I have. If it’s killing you, stop looking, however tempted you are. It won’t go away, so you have to be strong and make it. Delete those apps!!
My advice after all this? Remember the fundamentals. Respect and enjoy the simple things. Do you have some food? Are you warm? Have you got some time off work to spend on yourself and your family, friends or people you care about? That’s all you need. Even if it’s cold, if the sun is shining go for a walk. Clear your head and you’ll find beauty in the small things.
Before I end this post, let me say that I am NOT Scrooge. I do enjoy the feel and festivities surrounding Christmas, and I DO make a conscious effort to enjoy it. However I wrote this post because more people than I anticipated have shared their anxieties with me in the run up to the holidays, and I would like to ensure that nobody feels alone in their thoughts this season.
Let me know what you think!